When Do Mothers' Executive Functions Contribute to Their Representations of Their Child's Mind? A Contextual View on Parental Reflective Functioning and Mind-Mindedness

Dev Psychol. 2020 Jun;56(6):1191-1206. doi: 10.1037/dev0000931. Epub 2020 Apr 27.


Parental mentalization refers to parents' capacity to treat their children as having minds of their own and consider the mental states underlying their behaviors. This study examined the roles of mothers' executive functions (EFs), a group of processes supporting self-regulation, in 2 aspects of parental mentalization-spontaneity as measured by mind-mindedness (MM), and complexity as measured by parental reflective functioning (PRF)-while examining child- and family related contextual-moderators. Ninety-nine mothers of 66-month-old preschool children (40 full-term, 59 preterm) completed EFs tasks, were interviewed regarding their child and coparenting, and rated their perception of their child as being difficult (i.e., difficult behavior and negative emotionality). EFs were unrelated to MM. However, EFs were related to PRF when children were rated as more difficult, and when mothers reported high coparenting dissatisfaction; moreover, EFs and PRF were associated among mothers of full-term children, but not in the preterm group. Findings indicate that EFs contribute to the complexity and coherence of maternal mentalization, especially in contexts in which regulation is required for being able to consider the child's mind (difficult child, coparenting dissatisfaction), but not in stressful contexts that are likely to elicit automaticity (prematurity). EFs, however, do not seem to contribute to spontaneous attribution of mental states to the child, when complexity is not considered. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).