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Fertuck, E.A. Target, M. Mergenthaler, E. Clarkin, J.F. (2004). The Development of a Computerized Linguistic Analysis Instrument of the Reflective Functioning Measure. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 52(2):473-475.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: The Development of a Computerized Linguistic Analysis Instrument of the Reflective Functioning Measure

(2004). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 52(2):473-475

The Development of a Computerized Linguistic Analysis Instrument of the Reflective Functioning Measure

Eric A. Fertuck, Mary Target, Erhard Mergenthaler and John F. ClarkinAuthor Information

The Reflective Functioning (RF) instrument was developed by Peter Fonagy, Mary Target, and colleagues. According to its developers, “Reflective functioning involves both a self-reflective and an interpersonal component that ideally provides the individual with a welldeveloped capacity to distinguish inner from outer reality, pretend from ‘real’ modes of functioning, intra-personal mental and emotional processes from interpersonal communications”, (Fonagy et al. 1997). Psychoanalytic therapy and psychoanalysis may be treatments that uniquely foster RF, and increased RF can facilitate improvements in symptoms and character, and increase resiliency to external stressors.

The current measurement of RF is a sophisticated and time consuming process, requiring extensively trained raters and the use of verbatim transcripts of narratives derived from the Adult Attachment Interview, or AAI (Main and Goldwyn 1991). We label this measurement Rater RF (RRF) to contrast it with the Computer RF (CRF) that we are developing. The extensive training and expertise required to measure RRF make it difficult to use in a large-sample study of psychoanalytic treatments and their impact on RF. Computer-aided linguistic analysis has the potential to facilitate the rating of RF in a more efficient manner, while simultaneously identifying the linguistic markers of high and low RF speech. We plan to develop a linguistic model of RRF speech that can then be validated on psychotherapy transcripts

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and other types of narrative data. Such a Computerized Reflective Function (CRF) measure could allow for empirical study of how psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy might uniquely promote the development of RF, and how this may be related to a psychoanalytic mechanism of symptom and character change.


We used three samples of individuals from both clinical and nonclinical settings. Verbatim transcripts of 98 Adult Attachment Interviews were rated for RRF by reliable raters. In accordance with the Marker Approach of Mergenthaler and Bucci (1999), 48 of these AAIs were selected randomly. The highest and the lowest third of these 48 were then selected based on the RRF score, yielding 16 High RRF AAIs and 16 Low RRF AAIs.


Based on these 16 High and 16 Low RRF AAIs, a prototype word marker list of characteristic High CRF speech was derived. Next, the computerized Text Analysis System (TAS) developed by Mergenthaler (1996) calculated the frequency of the words in the prototype High CRF dictionary for each of the 32 AAIs (16 High and 16 Low). These prototype CRF scores were correlated with the rater-scored RRF on these 32 AAIs. The Spearman correlation between the prototype CRF and RRF was r = 0.73, p < .0001.


The highly significant correlation between our prototype Computerized Reflective Function (CRF) measure and the Rater Reflective Function (RRF) measure provides promising support for the viability of developing a valid linguistic model of the Reflective Function measure. With this promising prototype CRF measure, we will further refine the instrument using a larger sample size and by evaluating the word list in light of the types of words one would theorize to be associated with High and Low RF language.


FONAGY, P., STEELE, M., STEELE, H., & TARGET, M. (1997). Reflective Functioning manual (version 4.1) for application to adult attachment interviews. Unpublished manual, Psychoanalysis Unit, Sub-Department of Clinical Health Psychology, University College London. [Related→]

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MAIN, M., & GOLDWYN, R. (1991). Adult Attachment Classification System, version 5. Unpublished manuscript, University of California, Berkeley. [Related→]

MERGENTHALER, E. (1996). Emotion-Abstraction patterns in verbatim protocols: A new way of describing psychotherapeutic processes. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology 64: 1306-1315.

MERGENTHALER, E. BUCCI, W. (1999). Linking verbal and nonverbal representations: Computer analysis of referential activity. Brit. J. Med. Psychol. 72: 339-354.

Research supported by grants from the Leslie Glass Foundation and the International Psychoanalytical Association.

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Article Citation [Who Cited This?]

Fertuck, E.A., Target, M., Mergenthaler, E. and Clarkin, J.F. (2004). The Development of a Computerized Linguistic Analysis Instrument of the Reflective Functioning Measure. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 52(2):473-475

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