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Author Notes:

Corresponding Author: Claire D. Coles, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 12 56 Briarcliff Road, NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30306, Phone: 404 712 9814, ccoles@emory.edu


Research Funding:

This research was supported by R01 AA014373 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Verbal and Nonverbal Memory in Adults Prenatally Exposed to Alcohol


Journal Title:

Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research


Volume 34, Number 5


, Pages 897-906

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Background Neurocognitive effects of prenatal alcohol exposure in adulthood are not well documented. Questions persist regarding the extent to which there are specific, measurable effects beyond those associated with global ability deficits, whether individuals without the full fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) demonstrate alcohol-related cognitive impairments and whether observed memory effects are specific to a particular modality, that is, verbal versus visual/spatial domains. Methods In this study, verbal and nonverbal selective reminding paradigms were used to assess memory function in 234 young adults (M age: 22.78, SD: 1.79). Alcohol-exposure was quantified prenatally. Alcohol groups included: Individuals with physical effects of alcohol exposure (Dysmorphic Group, n=47); Exposed individuals without such effects (n=74). Contrast groups included: Controls (n=59) matched for ethnicity, socioeconomic status and hospital of birth; Special Education contrast group (n=54) included to control for disability status. Memory outcomes entailed total recall, delayed recall, and measures of encoding and retrieval and learning over trials as indexed by slope. Results Results indicated that Dysmorphic individuals were significantly less efficient in memory performance than Controls on all of the outcomes measured but they did not differ from those in the Special Education contrast group. The non-dysmorphic, alcohol-exposed group was intermediate in their performance, suggesting a continuum of effects of prenatal exposure. Evaluation of the encoding and retrieval aspects of memory performance indicated that learning rather than forgetting accounted for the deficits associated with prenatal alcohol exposure. Finally, no interaction was found between modality of presentation (verbal and nonverbal) and effects of alcohol exposure on memory performance. Conclusion These findings indicate that prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with persistent and specific effects on memory performance and that these problems result from less efficient encoding of information across both verbal and nonverbal modalities. Education and training efforts with this clinical group should take these characteristics into account.

Copyright information:

© 2010 by the Research Society on Alcoholism

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