The effect of maternal psychological disturbance during pregnancy on postnatal responses of the offspring to stressful events was investigated in juvenile rhesus monkeys. Six pregnant monkeys were repeatedly removed from their home cages and briefly exposed to unpredictable noise during mid to late gestation (Days 90-145 postconception). Six undisturbed pregnant mothers served as controls. Behavioral data were later collected from the 18-month-old offspring under a baseline and four progressively stressful conditions. Social behaviors were considerably more affected by prenatal treatment than nonsocial behaviors. Prenatally stressed offspring showed more abnormal social behavior (mutual clinging) and less normal social behavior (proximity, contact) than controls. These results suggest that offspring of mothers stressed during pregnancy may show enhanced responsivity to stressors later in life, and concur with rodent findings indicating that prenatal stress may have long-term effects on behavioral reactivity.
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