In utero exposure to cigarette smoke has been shown to have an adverse effect on healthy brain development in childhood. In the present study, we examine whether fetal exposure to mild and heavy smoking is associated with lower levels of impulsivity and cognitive control at age 10. Using a sample of 2120 children from the Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, we examine the association between gestational cigarette smoke exposure and fourth grade teacher reports of impulsivity and classroom engagement which represent behavioral indicators of executive functions. When compared to children of non-smokers, children of mothers who reported smoking heavily during pregnancy (10 or more cigarettes per day) were rated by their fourth grade teachers as displaying higher levels of impulsive behavior, scoring.112 standard deviation units higher than children of non-smokers. Children of mothers who smoked heavily were also less engaged in the classroom, scoring.057 standard deviation units lower than children of women who did not smoke. These analyses were adjusted for many potentially confounding child and family variables. Exposure to perinatal nicotine may compromise subsequent brain development. In particular, fetal nicotine may be associated with impairment in areas recruited for the effortful control of behavior in later childhood, a time when task-orientation and industriousness are imperative for academic success.
Keywords: Classroom engagement; Cognitive control; Gestational smoking; Impulsivity; Nicotine; Tobacco.
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