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.)