Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


42nd Annual Convention; Downtown Chicago, IL; 2016

Event Details

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B. F. Skinner Lecture Series Paper Session #177
CE Offered: PSY/BACB

The Cognitive Consequences of Children's Exposure to Lead Revealed by Behavior Analysis

Monday, May 30, 2016
8:00 AM–8:50 AM
Grand Ballroom AB, Hyatt Regency, Gold East
Area: SCI; Domain: Basic Research
Instruction Level: Basic
CE Instructor: M. Christopher Newland, Ph.D.
Chair: M. Christopher Newland (Auburn University)
DEBORAH CORY-SLECHTA (University of Rochester Medical Center)
Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta is a Professor of Environmental Medicine, Pediatrics and Public Health Sciences at the University of Rochester Medical School, Acting Chair of the Department of Environmental Medicine and PI of its NIEHS Core Center Grant. Her research, which includes both animal models and human studies, has focused largely on the behavioral consequences of developmental exposures to environmental chemicals. This work has examined the effects of developmental exposures to metals, pesticides and air pollutants in animal models and human cohort studies. Current efforts include development of animal models of behavioral toxicology that better simulate the context of the human environment, including assessment of behavioral consequences of the interactions of lead with prenatal stress, and with early behavioral adversity. A newer focus of the laboratory has been on the adverse impacts on the central nervous system of exposures to air pollution during development. These efforts have resulted in over 155 peer-reviewed publications. She previously served as Dean for Research at the University of Rochester Medical School, and as Director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute of Rutgers University. Dr. Cory-Slechta has served on advisory panels of the NIH, the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and on the editorial boards of the journals Environmental Health Perspectives, Neurotoxicology, Toxicology, Toxicological Sciences, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology and Neurotoxicology and Teratology.

Years of using lead in paint and gasoline resulted in widespread environmental contamination and human exposure. The particular vulnerability of the developing brain to lead puts children at particular risk for detrimental effects and numerous studies have documented the association of elevated blood lead in children with reduced IQ scores. Behavior analysis (BA)has been critical to the delineation of the specific cognitive deficits that underlie the IQ loss.BA hasrevealed deficits in learning/reversal learning that appear to result from increases in response perseveration and disruption of attention-related behaviors, particularly the ability to wait for reward. In the human environment, lead exposure occurs with many other risk factors for cognitive deficits, particularly in low socioeconomic status communities where lead levels are highest. Two such risk factors—high levels of maternal stress and early behavioral adversity in children—share pathways of brain mediation with lead, and thus could enhance or alter its behavioral toxicity. Indeed, studies in animal models show that lead-induced deficits in cognitive behaviors can be enhanced by, or even unmasked, in the presence of prenatal stress. Further, early behavioral adversity can further exacerbate the adverse effects of lead on learning.

Target Audience:

Licensed Psychologists, certified behavior analysts, graduate students.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the event, the participant will be able to: (1) describe the specific behavioral deficits that underlie the reductions in IQ associated with exposure to elevated levels of lead in children; (2) cite examples of the cumulative neuro- and behavioral toxicity produced by combined exposures to gestational lead exposure, prenatal stress and early behavioral adversity; (3) describe a biological algorithm for understanding the potential for the cognitive deficits produced by lead to be enhanced by other environmental risk factors for cognitive deficits.



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