Parental reflective functioning, or mentalization is the ability of a parent to be aware of their own emotions/behavior while being open to understanding their children’s mental states. Mentalization allows a parent to see the deeper meaning behind a child’s behavior, which then positively influences the way a parent then responds that child, increasing the likelihood that the parent will ultimately meet that child’s deeper emotional need which can both reduce the behavior problem and increase attachment. It is a critical feature of sensitive caregiving and important for understanding the emotions that influence behavior. Parents with high reflective functioning (RF) are better at managing emotionally activating relational exchanges with their children without becoming overwhelmed and lashing out or shutting down.

Presently, the “gold standard” measure of parental RF is scored using the Reflective Functioning scale with the Parental Development Interview (PDI), which is both costly administer and train, and time intensive to deliver and code intensive (taking an hour to deliver and several hours to transcribe and code). To overcome these barriers, a new measure of reflective functioning, the Reflective Functioning Five Minute Speech Sample (RF-FMSS), was developed for the Family Minds intervention study. Preliminary results of this intervention study indicated that the RF-FMSS correlated with a self-report measure of parental RF and it was sensitive to change in RF following the intervention.

As a result of these promising results, we decided to validate this new measure, which we call the Reflective Functioning Five-Minute Speech Sample (RF-FMSS), against the gold standard measure of RF, the RF-PDI. To build true validity for the RF-FMSS measure, we had 64 parents take this measure, as well as the RF-PDI. All interviews were then transcribed and coded.

Results were just analyzed in the summer of 2023: Reflective Functioning (RF) scores on both measures ranged from 1 (no reflective functioning) to 7 (sophisticated RF), with the average RF score on the PDI measuring 4.10, and 4.53 for the RF-FMSS (4 being average RF). Concurrent validity was assessed using the Pearson’s correlation coefficient. Results indicate the correlation between the two measures is significant at the .001 level (r = .459, p = .001).

Conclusion: This is the first known validity study comparing reflective functioning (RF) on the Reflective Functioning Five-Minute Speech Sample (RF-FMSS) to the Parental Development Interview (PDI) with a diverse sample of community parents. These results indicate that this new five-minute measure of reflective functioning correlates significantly with the gold standard measurement of RF. This data, along with previous studies indicating that the RF-FMSS is sensitive to changes in RF, lends support for its validity as a new measure of parental RF. This is very promising news for those needing a more cost effective and convenient way to measure RF for both research and clinical purposes, given the new measure is much easier to administer and code (only 5 minutes to deliver and 15 min to transcribe and code).

Next Steps: Presently, we are working on publishing the results and developing a training protocol and manual to train those interested in delivering this new measure.