A new study on monkeys has found that moderate exposure to alcohol and stress during pregnancy can lead to sensitivity to touch in the monkeys' babies.
In human children, sensitivity to touch is one of a number of characteristics of the approximately 5 percent of children who over-respond to sensory information. Since these characteristics can lead to behavioral or emotional problems, early identification and treatment are important. Children who are sensitive to touch have unpleasant and sometimes painful reactions to otherwise pleasant or neutral forms of touching.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, appears in the January/February 2008 issue of the journal Child Development.
“Our results with monkeys have important implications for preventing childhood disorders,” according to Mary L Schneider, professor of occupational therapy and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the study's lead author.
Researchers studied 38 5- to 7-year-old rhesus monkeys born to mothers who either drank a moderate dose of alcohol every day during their pregnancies, were exposed to a mild 10-minute stressor during their pregnancies, drank a moderate amount of alcohol and were exposed to the stressor during their pregnancies, or were undisturbed while they were pregnant. A moderate dose of alcohol for the monkeys was defined as the equivalent of two drinks a day for a human.
Without knowing which situation the mother monkeys had experienced, the researchers rated the monkeys' offspring according to how they responded to repeated touch with a feather, a cotton ball, and a stiff brush. They found that monkeys whose mothers had not been stressed or consumed alcohol got used to touch over time, while monkeys whose mothers had been stressed grew more disturbed by touch over time. Monkeys who had been exposed to alcohol prenatally were disturbed by touch more than monkeys who had not been exposed to alcohol prenatally.