Skip to main content Accessibility help

Attention: Prenatal alcohol and continuities of vigilance and attentional problems from 4 through 14 years

  • Ann P. Streissguth (a1), Fred L. Bookstein (a2), Paul D. Sampson (a3) and Helen M. Barr (a1)


This study examined the longitudinal components of vigilance performance and attentional behaviors across the ages of 4, 7, and 14 years of life as they relate to prenatal alcohol exposure assessed by maternal self-report in midpregnancy for a cohort of 512 children. The vigilance score most salient for prenatal alcohol across this 10-year developmental period was Standard Deviation of Reaction Time (SDRT). Also salient were False Alarms (FA) on the AX task, impulsive errors reflecting difficulty in withholding a response. All 19 of the children with poorest scores on a Vigilance Latent Variable (LV) at 14 years had scored low on a similarly-defined Vigilance LV at age 7 years. Cross-lagged correlations revealed that the 7-year Vigilance LV not only predicted second-grade teacher ratings of attention a year later (r = – .38), but also predicted fourth-fifth-grade teacher ratings of attention (r = – .36). These data reveal considerable consistency across time in the impact of prenatal alcohol on child/adolescent vigilance performance and attention between 4 and 14 years of age.


Corresponding author

Ann P. Streissguth, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Box 359112, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.


Hide All
Achenbach, T. M., Howell, C. T., McConaughy, S. H., & Stanger, C. (in press). Six-year predictors of problems in a national sample of children and youth. 1. Cross-informant syndromes. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Achenbach, T. M., Howell, C. T., McConaughy, S. H., & Stanger, C. (in press). Six-year predictors of problems in a national sample of children and youth. 2. Signs of disturbance. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Altman, J. (1987). Morphological and behavioral markers of environmentally induced retardation of brain development: An animal model. Environmental Health Perspectives, 74, 153168.
Aronson, M., Kyllerman, M., Sabel, K. G., Sandin, B., & Olegärd, R. (1985). Children of alcoholic mothers: Developmental, perceptual and behavioral characteristics as compared to matched controls. Acta Paediatrica Scandinavica, 74 (1), 2735.
Bookstein, F. L. (1986). The elements of latent variable models: A cautionary lecture. In Lamb, M., Brown, A. L., & Rosoff, B. (Eds.), Advances in developmental psychology (Vol. 4, pp. 203230). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Bookstein, F. L. (1991). Morphometric tools for landmark data: Geometry and biology. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bookstein, F. L. (1994). Partial Least Squares: A dose-response model for measurement in the behavioral and brain sciences. Psycoloquy, 5 (23). [Retrievable by anonymous ftp: host:; directory: pub/harnad/Psycoloquy/1994.volume.5; file: psyc.94.5.23.least-squares. 1. bookstein]
Bookstein, F. L., Sampson, P. D., Streissguth, A. P., & Barr, H. M. (1990). Measuring “dose” and “response” with multivariate data using partial least squares techniques. Communications in Statistics, 19, 765804.
Bookstein, F. L., Streissguth, A. P., Sampson, P., Barr, H. (in press). Exploiting redundant measurement of dose and developmental outcome: New methods from the behavioral teratology of alcohol. Developmental Psychology.
Born, J., Whipple, S. C., & Stamm, J. (1984). Potential-related events: Reaction time tasks contingent upon frontal lobe slow potential shifts. Annals New York Academy of Sciences, 425, 667670.
Brown, R. T., Coles, C. D., Smith, I. E., Platzman, K. A., Silverstein, J., Erickson, S., & Falek, A. (1991). Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure at school age. II: Attention and behavior. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 13, 369376.
Bruhn, P., & Parsons, O. A. (1977). Reaction times variability in epileptic and brain-damaged patients. Cortex, 13, 373384.
Carmichael Olson, H., Sampson, P. D., Barr, H., Streissguth, A. P., & Bookstein, F. L. (1992). Prenatal exposure to alcohol and school problems in late childhood: A longitudinal prospective study. Development and Psychopathology, 4, 341359.
Carmichael Olson, H., Streissguth, A. P., Sampson, P. D., Barr, H. M., Bookstein, F. L., & Thiede, K. (1995). Prenatal alcohol exposure and behavioral and learning problems in early adolescence. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 1 (2), 174.
Carron, A. V., & Bailey, D. A. (1969). Evidence for reliable individual differences in intra-individual variability. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 28, 843846.
Chernick, V., Childiaeva, R., & Ioffe, S. (1983). Effects of maternal alcohol intake and smoking on neonatal electroencephalogram and anthropometric measurements. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 146, 4147.
Conners, C. K. (1973). Rating scales for use in drug studies in children: Pharmacotherapy of children. Psychopharmacology Bulletin (Special Issue), 2428.
Cornblatt, B. A., & Erlenmeyer-Kimling, L. (1985). Global attentional deviance as a marker of risk for schizophrenia: Specificity and predictive validity. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 94, 470486.
Fischer, M., Barkley, R. A., Fletcher, K. E., & Smallish, L. (1993). The stability of dimensions of behavior in ADHD and normal children over an 8-year follow-up. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 21, 315337.
Friedman, J. H. (1984). A variable span smoother (Tech. Rep. No. 5). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University, Laboratory for Computational Statistics, Department of Statistics.
Goodlett, C. R., & West, J. R. (1992). Fetal alcohol effects: Rat model of alcohol exposure during the brain growth spurt. In Zagon, I. S. & Slotkin, T. A. (Eds.), Maternal substance abuse and the developing nervous system (pp. 4575). San Diego: Academic Press.
Hanson, J. W., Jones, K. L., & Smith, D. W. (1976). Fetal alcohol syndrome: Experience with 41 patients. Journal of the American Medical Association, 235 (14), 14581460.
Hollingshead, A. B., & Redlich, F. C. (1958). Social Class and Mental Illness, a Community Study. New York: Wiley.
Ioffe, S., & Chernick, V. (1988). Development of the EEG between 30 and 40 weeks gestation in normal and alcohol-exposed infants. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 30, 797807.
Ioffe, S., Childiaeva, R., & Chernick, V. (1984). Prolonged effects of maternal alcohol ingestion on the neonatal electroencephalogram. Pediatrics, 74, 330335.
Jacobson, S. W., Jacobson, J. L., Sokol, R. J., Martier, S. S., & Ager, J. W. (1993). Prenatal alcohol exposure and infant information processing ability. Child Development, 64, 17061721.
Karlsen, N. R., Reinvang, I., & Froland, S. S. (1992). Slowed reaction time in asymptomatic HIV-positive patients. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 86, 242246.
LaDue, R. A., Streissguth, A. P., & Randels, S. P. (1992). Clinical considerations pertaining to adolescents and adults with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In Sonderegger, T. B. (Ed.), Perinatal substance abuse: Research findings and clinical implications (pp. 104131). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Landesman-Dwyer, S., Ragozin, A. S., & Little, R. E. (1981). Behavioral correlates of prenatal alcohol exposure: A four-year follow-up study. Neurobehavioral Toxicology & Teratology, 3, 187193.
Mannuzza, S., Klein, R. G., Bessler, A., Malloy, P., & La Padula, M. (1993). Adult outcome of hyperactive boys: Educational achievement, occupational rank, and psychiatric status. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 565576.
Martin, D. C., Martin, J. C., Streissguth, A. P., & Lund, C. A. (1979). Sucking frequency and amplitude in newborns as a function of maternal drinking and smoking. In Galanter, M. (Ed.), Currents in Alcoholism (Vol. 5, pp. 359366). New York: Grune & Stratton.
Mirsky, A. F. (1987). Behavioral and psychophysiological markers of disordered attention. Environmental Health Perspectives, 74, 191199.
Mirsky, A. F. (1988). Research on schizophrenia in the NIMH laboratory of psychology and psychopathology, 1954–1987. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 14, 151156.
Mirsky, A. F., Anthony, B. J., Duncan, C. C., Ahearn, M. B., & Kellam, S. G. (1991). Analysis of the elements of attention: A neuropsychological approach. Neuropsychology Review, 2, 109145.
Nanson, J. L., & Hiscock, M. (1990). Attention deficits in children exposed to alcohol prenatally. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 14 (5), 656661.
Nuechterlein, K. H. (1983). Signal detection in vigilance tasks and behavioral attributes among offspring of schizophrenic mothers and among hyperactive children. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 92, 428.
Parasuraman, R., & Davies, D. R. (1977). A taxonomic analysis of vigilance performance. In Mackie, R. R. (Ed.), Vigilance: Theory, operational performance and physiological correlates (pp. 559574). New York: Plenum Press.
Posner, M. I., & Petersen, S. E. (1990). The attention system of the human brain. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 13, 2542.
Raine, A., & Jones, F. (1987). Attention, autonomic arousal, and personality in behaviorally disordered children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 15 (4), 583599.
Rosvold, H. E., Mirsky, A. F., Sarason, I., Bransome, E. D., & Beck, L. N. (1956). A continuous performance test of brain damage. Journal of Consulting Psychiatry, 20, 343350.
Russell, M., Czarnecki, D. M., Cowan, R., McPherson, E., & Mudar, P. (1991). Measures of maternal alcohol used as predictors of development in early childhood. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 15, 9911000.
Rutschmann, J., Cornblatt, B., & Erlenmeyer-Kimling, L. (1986). Sustained attention in children at risk for schizophrenia: Findings with two visual continuous performance tests in a new sample. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 14 (3), 365385.
Sampson, P. D., Streissguth, A. P., Barr, H. M., & Bookstein, F. L. (1989). Neurobehavioral effects of prenatal alcohol. Part II: Partial Least Squares analysis. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 11 (5), 477491.
Sander, L. W., Snyder, P. A., Rosett, H. L., Lee, A., Gould, J. B., & Ouellette, E. (1977). Effects of alcohol intake during pregnancy on newborn state regulation: A progress report. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 1, 233241.
Scher, M. S., Richardson, G. A., Coble, P. A., Day, N. L., & Stoffer, D. S. (1988). The effects of prenatal alcohol and marijuana exposure: Disturbances in neonatal sleep cycling and arousal. Pediatric Research, 24, 101105.
Shaywitz, S. E., Cohen, D. J., & Shaywitz, B. A. (1980). Behavior and learning difficulties in children of normal intelligence born to alcoholic mothers. Journal of Pediatrics, 96 (6), 978982.
Smith, G. A., & Brewer, N. (1985). Age and individual differences in correct and error reaction times. British Journal of Psychology, 76, 199203.
Spohr, H. L., Willms, J., & Steinhausen, H. C. (1993). Prenatal alcohol exposure and long-term developmental consequences. Lancet, 341 (8850), 907910.
Sroufe, L. A., Sonies, B. C., West, W. D., & Wright, F. S. (1973). Anticipatory heart rate deceleration and reaction time in children with and without referral for learning disability. Child Development, 44, 267273.
Steinhausen, H. C., Nestler, V., & Spohr, H. L. (1982). Development and psychopathology of children with the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 3, 4951.
Stock, D. L., Streissguth, A. P., & Martin, D. C. (1985). Neonatal sucking as an outcome variable: Comparison of quantitative and clinical assessments. Early Human Development, 10, 273278.
Streissguth, A. P., Barr, H. M., & Martin, D. C. (1983). Maternal alcohol use and neonatal habituation assessed with the Brazelton Scale. Child Development, 54, 11091118.
Streissguth, A. P., Barr, H. M., Sampson, P. D., Bookstein, F. L., & Darby, B. L. (1989). Neurobehavioral effects of prenatal alcohol. Part I: Research strategy. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 11, 461476.
Streissguth, A. P., Barr, H. M., Sampson, P. D., Parrish-Johnson, J. C., Kirchner, G. L., & Martin, D. C. (1986). Attention, distraction and reaction time at age 7 years and prenatal alcohol exposure. Neurobehavioral Toxicology and Teratology, 8, 717725.
Streissguth, A. P., Bookstein, F. L., Sampson, P. D., & Barr, H. M. (1993). The enduring effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on child development, birth through 7 years: A partial least squares solution. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Streissguth, A. P., Bookstein, F. L., Sampson, P. D., & Barr, H. M. (1989). Neurobehavioral effects of prenatal alcohol. Part III: PLS analyses of neuropsychologic tests. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 11 (5), 493507.
Streissguth, A. P., & Giunta, C. T. (1992). Subject recruitment and retention for longitudinal research: Practical considerations for a nonintervention model. In Kilbey, M. M. & Asghar, K. (Eds.), Methodological issues in epidemiological, prevention, and treatment research on drug-exposed women and their children (National Institute on Drug Abuse Monograph No. 117). Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Streissguth, A. P., Martin, D. C., Barr, H. M., Sandman, B. M., Kirchner, G. L., & Darby, B. L. (1984). Intrauterine alcohol and nicotine exposure: Attention and reaction time in 4-year-old children. Developmental Psychology, 20, 533541.
Streissguth, A. P., Martin, D. C., & Buffington, V. E. (1976). Test-retest reliability of three scales derived from a quantity-frequency-variability assessment of self-reported alcohol consumption. In Seixas, F. A. & Eggleston, S. (Eds.), Work in Progress in Alcoholism (Vol. 273, pp. 458466). New York: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Streissguth, A. P., Sampson, P. D., Carmichael Olson, H., Bookstein, F. L., Barr, H. M., Scott, M., Feldman, J., & Mirsky, A. F. (1994). Maternal drinking during pregnancy: Attention and short-term memory in 14-year-old offspring — A longitudinal prospective study. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 18 (1), 202218.
Stuss, D. T., Pogue, J., Buckle, L., & Bondar, J. (1994). Characterization of stability of performance in patients with traumatic brain injury: Variability and consistency on reaction time tests. Neuropsychology, 8 (3), 316324.
Stuss, D. T., Stethem, L. L., Hugenholtz, H., Picton, T., Pivik, J., & Richard, M. T. (1989). Reaction time after head injury: Fatigue, divided and focused attention, and consistency of performance. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 52, 742748.
Tatman, J. E. (1992). Elements of attention and concentration in normal aging adults: Locus of decline. Unpublished M.A. Thesis in Psychology. Washington, DC: The American University.
Ward, G. R., & West, J. R. (1992). Effects of ethanol during development on neuronal survival and plasticity. In Miller, M. W. (Ed.), Development of the central nervous system: Effects of alcohol and opiates (pp. 109138). New York: Wiley-Liss.
Weiss, G., & Hechtman, L. T. (1986). Hyperactive children grown up: Empirical findings and theoretical considerations. New York: Guilford Press.
Weiss, G., & Hechtman, L. T. (1993). Hyperactive children grown up: ADHD in children, adolescents, and adults (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Wilkins, A. J., Shallice, T., & McCarthy, R. (1987). Frontal lesions and sustained attention. Neuropsychologia, 25, 359365.
Zubin, J. (1975). Problem of attention in schizophrenia. In Kietzman, M. L., Sutton, S., & Zubin, J. (Eds.), Experimental approaches to psychopathology (pp. 139166). New York: Academic Press.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed