Nicole
Cochrane

APA-Style Citation

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Streissguth, A. P., Barr, H. M., &
Sampson, P. D. (1990). Moderate Prenatal Alcohol Exposure: Effects on Child IQ
and Learning Problems at Age 7 1/2 Years. Alcoholism:
Clinical and Experimental Research, 14(5), 662-669. doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.1990.tb01224.

Research Question

            Researchers
were interested in the long-term effects that moderate prenatal alcohol
exposure had on school aged children (Streissguth, Barr, & Sampson, 1990,
p. 662).  Researchers were looking for the
answer to this question, “Would
the central nervous system (CNS) effects of prenatal alcohol exposure be
observable in 7-year-old children on tests of intelligence and learning
problems” (Streissguth,
Barr, & Sampson, 1990, p. 662)?

Background

            Many women today consume alcohol
while they are pregnant.  Some women who
consume alcohol while they are pregnant do not know that they are even
pregnant.  Does drinking during the
beginning of pregnancy effect prenatal development?  Researchers had no evidence on the effects of
alcohol consumption on fetal and infant development until 1974.   “Soon after recognition of the fetal
alcohol syndrome scientists recognized that children without fetal alcohol syndrome
who were born to chronically alcoholic mothers were at significantly higher
risk for growth deficiency, malformations, lower IQ, and lower academic
achievement, even when compared with carefully matched controls from comparable
socio-economic backgrounds”
(Streissguth, Barr, & Sampson, 1990, p. 662).  Researchers wanted
to not only know about their social cognition but also what their IQ was like,
what their behavior was like, and if they had any learning problems seven and a
half years later.

Sample and Population

            “This
population based study began with prenatal interviews of 1,529 pregnant women, all receiving prenatal care by the fifth
month pregnancy at two Seattle hospitals. The mothers were primarily white,
middle class, married, and at low risk for adverse pregnancy outcome” (Streissguth,
Barr, & Sampson, 1990, p. 662).  Initially,
the women were interviewed in their homes regarding their use of substances
such as alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and drugs. 
They were also questioned about their nutritional habits, pregnancy
history, and their demographics.  Once
initial interviews were completed, 500 hundred women were selected for a
follow-up cohort and categorized as either heavier drinkers and smokers,
infrequent drinkers and abstainers, and over-sampled for heavier drinkers and
smokers (Streissguth, Barr, & Sampson, 1990, p. 662).  The study group was evaluated six different
times between birth and age seven-and-a-half. 
Examination were done on 261 boys and 225 girls during the first and
second days of life, eight months, eighteen months, four years, and 7-and-a-
half to eight-and-a-half years as the final examinations were conducted in the
summer after finishing the first grade.

Key Variables

            The
independent variables in this study were alcohol scores from the mothers during
their pregnancy.  These scores were
measured by interviewing 1,529 mothers during their pregnancy, then
interviewing the 85% of the women who consented to the study in the comfort of
their own home with nobody around. Thus, giving the women comfort in telling
the truth about their alcohol consumption during pregnancy.  Then of 500 of them were selected and placed
into different groups based off of their daily alcohol usage.  The dependent variable was the 486 children
who came in for testing on their IQ score, learning problems, and
behavior.  Each child was examined by a
psychometrics who gave them a standardized test and rated their behavior.  A medical student also gave them a
computerized vigilance test which focused on measuring their attention
span.  Neither the psychometrics or
medical student, knew any information about the child’s prior exposure.

Research Findings

            The
researchers found that there was in fact a significant correlation between drinking
during pregnancy and the effects that it has on intellectual development and
learning problems on the child. The researchers found that the children who
were prenatally exposed to more than one ounce of alcohol a day had an IQ score
6.7 points lower than the children exposed to less than one ounce of alcohol a
day.  Researchers also found that 24% of
the children whose mothers were binge drinkers are involved in special programs
in school.  Another 13% of these children
were labeled “at risk for
learning disabilities”
by their teachers.

Strengths and Limitations

            One
major strength that this research had was how many people they were able to get
to participate.  I believe that the
reason that the researchers had this many women willing to participate and bring
their child in approximately seven years later was because researchers made the
participants feel comfortable.  For
example, the initial interviews were conducted in the comfort of their own home.
Researchers also checked in on them more than once after they gave birth to
their child.  Another strength of this
research study was that they accounted for other factors that can affect
children during pregnancy such as marijuana, nicotine, and use of other
drugs.  A limitation that this research study
was that it focused primarily white middle class women that were married.  I believe that the study would have had a
more reliable result if it had focused on all women during pregnancy because
then participant would see how social class and race played into the role of
drinking during pregnancy.