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Cocaine-exposed children subject to stereotyping

Trained research assistants, unaware of a child's history, cannot tell the difference between a 4-year-old who was exposed to cocaine before birth and one who was not, according to new research.

"Adults may interpret normal infant or child behavior as abnormal if adults have preconceived negative beliefs about the consequences of prenatal drug exposure," says lead author Ruth Rose-Jacobs, Sc.D., of Boston University School of Medicine.

Recent research suggests that most maladaptive behavior and developmental delay in children from urban and impoverished areas is not uniquely due to prenatal cocaine exposure, and, conversely, that such exposure does not necessarily lead to developmental delay or behavioral problems.

Using a battery of standardized cognitive and behavioral assessments, assessors tested 163 children who were relatively healthy at birth. When the children were compared on a computer by their actual cocaine exposure, there were no statistically significant differences on the developmental and behavioral tests. Other biologic and social factors that could influence the development of impoverished children were not evaluated in these analyses, the researchers note.

Assessors in this study were purposely not told of the children's actual cocaine exposure and developmental history. The study, published in the October issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, refers to these assessors as "masked" to exposure status.

The masked assessors labeled 111 of the 163 children as having been exposed to cocaine prenatally, although only 87 had actually been exposed. The assessors did not report reasons why they classified certain children as cocaine exposed. The children who had significantly lower scores on all of the administered assessments were assumed to be cocaine-exposed by the assessors regardless of actual exposure status.

"In other words, the assessors were not only unable to correctly id
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Contact: Gina Digravio
Gina.Digravio@bmc.org
617-638-8480
Center for the Advancement of Health
11-Oct-2002


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