Fluctuations of mentalization in the context of relational stimuli and representational contents
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Submission date: 2017-09-26
Final revision date: 2018-09-12
Acceptance date: 2018-09-13
Online publication date: 2018-12-19
Publication date: 2018-12-17
Current Issues in Personality Psychology 2018;6(4):279–291
Mentalization as the ability to interpret human behavior in terms of mental states is not a stable characteristic but is subject to fluctuation depending on the context. Nonlinear system theories explain the fluctuation of mentalization by stressing the context of the relationship in which there emerges a new quality of mentalization and/or activation of elements of the internal system of representations.

Participants and procedure:
The aim of the study was to test whether the fluctuation of mentalization depends on the type of relational stimulus (imagining the responsiveness/unresponsiveness of a significant other) or on the interaction of the stimulus with the content aspects of representation (a predominance of relatedness/sociotropy or a predominance of self-definition/autonomy). The investigators collected the utterances of 49 students about a situation involving a significant other, which was preceded by a request to imagine that this person was responsive (Condition 1) or unresponsive (Condition 2). The level of mentalization was assessed by means of the Metacognition Assessment Scale. The investigators divided the group into two subgroups with different configu­rations of representational contents (a predominance of relatedness/sociotropy or self-definition/autonomy) bas­ed on the scores in the Personal Style Inventory.

Mentalization fluctuations dependent on the interaction of the stimulus and representational contents were observed in the group with a predominance of sociotropic contents for interpersonal mentalization but not for self-reflective mentalizing.

Mentalization must not be decontextualized; however, it is not the stimulus alone but the interaction of the stimulus with representational content that determines the fluctuations of mentalization. Individuals with a predominance of relatedness experience a decline in the capacity for interpersonal mentalization after imagining a significant other’s unresponsiveness, which can be interpreted as resulting from a weakening of the function of differentiating.

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