Mind-mindedness: Impact on parenting advice and professional practice
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Durham
Unit of AssessmentPsychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Summary of the impact
This case study focuses on the construct of mind-mindedness: parents' or
carers' ability to `tune in' to what their young children are thinking or
feeling. Durham-based research highlighted how parental mind-mindedness is
associated with a range of positive child and family outcomes, and has had
impact via two main routes: (a) advice and support offered to parents
(10,000 copies of the NSPCC's All Babies Count booklet and
associated social media sites reaching 800,000 parents), and (b)
interventions targeted to improve outcome in parents and families
Mind-mindedness is defined as caregivers' proclivity to treat their young
children as individuals with minds of their own, and is operationalised in
terms of caregivers' ability to `read' their babies' thoughts and feelings
during play interactions in the first year of life through their use of mind-related
comments (Meins & Fernyhough, 2012; Meins et al., 2001,
2012). Caregivers who are mind-minded tend to comment appropriately on
what the baby might be thinking or feeling (e.g., saying that the baby
likes or is interested in a toy that he is playing with, or that the baby
is excited if she squeals joyfully), and avoid making comments that are
non-attuned to the baby's internal state (e.g., saying that the baby is
bored with a toy when still actively playing with it, or attributing
emotions such as fear or anger in the absence of any overt cue to indicate
such an emotion). Unlike sensitivity, which assesses global aspects of
parenting, mind-mindedness thus focuses on very specific parenting
behaviours and gives a clear indication of the parent's ability to `read'
the baby's behaviour accurately.
Durham-based longitudinal research (Grants 2, 3 and 5 below, and PhD
research) reported that parental mind-mindedness during the child's first
year of life is associated with positive outcomes in key developmental
milestones in the early years. Higher levels of early mind-mindedness
predict (a) a secure infant-parent attachment relationship (Arnott &
Meins, 2007; Meins et al., 2012), (b) superior language and play abilities
at age 2 (Meins, Fernyhough et al., 2013), and (c) children's
understanding of other people's thoughts and feelings at age 4 (Meins,
Fernyhough et al., 2013). Higher levels of early mind-mindedness also
protect children against later behavioural difficulties, specifically in
the context of low socio-economic status (Meins, Muñoz-Centifanti et al.,
2013). These positive outcomes are over and above any contribution of
general parental sensitivity to the child.
Commenting appropriately on the baby's thoughts and feelings thus lays
the foundations for optimal parent-child relationships and scaffolds
children's own understanding of other people's perspectives and mental
states. Moreover, in the more stressful conditions associated with low
socio-economic status, being able to `tune in' to the child's thoughts and
feelings enables parents to comprehend their children's behaviour, making
them less likely to perceive behaviour as problematic.
Another ESRC award (Grant 4 below) investigated mind-mindedness in
mothers who were hospitalised with their babies in order to receive
treatment for a range of severe mental illnesses (Pawlby et al., 2010). On
admission, depressed mothers tended to make fewer appropriate comments
about their babies' thoughts and feelings than did psychologically well
mothers. However, this difference was not observed at discharge,
highlighting an improvement in mind-mindedness in depressed mothers
during their stay in hospital.
References to the research
The underpinning research resulted from five awards: one from The
Leverhulme Trust and four from the Economic and Social Research Council
(ESRC). The total amount for the five awards was £650,364. For three of
the ESRC awards, the principal investigator was Meins (1997-2000, 2001-2004,
2005-2008); Fernyhough was principal investigator for the other
award (2003-2006). All of these awards were made while these researchers
were full-time (Meins) or part-time (Fernyhough) members of academic staff
at Durham University. In September 2000, Meins was awarded a mid-career
award from the Society for Reproductive and Infant Psychology for
"an outstanding contribution to research".
1. Arnott, B., & Meins, E. (2007). Links between antenatal attachment
representations, postnatal mind-mindedness, and infant attachment
security: A preliminary study of mothers and fathers. Bulletin of the
Menninger Clinic, 71, 132-149. Citations: WoS 24, Google Scholar 41.
Impact factor 0.719, ranked 6/14 Psychoanalysis Psychology journals.
2. Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., de Rosnay, M., Arnott, B., Leekam,
S. R., & Turner, M. (2012). Mind-mindedness as a multidimensional
construct: Appropriate and non-attuned mind-related comments independently
predict infant-mother attachment in a socially diverse sample. Infancy,
17, 393-415. Citations: WoS 1, Google Scholar 4. Impact factor
1.725, ranked 32/68 in Developmental Psychology journals. doi:
3. Pawlby, S. Fernyhough, C., Meins, E., Pariante, C. M., Seneviratne,
G., & Bentall, R. P. (2010). Mind-mindedness and maternal
responsiveness in infant-mother interactions in mothers with severe mental
illness. Psychological Medicine, 40, 1861-1869. Citations: WoS 7,
Google Scholar 12. Impact factor 6.159, ranked 4/110 in Clinical
Psychology journals. doi: 10.1017/S0033291709992340
4. Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., Arnott, B., Leekam, S. R.,& de Rosnay,
M. (2013). Mind-Mindedness and Theory of Mind: Mediating Roles of Internal
State Language and Perspectival Symbolic Play. Child Development, 84,
1777-1790. Citations: WoS 1, Google Scholar 1. Impact factor 4.718, ranked
4/68 in Developmental Psychology journals, top-ranking journal for
empirical studies on typically developing children. doi:
5. Meins, E., Muñoz-Centifanti, L., Fernyhough, C., & Fishburn, S.
(2013). Maternal mind-mindedness and children's behavioral difficulties:
Mitigating the impact of low socio-economic status. Journal of
Abnormal Child Psychology, 41, 543-553. Impact factor 3.088, ranked
14/68 in Developmental Psychology journals. doi: 10.1007/s10802-012-9699-3
6. Meins, E., & Fernyhough, C. (2012). Mind-mindedness coding
manual, version 2.1. Unpublished manuscript available to download
from first author's website.
1. September 1997 - February 1999
Meins, E., & Zeedyk, M. S. `Maternal assignment of infants' mental
agency as a predictor of security of attachment'; £30,000 funded by The
2. November 1997 - February 2000
Meins, E., & Fernyhough, C. `Mind-mindedness and security of
attachment as predictors of mentalising abilities'; £42,000, funded by the
3. October 2001 - April 2004
Meins, E., Leekam, S. R., & Turner, M. A. `Developmental outcomes of
joint attention and maternal mind-mindedness'; £204,000, funded by the
4. November 2003 - August 2006
Fernyhough, C., Bentall, R. P., Meins, E., Corcoran, R., & Morrison,
A. `Infant-mother interaction in a sample of mothers with psychosis.'
£41,999, funded by the ESRC.
5. April 2005 - April 2008
Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., de Rosnay, M., Arnott, B., & Vittorini, L.
`Internal working models and young children's social-emotional
development.' £332,365, funded by the ESRC.
Details of the impact
Our research findings have been disseminated to relevant professionals
via presentations, mind-mindedness training courses, the freely-available
on-line Mind-Mindedness Coding Manual, media appearances and social media
such as Twitter.
Findings from References 1, 2 and 3 above have fed into the NSPCC's All
Babies Count programme and Baby Steps perinatal education
service. The All Babies Count campaign was launched in November
2011 and has an associated advice booklet that informs parents in simple
terms about mind-mindedness (Source 1 below, pp 4-5). The NSPCC reported
on the campaign on May 28th 2012 (Source 2 below). At this
time, the booklet had been viewed over 1500 times online and more
than 10,000 copies had been distributed to parents via healthcare
professionals. The report stated that:
All Babies Count was Mumsnet's campaign of the week in
All Babies Count was mentioned 6,914 times online, with
5,911 uses of the Twitter hashtag #allbabiescount, reaching an
estimated 800,000 followers.
All Babies Count Facebook tab received 26,950 views.
All Babies Count microsite was visited by 56,979 people,
with 66,137 total visits and a `bounce rate' (i.e., number
leaving the site after viewing only one page) of only 8.4%.
- In the launch month, 42% of Westminster MPs stated they were
aware of the campaign, with public support from MPs Ian Duncan-Smith,
Graham Allen and Catherine McKinnell.
Mind-mindedness research is cited and discussed in the practitioners'
manual for the NSPCC's Baby Steps service. The aim of Baby
Steps is to support vulnerable families in the transition to
parenthood using "a variety of interactive approaches to engage and
support parents, and to help them recognise and respond to their babies'
cues" (Source 3 below, p. 2). Over 850 parents in England and
Wales have accessed this service since April 2012, with positive early
evaluation results (Source 2 below).
For the past decade, clinical psychologists at the Royal Bethlem Hospital
in London have been using mind-mindedness in their intervention programmes
with depressed mothers and those hospitalised on a residential
mother-and-baby unit (MBU) for a range of severe mental illnesses. At
present, two clinical psychologists on the MBU are delivering a
mind-mindedness intervention programme designed by Meins. The intervention
involves filming the mother interacting with her baby and then playing the
filmed interaction to the mother to highlight times when the mother was
being mind-minded and examples of when she was less attuned to her baby's
thoughts and feelings. Around 500 mothers on the MBU have
benefited from this programme, which has aided recovery and enabled them
to return home with their infants. A mother who took part in the programme
discussed its importance and effectiveness on Radio 4's All in the
Mind (Source 4 below):
"When we looked back at the video it's the first time that I saw my
reaction to him... and it was the first time actually that I thought,
`Well, how would I feel if I was looking back at that face and hearing
that voice?' I'd feel a sense of sadness — that's not the way I need to
communicate with him... Before that, I used to think, `Well, you know,
he's just a baby.' I didn't think that they had those kind of emotions,
and at the time, I thought, `I'm feeding him, he's clothed and I respond
to him when he cries.' And if you think, `Well, that's enough, and...
the rest will just fall into place', well it's actually not enough. And
it's not until you experience the joys of understanding them as a human
being, understanding them as a person and seeing them respond to you;
there's an immense joy from that. The first time you actually recognise
them responding to you, that's when it all changes and it's beyond just
meeting their practical needs".
Mind-mindedness research has informed the Minding the Baby
intervention programme, which supports high-risk, vulnerable young mothers
through an intensive programme of home visits delivered by a nurse or
social worker. The aim of Minding the Baby is to make mothers more
aware of their babies' mental states and to voice their babies' emotions
and thoughts (i.e., facilitate mothers' mind-mindedness). This programme
has been running for a decade in New Haven, USA, and the NSPCC began using
this programme in 2011 in four areas across the UK. Over a five-year
period, the UK-based programme will provide support for 320 families.
Clinical psychologists in Oxfordshire and The Netherlands have applied
the underpinning research to their programmes for foster carers and
adoptive parents. Mind-mindedness has been used in this context both to
help inform the intervention (Source 5 below) and to assess the
effectiveness of the intervention programme (Source 6 below).
Recent research in Australia has investigated mind-mindedness in
practitioners working in a child-care centre (Source 7 below). Higher
levels of mind-mindedness were found to be associated with more sensitive
caregiving and more stimulating play and interaction, but mind-mindedness
was not related to practitioners' level of qualification. On the basis of
these findings, the authors recommended that mind-mindedness should be
incorporated into child-care workers' education and professional
development. In follow-up work (Source 8 below), these authors report on a
workshop programme they developed to increase levels of mind-mindedness in
child-care workers. In the UK, mind-mindedness research has informed
projects such as The Baby Room at Canterbury Christ Church University
which provides support, education and training to childcare professionals
who care specifically for the very youngest children (<18 months) in
Sources to corroborate the impact
All Babies Count: Support for parents. NSPCC document, November
- How we made All Babies Count: Reach and impact of the All Babies Count
Campaign. NSPCC document, May 28th 2012.
- Hogg, S. (2013). Birth and beyond: Supporting parents in the antenatal
period. Journal of Health Visiting, 1, 2-5.
- Radio 4 All in the Mind broadcast: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01pbqkh
- Colonnesi, C., Wissink, I. B., Noom, M. J., Asscher, J. J., Hoeve, M.,
Stams, G. J. J. M., et al. (2012). Basic trust: An attachment-oriented
intervention based on mind-mindedness in adoptive families. Research
on Social Work Practice. DOI: 10.1177/1049731512469301.
- Gurney-Smith, B., Granger, C., Randle, A., & Fletcher, J. (2010).
`In time and in tune' — the Fostering Attachments Group. Adoption
and Fostering, 34, 50-60. DOI: 10.1177/030857591003400406
- Degotardi, S., & Sweller, N. (2012). Mind-mindedness in infant
child-care. Associations with early childhood practitioner sensitivity
and stimulation. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27,
- Degotardi, S., Semann, A., & Shepherd, W. (2012). Using
practitioner inquiry to promote reflexivity and change in infant-toddler
early childhood programs. In P. Whiteman & K. De Gioia (Eds.), Children
and childhoods: Contemporary perspectives, places and practices.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN:
Development Manager for Children Under One, NSPCC, Weston House, 42
Curtain Road, London EC2A 3NH.
Institute of Psychiatry and Royal Bethlem Hospital, PO 71, Section of
Perinatal Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, De
Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF.
University of Amsterdam, Nieuwe Prinsengracht 130, 1018 VZ Amsterdam, The
Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109,
Consultant Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Clinical Lead for the ATTACH
team and Lead for Mental Health of Looked After and Adopted Children,
Oxfordshire County Council.