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Journal Article

Precursors and effects of self-reported parental reflective functioning: Links to parental attachment representations and behavioral sensitivity


Vrticka,  Pascal       
Department of Psychology, Centre for Brain Science, University of Essex, United Kingdom;
Research Group Social Stress and Family Health, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Kungl, M. T., Gabler, S., White, L. O., Spangler, G., & Vrticka, P. (2024). Precursors and effects of self-reported parental reflective functioning: Links to parental attachment representations and behavioral sensitivity. Child Psychiatry & Human Development. doi:10.1007/s10578-023-01654-2.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000E-643C-F
Parental reflective functioning is thought to provide a missing link between caregivers' own attachment histories and their ensuing parenting behaviors. The current study sought to extend research on this association involving 115 parents, both mothers and fathers, of 5-to-6-year-old preschoolers using the German version of the Parental Reflective Functioning Questionnaire (PRFQ). Our study was the first to combine Adult Attachment Interview classifications of parental attachment, behavioral observations of parental sensitivity and PRFQ ratings while drawing on a sizable father subsample. We found theoretically consistent significant relations between all measures, while our results particularly highlighted the role of dismissing attachment for decreases in parenting quality on both cognitive and behavioral levels as the dismissing status differentially affected specific components of self-reported parental reflective functioning and observed sensitivity. Interestingly, these patterns were largely comparable in mothers and fathers. Exploratory mediation analyses further suggested that decreased parental reflective functioning may partially mediate the relationship between parents' dismissing attachment and decreased parental sensitivity. Thus, for prevention and intervention programs targeting parental sensitivity and thus children's long term healthy mental development, the interplay between parental reflective functioning and parents' own attachment history emerges as a key mechanism. Finally, our study served as a further validation of the PRFQ given the caveat that the pre-mentalizing subscale may need further revision in the German version.