Executive Functioning and Working Memory in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder


Reprint requests: Carmen Rasmussen, Department of Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6G 2E9; Fax: 780-492-1768; E-mail: carmen@ualberta.ca


The goal of this report is to critically review research on executive functioning (EF) and working memory in individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Individuals with FASD exhibit EF deficits in the areas of cognitive flexibility, planning and strategy use, verbal reasoning, some aspects of inhibition, set shifting, fluency, working memory, and, recently, on tests of emotion-related or hot EF. Some researchers have linked prenatal alcohol exposure to abnormalities in the development of the frontal cortex of affected individuals or animals. One common finding is that these EF deficits persist regardless of whether the individual has facial dysmorphology. Furthermore, EF deficits are not simply due to a low IQ in these individuals. More research with larger sample sizes, smaller age ranges, and consistent measurement tools is needed in this area to ameliorate some inconsistencies in the literature. Furthermore, researchers should now focus on studying the pattern of weakness in EF in individuals with FASD as well as relations among working memory and EF, which will help to identify specific areas of weakness, to enhance diagnosis, and to improve treatment. There is limited research on the development of EF in individuals with FASD, which can have important implications for understanding of how these deficits unfold from childhood through adulthood.