What's going on in my baby's mind? Mothers' executive functions contribute to individual differences in maternal mentalization during mother-infant interactions.PLoS One. 2018; 13(11):e0207869.Plos
Maternal mentalization refers to a mother's capacity to understand mental-states of herself and her child and to regard her child as a psychological agent. In mother-infant interactions, this capacity is commonly conceptualized as maternal mind-mindedness, which can be divided into two dimensions: appropriate and nonattuned interpretations of the infants' mental-states. Appropriate mind-mindedness refers to interpretations that seem to be compatible with the infant's behaviors, whereas nonattuned mind-mindedness refers to noncompatible interpretations. The aim of this study was to investigate the cognitive mechanisms that contribute to mind-mindedness. Specifically, we investigated the role of executive functions in appropriate and nonattuned mind-mindedness, and the moderating roles of two infant-related factors, prematurity (as a stressful context) and child temperament (as a context of unpredictability and negative emotionality). To this end, mother-infant free play interactions were coded for mind-mindedness in a sample of 102 mothers and their 6-month-old infants (61 preterm, 41 full-term). When children were 66-months old, mothers completed cognitive tasks that assessed working memory updating, resistance to interference, response inhibition, and shifting. Appropriate mind-mindedness was positively associated with updating, and this link was stronger when infant temperament was rated as more difficult. Furthermore, among mothers of full-term infants, mothers' resistance to interference was negatively associated with nonattuned mind-mindedness. This link was not evident in the stressful context of premature birth. Mothers' response inhibition and shifting were not associated with either of the mind-mindedness dimensions. Implications on understanding variability in maternal mentalization during mother-infant interactions and the roles of executive functions in parenting are discussed.