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Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2000 Mar-Apr;22(2):143-9.

Effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on social behavior in humans and other species.

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Department of Psychology, University of South Carolina, Columbia 29208, USA.


Alcohol exposure during development causes central nervous system alterations in both humans and animals. Although the most common behavioral manifestation of these alterations is a reduction in cognitive abilities, it is becoming increasingly apparent that deficits in social behavior may be very prevalent sequelae of developmental alcohol exposure. In infancy and early childhood, deficits in attachment behavior and state regulation are seen in both alcohol-exposed people and animals, suggesting that these changes are largely the result of the alcohol exposure rather than maternal behavior. In the periadolescent period, people exposed to alcohol during development show a variety of difficulties in the social domain as measured by checklists filled out by either a parent or teacher. Rats exposed to alcohol during development show changes in play and parenting behaviors. In adulthood, prenatal alcohol exposure is related to high rates of trouble with the law, inappropriate sexual behavior, depression, suicide, and failure to care for children. These high rates all suggest that there may be fundamental problems in the social domain. In other animals, perinatal alcohol exposure alters aggression, active social interactions, social communication and recognition, maternal behavior, and sexual behavior in adults. In conclusion, research suggests that people exposed to alcohol during development may exhibit striking changes in social behavior; the animal research suggests that these changes may be largely the result of the alcohol insult and not the environment.

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