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When Words Just Won’t Do: Introducing Parental Embodied Mentalizing


  • The International Psychoanalytic Association Research Advisory Board award to the first author (1402781) supported this research. The first author would like to thank Peter Fonagy for his continuous support and guidance.

concerning this article should be addressed to Dana Shai, Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues, Birkbeck University of London, 7 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3RA, UK; e-mail:;


Abstract— Parental mentalizing—parents’ capacity to appreciate, even unconsciously, the infant’s mental states and their role in motivating behavior—is related to infant attachment security and other social and cognitive capacities. Yet virtually all current measurements of parental mentalizing rely on parents’ semantic and verbal expressions. Despite the demonstrated value of this approach, exclusive reliance on verbal processes may fail to fully capture interactive mentalizing processes. Reflecting an embodied relational perspective for investigating parent–infant interaction, this article introduces parental embodied mentalizing, which refers to parents’ capacity to (a) implicitly conceive, comprehend, and extrapolate the infant’s mental states from the infant’s whole-body movement, and (b) adjust their own kinesthetic patterns accordingly. It concludes by outlining directions for future research.