The association between deficiencies in paternal and maternal reflective functioning and anorexia nervosa symptomatology

Dor Goshen, Daniel Stein, Jenny Kurman, Dan Farbstein, Adi Enoch-Levy, Erez Aival-Naveh, Eitan Gur, Neta Yoeli, Tali Bretler, Danny Koren, Lily Rothschild-Yakar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: A large theoretical body of knowledge exists emphasizing the importance of parental mentalizing in the context of anorexia-nervosa (AN). However, the empirical support to these assumptions is still scarce. The aim of the present study was to examine whether parents of patients with AN are characterized by a lower mentalizing ability, and whether it is associated with impaired mentalizing, AN symptomatology and eating disorder (ED) related psychological traits in the daughters. Methods: Thirty-two family triads (fathers, mothers, and daughters) of female adolescent and young adult inpatients with AN were compared with thirty-three non-clinical family triads (N = 195). The mentalizing ability of all the participants was assessed using semi-structured interviews and coded using the Reflective Functioning Scale (RFS). Self-report questionnaires were administered to the daughters to evaluate ED symptomatology and ED related psychological traits (e.g., low self-esteem, interpersonal insecurity, emotional dysregulation). Results: Decreased reflective functioning (RF) levels were found among mothers and fathers of patients with AN compared to their control peers. Examining the entire sample, clinical and non-clinical groups together, showed that both paternal and maternal RF were associated with the daughters' RF and each were found to have a significant and distinct contribution to the daughters' RF. Significant associations were found between lower levels of maternal and paternal RF and increased ED symptoms and ED related psychological traits. The use of a mediation model suggested a serial relationship in which low maternal and paternal RF contributes to the daughters' low RF, which in turn is associated with higher levels of psychological maladjustment, and ultimately contributes to the increased severity of ED symptoms. Conclusions: The present results provide strong empirical support for theoretical models that suggest that deficits in parental mentalizing may represent important correlates of the presence and severity of ED symptoms in AN. Furthermore, the results highlight the relevance of fathers' mentalizing ability in the context of AN. Finally, clinical and research implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116
JournalJournal of Eating Disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - 11 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Eating disorders
  • Mentalizing
  • Parental reflective functioning
  • Reflective functioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'The association between deficiencies in paternal and maternal reflective functioning and anorexia nervosa symptomatology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this