The effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on executive functioning

Alcohol Res Health. 2001;25(3):192-8.


Converging evidence from various research areas indicates that people who have been exposed to alcohol prenatally may exhibit impairments on the performance of relatively complex and novel tasks. These tasks include tests designed to measure executive functioning (EF)--the ability to plan and guide behavior to achieve a goal in an efficient manner. EF can be categorized into two domains, cognition-based EF and emotion-related EF. People prenatally exposed to alcohol show impaired performance on tests assessing both domains. Moreover, one cognition-based and two emotion-related measures of EF appear to be reliable and stable predictors of behavioral problems in alcohol-affected people. A deficit in flexible recruitment of brain regions to do complex tasks may underlie the EF deficits in people prenatally exposed to alcohol.

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / etiology
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning Disabilities / etiology
  • Learning Disabilities / psychology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Task Performance and Analysis


  • Ethanol