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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2002 Jun;26(6):875-82.

Acquisition and retention of verbal and nonverbal information in children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure.

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Center for Behavioral Teratology, Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, CA 92120, USA.



Memory deficits are reported commonly in children with fetal alcohol syndrome. However, little is known about nonverbal memory performance in this population.


The current study examined learning and memory abilities in alcohol-exposed children and nonexposed controls. Multiple verbal and nonverbal measures were used that incorporated repeated learning trials and delayed recall trials. The alcohol-exposed group included children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure with and without fetal alcohol syndrome. Children ranged in age from 8 to 16 years, and groups were matched on age, sex, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.


Children with heavy prenatal alcohol exposure displayed deficits in learning and recall of verbal and nonverbal information across all measures. On learning trials, they recalled fewer words and displayed a lower rate of acquisition. However, when we analyzed delayed verbal recall data after controlling for initial verbal learning, group differences were not apparent. The same pattern did not occur for nonverbal information; children with prenatal alcohol exposure recalled less on delayed recall even when we accounted for initial learning.


These data are consistent with previous studies that indicate immediate memory deficits but suggest that, at least for verbal information, delayed recall deficits in this population are better accounted for by deficits in initial learning. Importantly, a different pattern of results was demonstrated for verbal versus nonverbal information, which suggests the need for additional research in this area.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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