Neurocognitive Function in High Risk Adolescents

Diana Fishbein, Research Triangle Institute
Christopher Hyde, Bioassessments, Inc.
Mallie J. Paschall, Pacific Institute - Research & Evaluation
Diana Eldreth, RTI International
Robert Hubal, RTI International
Nicholas Ialongo, Johns Hopkins University

Several programs for adolescent substance abuse are reportedly "effective" for a significant number of participants; however, there is invariably a substantial subgroup that does not respond favorably. It is critical that underlying mechanisms for these differences are identified in order to improve prevention efficacy. Integrity of executive cognitive function (ECF) and its modulation of emotional arousal levels may represent significant dimensions of regulatory progresses related to risk for substance abuse and may play a principle role in differential responses to programming. Deficits in ECF have been associated with both liability to substance abuse and relapse. The premise behind the present study is that differences in these neurocognitive-emotive processes also contribute to differential responses to preventive interventions. This study is being conducted in conjunction with the ongoing preventive intervention study at the John Hopkins University Prevention Intervention Research Center (JHUPIRC), which involves children in the Baltimore City Public Schools. Longitudinal data are available on school achievement, family background, and risk behaviors. Two groups of adolescents from the PIRCV study were selected for the present study (N=150), one with a diagnosis of conduct disorder and the other with an absence of any diagnosis and risk behavior. During the first of two sessions, subjects receive an IQ test, three developmentally appropriate ECF tasks, a test of emotional perception, and simultaneous monitoring of heart rate and skin conductance. The ECF tasks measure risky decision-making, sensitivity to consequences, delay of gratification, and impulsivity. We will provide an overview of the project, including a description of an innovative computer-based interactive virtual reality tool with vignettes developed to assess adolescents' social/cognitive skills, emotional control, and decision-making ability. We also will present results of analyses conducted to assess the relative strength of association between specific ECF measures and risk behaviors (e.g., drug use, aggression) measured longitudinally and concurrently. Results form initial analyses will help to identify specific underlying neurocognitive components of psychosocial risk factors related to adoelescent drug abuse.

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Updated 05/20/2006