Inhibitory Control in Siblings Discordant for Exposure to Maternal Smoking During Pregnancy

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Maternal smoking during pregnancy (SDP) has been linked to poorer offspring executive function across development, but SDP does not occur independent of other familial risk factors. As such, poor and inconsistent control for potential confounds, notably shared familial (i.e., genetic and environmental) confounds, preclude concluding causal effects of SDP on child outcomes. We examined the within-family association between SDP and one component of executive function, inhibitory control, in a sample of families (N = 173) specifically selected for sibling pairs discordant for exposure to SDP. Thus, the present study examines if the SDP-inhibitory control association withstands rigorous control for potential child and familial confounds. 79% of the variation in child inhibitory control was attributable to within-family differences and 21% was attributable to differences between families, indicating that the variability in inhibitory control was primarily a function of differences between siblings rather than differences across families. Further, the association between SDP and inhibitory control was fully attenuated when confounds were considered. These findings suggest that co-occurring vulnerabilities act as more salient risk factors for poorer child inhibitory control than SDP and may serve as effective targets of interventions seeking to improve children’s inhibitory control in families with nicotine dependent mothers.

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