Repeated Social Stress during Pregnancy Impairs Neuromotor Development of the Primate Infant

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Neuromotor responses were assessed in 90 infant squirrel monkeys born from normal and stressed pregnancies. Repeated psychological disturbance during pregnancy, evoked by disruption of the pregnant female's social relationships, significantly altered the performance of the young infant on a standardized battery of neuromotor tests. As compared with infants from undisturbed pregnancies, infants from chronically stressed pregnancies had poorer motor abilities, impaired balance reactions, and reduced postrotary nystagmus. They also had shorter attention spans and looking episodes during the administration of orientation items. In contrast, when only a single stressful period was imposed during midgestation, infants were not significantly different from control subjects. These findings indicate that sustained stress across pregnancy can have deleterious effects on fetal development, but a short period of stress, at least when restricted to midgestation, does not appear to adversely affect neuromotor responses of the young primate infant.

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