Parental Reflective Functioning (PRF)is an attachment related construct that refers to the parent’s ability to accurately interpret and respond to their infant’s internal emotional and biological states (Fonagy, 2009). Presently, the only well-established measure of PRF, the Reflective Functioning Scale, is scored using the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) or the Parental Development Interview (PDI). These measures provide clinically rich data that is not available with questionnaires. However, these assessment tools are often cost prohibitive and time intensive. Given this, a shorter interview that assesses PRF may be beneficial for both research and practice. The purpose of this study was to develop and pilot test a new, short measure of PRF.
This new PRF measure, the Five-Minute Speech Sample Coded for Reflective Functioning (FMSS-RF), was developed as part of the Family Minds intervention- an intervention designed to increase the reflective functioning of foster parents. It was based on the Five-Minute Speech Sample procedure (Gottschalk & Gleser, 1969), used to measure psychological states using content analysis of verbal behavior. It is a 5-minute recorded monologue in which the respondent is asked to speak about a topic for the entire five minutes, without verbal prompts from the interviewer. For the FMSS-RF interview protocol, foster parents in Texas were asked to speak for 5 minutes into a recorder, answering three questions created for this measure and based on similar questions in the PDI which are designed to elicit PRF. A total of 33 participants in this quasi-experimental study, from both the intervention and control group, completed this measure at two time points (pre and post), six weeks apart. Recordings were transcribed and then coded for PRF by two coders who were reliable coders on the PDI.
Multivariate analysis revealed a significant difference between groups on this measure (F(3, 29) = .70, p = 0.015, d = 1.31), with a significant increase in PRF scores only in the intervention group. These results mirrored the significant increase in mentalizing skills for the intervention group as scored on the Parental Reflective Functioning Questionnaire. Results indicated that before the intervention, parents seemed to have a relatively low level of reflective functioning, meaning they were not especially reflective and did not appear to have a complex view of the interactional nature of mental states in relationships. However, by the end of the study, parents in the intervention group had significantly increased their overall ability to mentalize themselves, as well as their children.
Conclusions and Implications
This new short FMSS-RF measure shows promise as a brief and practical measure of parental reflective functioning, and is a sensitive measure of post intervention RF change. Such a measure would not only be useful in research, but could be of immense value to social workers and clinicians who need a quick measure of RF for client assessment. Further research should attempt to validate it against an established measure of PRF, such as the AAI or PDI.