Maternal reflective functioning as a multidimensional construct: Differential associations with children's temperament and externalizing behavior

Infant Behav Dev. 2016 Aug:44:263-74. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2016.06.007. Epub 2016 Aug 10.


Maternal reflective functioning (RF) has been associated with children's behavioral development. This study examined maternal prenatal and postnatal RF, as measured by the Pregnancy Interview and Parent Development Interview, as multidimensional constructs. It was also examined whether the RF-dimensions were associated with children's temperament and externalizing behavior, as assessed by several questionnaires. The sample consisted of 123 first-time mothers (M age=22.85years, SD=2.21) and their children (M age=19.97months, SD=0.85, 56% male). Two related but distinct dimensions were found for prenatal RF, termed self-focused and child-focused mentalization. Three dimensions were observed for postnatal RF, termed self-focused, child-focused, and relation-focused mentalization. Results showed that prenatal RF negatively related to reported child physical aggression. Postnatal self-focused RF was positively linked to externalizing behavior and negative emotionality in offspring, while relation-focused RF scores were negatively associated with child physical aggression. Findings show that it is important to also look at the specific RF-dimensions when examining the effects of maternal RF on children's behavioral development, as differential associations with behavioral outcomes exist. Discussion further focuses on the importance of these findings in prevention and clinical practice, and suggestions are being made to further improve the measurement of maternal RF-dimensions.

Keywords: Effortful control; Externalizing behavior; Negative emotionality; Parental mentalizing; Physical aggression; Reflective functioning; Temperament.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / psychology*
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology*
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Object Attachment
  • Temperament*
  • Theory of Mind*
  • Young Adult