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Dr. McDevitt Shai Dana
Fields of Research
Dr. McDevitt Shai Dana
School of Behavioral Sciences

· Mentalizing

· Parental embodied mentalizing

· Nonverbal interactions

· Parent-infant

· Maternal sensitivity

· Attachment

· Co-parenting

· Prenatal family relations

· Triadic family interactions

· Transition to parenthood

Short Bio

Dr. Shai, Ph.D., psychologist, is a faculty member at the Academic College of Tel Aviv Yaffo. Dr. Shai focuses on infants’ early relational development and parenting, with particular interest in nonverbal interactive processes called Parental Embodied Mentalizing (PEM; Shai & Belsky, 2011). PEM is a theoretical, empirical, and clinical approach that focuses on nonverbal relationship between parents and their young children and on the parental capacity to understand the infant's mental state based on the infant’s whole body kinesthetic expressions and adjust their own kinesthetic patterns accordingly to respond suitably to the infant’s mentalistic expressions (Shai & Belsky, 2011).

Research shows that PEM predicts emotional, cognitive, and social development and is associated with parental factors. Dr. Shai also studies parenting, the transition to parenthood, co-parental relationships, and the child’s early social and emotional development within the family matrix. She does so while leading a large-scale mixed method ongoing longitudinal study following 104 couples over multiple time points from pregnancy to the age of seven. The research is aimed to further illuminate the child’s cognitive, emotional, and social development overtime as a function of familial processes, parenting factors, and parent-infant relationships. The chief constructs examined in the study are: mentalizing, parenting, romantic relationships, parent-child interactions, attachment, sensory and emotional regulation, sleep, co-parenting, and family alliance. The research employs a mixed-method approach, including self-reports, in depth interviews, observational, hormonal genetic, and physiological measures, aimed at studying different phenomena from psycho-biological perspective.

Dr. Shai also developed a prevention program focused on the emotional preparation to parenthood for expectant couples. The program is implements in health organizations, municipalities, and the private sector.

Selected Publications

  1. Bar Emet, S., & Shai, D. (Accepted). What nourishes maternal bonds? Maternal feeding experiences up to three months predict maternal bonding six months postpartum. Current Psychology.

  2.  Fogel-Yaakobi, S., Golland, Y., Levit-Binnun, N., Borelli, J.L., Mikulincer, M., & Shai, D. (Accepted). The Moderating Role of Attachment in the Association between Physiological Synchrony in Married Couples and Supportive Behavior in the transition to parenthood. Psychophysiology.

  3.  Waldman-Levi, A., Bundy, A. & Shai D. (2022). Playfulness development in early childhood: A longitudinal study of typically developing children. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 76(5), 7605205020.IF: 2.23, Q1.

  4.  Zamir, O., Szepsenwol, O., & Lassri, D., Shahar, B., & Shai, D. (Accepted). The Multifaceted Role of Empathy in the Transmission of Postpartum Depressive Symptoms between Parents. Family Process.

  5.  Shai, D., Laor, A., Spencer, R., Sleed, M., Baradon, T., Nolte, T., & Fonagy, P. (2022). Parental Embodied Mentalizing predicts infant cognitive and language development in longitudinal follow-up. Frontiers in Psychology.

  6.  Ierardi, E., Dascalu, A., Shai, D., Spencer, R., Crugnola, C.R. (2022). Parental embodied mentalizing: associations with maternal depression, anxiety, verbal mentalizing, and maternal styles of interaction. Journal of Affective Disorders.

  7.  Goldstein, A., Borelli, J.L., & Shai, D. (2022). In her shoes: Fathers' partner reflective functioning promotes family-level resilience to maternal depression. Development and Psychopathology. DOI:

  8.  *Afek, E., Rachel Lev-Wiesel. R., Federman, D., & Shai, D. (in press). The Mediating role of Parental Embodied Mentalizing in the Longitudinal Association between Prenatal Spousal Support and Infant Emotion Recognition. Infancy. DOI: 10.1111/infa.12462.

  9. Witte, A.M., de Moor, M.H.M., Szepsenwol, O., van IJzendoorn, M.H., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J., Shai, D. (2021). Developmental trajectories of infant nighttime awakenings are associated with infant-mother and infant-father attachment security. Infant Bahavior and Development, 65, 101653. DOI:

  10. Væver, M. S., Cordes, K., Stuart, A. C., Tharner, A., Shai, D., Spencer, R., & Smith-Nielsen, J. (2020). Associations of maternal sensitivity and embodied mentalizing with infant-mother attachment security at one year in depressed and non-depressed dyads. Attachment & Human Development, 1-18.‏ Development. DOI: 10.1080/14616734.2020.1861035.

  11.  Szepsenwol, O., Shai, D., Zamir, O., & Simpson, J.A. (2021). The Effects of Morbidity-Mortality and Economic Unpredictability on Parental Distress: A Life History Approach. Evolution and Human Behavior. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 38(1), 189-209.

  12.  Witte, A.M., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M.J., MH van IJzendoorn, M.H., Szepsenwol, O., & Shai, D. (2020). Predicting infant–father attachment: the role of pre-and postnatal triadic family alliance and paternal testosterone levels. Attachment & human development, 22 (6), 653-667.

  13.  Avdi, E., Amiran, K., Baradon, T., Broughton, C., Sleed, M., Spencer, R., & Shai, D. (2020). Studying the process of psychoanalytic parent–infant psychotherapy: Embodied and discursive aspects. Infant Mental Health Journal, 41(5), 589-602. DOI: 10.1002/imhj.21888.

  14.  Borelli, J. L., Slade, A., Pettit, C., & Shai, D. (2020). I “get” you, babe: Reflective functioning in partners transitioning to parenthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 37(6), 1785-1805.‏

  15.  Borelli, J. L., Shai, D., Fogel Yaakobi, S., Levit‐Binnun, N., & Golland, Y. (2019). Interpersonal physiological regulation during couple support interactions: Examining the role of respiratory sinus arrhythmia and emotional support. Psychophysiology, e13443.

  16.  Borelli, J.L., Shai, D., Smiley, P., Boparai, S., Rasmussen, H.F., & Granger, D.A. (2019). Mother-Child Adrenocortical Synchrony: Roles of Maternal Overcontrol and Child Developmental Phase. Developmental psychobiology, 61(8), 1120-1134.‏ISO 690.

  17.  Witte, A. M., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., van IJzendoorn, M. H., Szepsenwol, O., & Shai, D. (2019). Predicting infant–father attachment: the role of pre-and postnatal triadic family alliance and paternal testosterone levels. Attachment & human development, DOI: 10.1080/14616734.2019.1680713.

  18.  Shai, D. (2018). The Inconsolable Doll Task Prenatal coparenting behavioral dynamics under stress predicting child cognitive development at 18 months. Infant Behavior and Development, 56, 101254.

  19.  Shai, D., & Meins, E. (2018). Parental Embodied Mentalizing and its Relation to Mind‐Mindedness, Sensitivity, and Attachment Security. Infancy, 23(6), 857-872.‏

  20.  Shai, D., Dollberg, D., & Szepsenwol, O. (2017). The importance of parental verbal and embodied mentalizing in shaping parental experiences of stress and coparenting. Infant Behavior and Development, 49, 87-96.‏ ISO 690

  21. Shai, D., & Belsky, J. (2017). Parental embodied mentalizing How the nonverbal dance between parents and infants predicts children’s socio-emotional functioning. Attachment & human development, 19(2), 191-219

  22. Shai, D., & Fonagy, P. (2014). Beyond words: parental embodied mentalizing and the parent-infant dance. In M. Mikulincer, P. R. Shaver (Eds), The Herzliya series on personality and social psychology. Mechanisms of social connection: from brain to group (pp. 185–203). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

  23. Shai, D., & Belsky, J. (2011). When words just won’t do Introducing parental embodied mentalizing. Child Development Perspectives, 5(3), 173-180.‏

  24.  Shai, D., & Belsky, J. (2011). Parental embodied mentalizing Let’s be explicit about what we mean by implicit. Child Development Perspectives, 5(3), 187-188.‏

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