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Visual attention in preschool children prenatally exposed to cocaine: Implications for behavioral regulation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 January 2002

Department of Neurology, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
VA Puget Sound Health Care System, University of Washington, Seattle
Department of Psychology, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri
Department of Obstetrics, St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri


The presence of cocaine during the prenatal period disrupts the development of neural systems involved in mediating visual attention; therefore, it is possible that prenatal cocaine exposure results in impairments in visual attention in early childhood. In the current study we hypothesized that preschool children with prenatal cocaine exposure would exhibit difficulties in the disengagement operation of visual attention and in sustaining attention, particularly for targets presented in the right visual field. Fourteen cocaine-exposed children and 20 control children between 14 and 60 months of age were assessed on measures of visual attention, cognition, and behavior. Cocaine-exposed children had slower reaction times on disengagement trials in the second half of our attention task, supporting our hypotheses that impairments in disengagement and sustained attention are associated with prenatal cocaine exposure. There was a trend for slower reaction times to targets presented in the right visual field, but not to targets presented in the left visual field. Cocaine-exposed children also exhibited greater difficulties in behavioral regulation. Overall, our findings suggest that children with prenatal cocaine exposure demonstrate specific impairments in visual attention and behavioral regulation. (JINS, 2002, 8, 12–21.)

Research Article
© 2002 The International Neuropsychological Society

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