Parental Embodied Mentalizing: Let’s Be Explicit About What We Mean by Implicit


  • Grants from the International Psychoanalytic Association Research Advisory Board awarded to the first author (1402781, 1554990) supported this research.

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 embodied mentalizing (PEM)—defined as the “parental capacity to (a) implicitly conceive, comprehend, and extrapolate the infant’s mental states (such as wishes, desires, or preferences) from the infant’s whole-body kinesthetic expressions and (b) adjust one’s own kinesthetic patterns accordingly”—represents the first known attempt to conceptualize parental mentalizing in a theoretical and empirical framework that moves beyond parents’ verbal and declarative capacities toward the infant’s realm of experience: that of quality of movement, rhythms, space, time, sensations, and touch. This response article discusses the implicit nature of PEM in light of emerging neuroscientific evidence showing that independent mechanisms subserve implicit and explicit mentalizing. It argues that the development of children’s sense of ownership and agency at the embodied level necessitates the interpersonal encounter, mediated by parental embodied mentalizing.