Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychiatry, 31 May 2011 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2011.00031

Cocaine exposure and children’s self-regulation: indirect association via maternal harshness

  • 1 Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Buffalo, NY, USA
  • 2 Psychology Department, Buffalo State College, State University of New York, Buffalo, NY, USA
  • 3 Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

Objectives: This study examined the association between prenatal cocaine exposure and children’s self-regulation at 3 years of child age. In addition to direct effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on children’s self-regulation, we hypothesized there would be indirect associations between cocaine exposure and self-regulation via higher maternal harshness and poor autonomic regulation in infancy. Methods: The sample consisted of 216 mother–infant dyads recruited at delivery from local area hospitals (116 cocaine-exposed, 100 non-exposed). Infant autonomic regulation was measured at 7 months of age during an anger/frustration task, maternal harshness was coded from observations of mother–toddler interactions at 2 years of age, and children’s self-regulation was measured at 3 years of age using several laboratory paradigms. Results: Contrary to hypotheses, there were no direct associations between maternal cocaine use during pregnancy and children’s self-regulation. However, results from testing our conceptual model including the indirect effects via maternal harshness or infant parasympathetic regulation indicated that this model fit the data well, χ2 (23) = 34.36, p > 0.05, Comparative Fit Index = 0.95, RMSEA = 0.05. Cocaine using mothers displayed higher intensity of harshness toward their toddlers during lab interactions across a variety of tasks at 2 years of age (β = 0.23, p < 0.05), and higher intensity of harshness at 2 years was predictive of lower self-regulation at 3 years (β = −0.36, p < 0.01). Maternal cocaine use was also predictive of a non-adaptive increase in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) from baseline to the negative affect task, but RSA change in infancy was not predictive of self-regulation at 3 years. Conclusion: Results are supportive of animal models indicating higher aggression among cocaine treated dams, and indicate that higher maternal harshness among cocaine using mothers is predictive of child self-regulatory outcomes in the preschool period.

Keywords: cocaine exposure, self-regulation, maternal harshness, autonomic regulation

Citation: Eiden RD, Schuetze P, Veira Y, Cox E, Jarrett TM and Johns JM (2011) Cocaine exposure and children’s self-regulation: indirect association via maternal harshness. Front. Psychiatry 2:31. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2011.00031

Received: 15 February 2011; Paper pending published: 25 April 2011;
Accepted: 17 May 2011; Published online: 31 May 2011.

Edited by:

Elizabeth Mccone Byrnes, Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, USA

Reviewed by:

Stephen Sheinkopf, Brown University, USA
Veronica H. Accornero, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, USA

Copyright: © 2011 Eiden, Schuetze, Veira, Cox, Jarrett and Jarrett. This is an open-access article subject to a non-exclusive license between the authors and Frontiers Media SA, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and other Frontiers conditions are complied with.

*Correspondence: Rina D. Eiden, Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo, 1021 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203, USA. e-mail: eiden@ria.buffalo.edu