Food and Behaviour Research

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Functional Play at 2 Years of Age: Effects of Prenatal Maternal Stress

Laplante DP, Zelazo PR, Brunet A, King S (2007) Infancy  DOI: 10.1080/15250000701298741 


Toddler toy play evolves in a predictable manner and provides a valid, nonverbal measure of cognitive function unbiased by social behaviors. Research on prenatal maternal stress (PNMS) indicates that exposure to stress in utero results in developmental deficits.

We hypothesized that children exposed to high objective PNMS from a natural disaster early in pregnancy would exhibit higher rates of stereotypical play and lower rates of mature functional play than their low-stress counterparts would.

We examined the functional play abilities of 52 2-year-olds exposed to low or high objective PNMS from a natural disaster within a nonstructured play session.

Toddlers exposed to high objective PNMS, subjective PNMS, or both exhibited less functional and more stereotypical toy play, with less diversity, compared to toddlers exposed to low PNMS.

PNMS appears to affect functional play development in toddlers negatively. These results replicate delays in language and intellectual functioning observed in these toddlers using the Bayley Scales.