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Visuospatial Learning in Elementary School Children with and without a Family History of Alcoholism
Steven L. Schandler, JoAnn C. Brannock, Michael J. Cohen, Jennifer Antick, Kathleen Caine
Chronic alcohol abuse has been consistently associated with cognitive deficits in right-hemisphere - mediated visuospatial operations. Recent evidence indicates that visuospatial deficits may be present in alcoholics prior to the onset of chronic heavy drinking, but it remains unclear whether such deficits are present prior to any alcohol exposure in persons at risk of developing alcoholism. The purpose of this study was to investigate visuospatial information processing in young children with and without a family history of alcoholism. Male and female elementary school children ( N = 36), ranging in age from 6 to 11 years, served as participants. Of these children, 18 were from families in which one or both biologic parents had a history of alcoholism. The remaining 18 children had no family history of alcoholism or alcohol-related problems. During a single experimental session, each child received a visuospatial paired-associate learning task, requiring the learning of the spatial positions of five low semantic content “nonsense shapes.” The learning performance of the children with a family history of alcoholism was significantly poorer than the performance displayed by the children with no family history of alcoholism. The family history positive children required significantly more trials to learning criterion, gave fewer correct responses and committed more errors. Further, an analysis of response-type frequency relative to the learning trials and analysis of response intercorrelations indicated that the pattern of learning displayed by the children with a family history of alcoholism was similar to that displayed by detoxified alcoholics during a similar learning task.