Abstract: Background: This study investigated the effects of moderate prenatal alcohol exposure on learning and memory in 14-year-old adolescents. The Children's Memory Scale was used to assess learning and memory function in the verbal/auditory and visual/spatial domains. In addition, both short- and long-term memory function were assessed.
Methods: Data were collected as part of the Maternal Health Practices and Child Development Project, a longitudinal study including 580 children and their mothers. Women were assessed during each trimester of pregnancy and with their children from birth to 16 years of age. At age 14, memory function was evaluated using the Children's Memory Scale, an assessment tool that measures learning and immediate and delayed memory function in the verbal and visual-spatial domains.
Results: Prenatal alcohol exposure during the first trimester predicted deficits in learning, short-term memory, and long-term memory, specifically in the verbal domain. Deficits in performance were specific to learning and memory of word-pairs. In addition, deficits in memory were mediated by learning performance.
Conclusions: Results demonstrated that prenatal alcohol exposure lead to deficits in encoding processes as indicated by deficits in verbal learning. Initial deficits in acquisition were responsible for deficits in immediate and delayed recall of verbal information in children who were exposed to alcohol during pregnancy but did not have fetal alcohol syndrome.