LoganBartlettAPA-Style Citation Streissguth, A.P.
, Barr, H. M., & Sampson, P. D. (1990).
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Moderate Prenatal Alcohol Exposure: Effects on Child IQand Learning Problems at Age 7 1/2Years. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 14(5), 662- 669.Research Question Researchers were interested inwhether the central nervous system (CNS) effects of prenatal alcohol exposurewould be observable in 7-year-old children on tests of intelligence andlearning problems. Researchers hypothesized that the learning and IQ problemsevidenced by the children were a result of alcohol exposure during pregnancy asopposed to postnatal environments. Background Previous studies have shown thatchildren without fetal alcohol syndrome who were still born to chronicallyalcoholic mothers were at a higher risk of growth deficiencies and lower IQ.More recent studies on rats have shown that ethanol effects on braindevelopment could account for some long-term neurobehavioral effects observedin humans.
Other studies with human participants have also demonstratedneuropsychological and attention deficits in children who were heavily exposedto alcohol. These studies have also ruled outany other biological factors that are sometimes associated with maternalalcoholism, such as poor nutrition or zinc deficiency. Sample and Population Thestudy began with prenatal interviews of 1,529 pregnant women in Seattle. A highpercentage of the mothers were white, married, and middle-class. Women whoagreed to be a part of the study (85%) were then interviewed in their own homein regard to their alcohol use, caffeine use, and tobacco use, along withquestions about their nutrition, pregnancy histories, and demographics. Theresearched screened for women who were heavier drinkers, and lowered theirsample size to around 500 women, including about 250 women who were theheaviest drinkers, and about 250 women who were abstainers or infrequentdrinkers to act as a control group. There were a total of 482 children thatwere evaluated for the study, and were evaluated on the first and second daysof life, at 8 and 18 months, and at 4 and about 7 years of age. Key Variables The key alcohol scores were used asthe primary independent variable and reflected the varied patterns and levelsof consumption reported by the mothers.
Average ounces of alcohol per dayduring pregnancy reflected overall exposure. The dependent variable was thechildren’s performance in different tests and ratings. The dependent variablewas assessed using summary scores on IQ and achievement tests (Full Scale IQ,the Verbal Scale IQ, and the Performance Scale IQ), teacher ratings on alearning disabilities scale, parent ratings on child’s school performance, andchild’s participation in remedial programs. Researchers also examined severalindicators of learning problems such as hyperkinesis and impulsivity. Control variables were also assessedand included maternal age, race, and parity; maternal use of cigarettes,marijuana, caffeine, and nutrition during pregnancy; breast feeding; familyhistory of learning disabilities; life stress in the home; and child’s sex,grade, and age at testing.
Research Findings Research findings showed that thechildren’s performance was very good in general for the full cohort of 482.However, the three IQ tests that were conducted on the children were allsignificantly lower for the children exposed, on average, to greater than 1ounce of alcohol per day in midpregnancy. In regard to academic achievement,prenatal alcohol correlated with reading and arithmetic, but not spelling. Thiswas largely correlated to women in the BINGE category, meaning they reportedfive or more drinks on any occasion, which resulted in their children being 1to 3 months behind their peers in reading and arithmetic. Researchers also found that “24% ofthe children of binge drinkers were participating in special remedial programsat school verses 15% of the children of nonbingers” (Streissguth et al., 1990, p.
666). 17% of thechildren of binge drinkers also had MPRS scores below 65, meaning that theirschoolteachers believe they were at risk for learning disabilities. Researchersconcluded that the study indicates measurable effects of prenatal alcoholexposure on IQ scores, achievement test scores, and learning problems, at earlyschool age. Strengths and Limitations One of the greatest strengths ofthis study is that it is the first study to link learning problems in youngschool children with social drinking during pregnancy. The researchers also dida good job of including many IQ tests in order to gather from multiple sourcesof data, leading to a more accurate assessment of each child’s IQ. In spite of these strengths, therewere also some limitations in the study. The sample and population consisted ofmostly white, middle-class families, and the results may not translate to amore diverse population. Another potential limitation or weakness is that therewere other covariates that made an impact on the child’s IQ, such as lowpaternal education and more children in the household.