Prenatal drug exposure and selective attention in preschoolers

Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2005 May-Jun;27(3):429-38. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2005 Mar 29.


Deficits in sustained attention and impulsivity have previously been demonstrated in preschoolers prenatally exposed to cocaine. We assessed an additional component of attention, selective attention, in a large, poly-substance cocaine-exposed cohort of 4 year olds and their at-risk comparison group. Employing postpartum maternal report and biological assay, we assigned children to overlapping exposed and complementary control groups for maternal use of cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes. Maternal pregnancy use of cocaine and use of cigarettes were both associated with increased commission errors, indicative of inferior selective attention. Severity of maternal use of marijuana during pregnancy was positively correlated with omission errors, suggesting impaired sustained attention. Substance exposure effects were independent of maternal postpartum psychological distress, birth mother cognitive functioning, current caregiver functioning, other substance exposures and child concurrent verbal IQ.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / chemically induced
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Cannabis / adverse effects
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / adverse effects
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cocaine / adverse effects
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / chemically induced
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Meconium / chemistry
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parents
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Substance Abuse Detection
  • Wechsler Scales


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol
  • Cocaine