Early delay of gratification predicts later inhibitory control and academic performance in children with prenatal alcohol exposure

Erik de Water, Alyssa M. Krueger, Christopher W. Lindgren, Anita J. Fuglestad, Madeline N. Rockhold, Kristin E. Sandness, Judith K. Eckerle, Birgit A. Fink, Christopher J. Boys, Jeffrey R. Wozniak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) affects 2–5% of the children in the United States. In the preschool age-range, inhibitory deficits frequently manifest as impaired ability to delay gratification, which is associated with deficits in cognitive flexibility in these children. The goal of this longitudinal study was to determine whether the ability to delay gratification in preschool children with FASD is (1) associated with broader manifestations in temperament and behavior; (2) predictive of later inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility and working memory in middle childhood; and (3) predictive of later parent-reported behavioral problems and school functioning in middle childhood. Forty-seven children with FASD, ages 2.5–5 years were administered a delay of gratification task in which they chose between receiving 2 snacks immediately or 10 snacks after waiting for 10 min. Two groups were defined based on a median split of waiting time. Four years later, 29 children completed measures of inhibitory control (Flanker task), cognitive flexibility (Dimensional Change Card Sort Test), and working memory (Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scales), and their parents completed the Child Behavior Checklist as a measure of the child’s behavioral problems and school functioning. Children with longer wait times on the delay of gratification task in preschool showed better inhibitory control on the Flanker task in middle childhood and better parent-reported school functioning in English. These findings indicate that early inhibitory capacity persists into middle childhood in those with FASD, and may be a promising target for early intervention to improve later cognitive outcomes in these children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-124
Number of pages16
JournalChild Neuropsychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 10 2020

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  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
  • children
  • delay of gratification
  • inhibition


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