Parental Reflective Functioning Is Associated With Tolerance of Infant Distress but Not General Distress: Evidence for a Specific Relationship Using a Simulated Baby Paradigm

Infant Behav Dev. 2013 Dec;36(4):635-41. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2013.06.008. Epub 2013 Jul 30.


Parental reflective functioning represents the capacity of a parent to think about their own and their child's mental states and how these mental states may influence behavior. Here we examined whether this capacity as measured by the Parental Reflective Functioning Questionnaire relates to tolerance of infant distress by asking mothers (N = 21) to soothe a life-like baby simulator (BSIM) that was inconsolable, crying for a fixed time period unless the mother chose to stop the interaction. Increasing maternal interest and curiosity in their child's mental states, a key feature of parental reflective functioning, was associated with longer persistence times with the BSIM. Importantly, on a non-parent distress tolerance task, parental reflective functioning was not related to persistence times. These findings suggest that parental reflective functioning may be related to tolerance of infant distress, but not distress tolerance more generally, and thus may reflect specificity to persistence behaviors in parenting contexts.

Keywords: Distress tolerance; Mentalization; Motherhood; Parenting; Reflective functioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Crying / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / psychology*
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thinking
  • Young Adult