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Dev Psychobiol. 2008 Apr;50(3):251-65. doi: 10.1002/dev.20285.

Physiological responses to social and cognitive challenges in 8-year olds with a history of prenatal cocaine exposure.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine, 1256 Briarcliff Rd, Room 323, West, Atlanta, Georgia 30306-2636, USA.


Cocaine-exposed infants have been found to have altered arousal responses but little is known about such responses in later childhood. Physiological responses to stressors were used to assess the arousal modulation of school-aged, cocaine-exposed children (n = 73) and two contrast groups, socioeconomically-matched controls (n = 58) and children with behavioral disturbance (n = 35). The behaviorally disturbed group had the highest heart rate across conditions but demonstrated a pattern of hyporesponsiveness to the stressors. They had the smallest decrement in skin conductance response at baseline and the least recovery of skin conductance response following exposure to stressors. Cocaine-exposed children demonstrated greater acceleratory responses to the stressors as indexed by their skin conductance level and were intermediate between the socioeconomically-matched controls and children with behavioral disturbance in recovery of skin conductance response following stressors. Altered arousal responses associated with prenatal cocaine exposure persisted into middle childhood but were different from those found in behaviorally disturbed children.

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