James C Dornan

Queen's University Belfast, Béal Feirste, N Ireland, United Kingdom

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Publications (7)64.55 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: The human fetus learns about its chemosensory environment and this influences its behavior at birth and during the nursing period. This study examined whether prenatal experience could influence behavior much later in life. The dietary preference of two groups of children (8- to 9-years old) was examined. Mothers of one group had consumed garlic during pregnancy, mothers of the control group had not. Children received two tests, 1 month apart, of a meal containing two portions of potato gratin, one flavored with garlic. The total amount of potato, and the percentage of garlic flavored potato, eaten was calculated and examined separately by ANOVA for factors of prenatal exposure, the child's sex, and trial. Children prenatally exposed to garlic ate significantly more garlic flavored potato and a significantly greater overall amount of potato on trial 2, compared to controls. The results demonstrate prenatal experience may affect behavior well into childhood. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol.
    No preview · Article · Jul 2013 · Developmental Psychobiology
  • Peter G Hepper · James C Dornan · Catherine Lynch
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    ABSTRACT: Background: Studies of the adverse neurobehavioral effects of maternal alcohol consumption on the fetus have been largely confined to the postnatal period, after exposure to alcohol has finished. This study explored the brain function of the fetus, at the time of exposure to alcohol, to examine its effect on information processing and stability of performance. Methods: Five groups of fetuses, defined by maternal alcohol consumption patterns, were examined: control (no alcohol); moderate (5 to 10 units/wk either drunk evenly across the week or as a binge, in 2 to 3 days); heavy (20+ units/wk drunk evenly or as a binge). Fetal habituation performance was examined on 3 occasions, separated by 7 days, beginning at 35 weeks of gestation. The number of trials required to habituate on each test session and the difference in performance across test sessions were recorded. Results: Fetuses exposed to heavy binge drinking required significantly more trials to habituate and exhibited a greater variability in performance across all test sessions than the other groups. Maternal drinking, either heavily but evenly or moderately as a binge, resulted in poorer habituation, and moderate binge drinking resulted in greater variability compared with no, or even, drinking. Conclusions: Decreased information processing, reflected by poorer habituation, and increased variability in performance may reflect the initial manifestations of structural damage caused by alcohol to the brain. These results will lead to a greater understanding of the effects of alcohol on the fetus's brain, enable the antenatal identification of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and lead to the early implementation of better management strategies.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2012 · Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research
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    ABSTRACT: Prenatal exposure to alcohol may exert a significant detrimental effect on the functioning of the individual's brain, however few studies have examined this before birth. This longitudinal study examined the effect of maternal alcohol consumption on the elicited startle response of the fetus. Two groups of fetuses were examined: one whose mothers drank alcohol (approximately 10 units per week); the other whose mothers did not drink alcohol. Fetuses were examined at 29, 32 and 35 weeks gestation and their startle response observed using ultrasound in response to 2 presentations of a pink noise (70-250Hz) at 90dB(A) separated by 30s. Fetuses exposed to alcohol exhibited a weaker startle response at 29 weeks gestation than did fetuses not exposed to alcohol. There was no difference in the response at 32 and 35 weeks gestation. To ensure that the effects were not due to a more general effect of alcohol on fetal movement, a second experiment compared the spontaneous movements (observed on ultrasound for 45 min) of fetuses whose mothers drank alcohol and fetuses of mothers who didn't drink alcohol. There were no differences in movements exhibited by the fetuses. The results suggest that exposure to alcohol delays the emergence of the elicited startle response at 29 weeks gestation but this delay has disappeared by 32 weeks gestation. The possible role of altered neural development, acute exposure to alcohol and disruptions to the fetus's behavioural repertoire, in mediating these effects are discussed.
    No preview · Article · Jun 2012 · Physiology & Behavior
  • Peter G Hepper · James C Dornan · Catherine Lynch
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    ABSTRACT: There is some evidence for sex differences in habituation in the human fetus, but it is unknown whether this is due to differences in central processing (habituation) or in more peripheral processes, sensory or motor, involved in the response. This study examined whether the sex of the fetus influenced auditory habituation at 33 weeks of gestation, and whether this was due to differences in habituation or in the sensory or motor components using a set of four experiments. The first experiment found that female fetuses required significantly fewer stimulus presentations to habituate than males. The second experiment revealed no difference in the spontaneous motor behaviour of male and female fetuses. The third experiment examined auditory intensity thresholds for the stimuli used to habituate the fetus. No differences in thresholds were found between males and females, although there was inter-individual variability in thresholds. A final experiment, using stimuli individualized for that particular fetus' auditory intensity threshold, found that female fetuses habituated faster than males. In combination, the studies reveal that habituation in the human fetus is affected by sex and this is due to a difference in central 'information processing' of the stimuli rather than peripheral aspects of the response. It is argued that male and female fetuses present different neurobehavioural developmental trajectories, with females more advanced at 33 weeks than males. This study suggests that research examining prenatal behaviour should consider the factor of fetal sex. This may be particularly pertinent where there is an intention to use the results diagnostically.
    No preview · Article · May 2012 · Developmental Science
  • Peter G Hepper · James C Dornan · Jennifer F Little
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    ABSTRACT: Maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy may delay the development of spontaneous fetal startle behaviour. Previous study indicated that fetuses exposed to alcohol exhibited a significantly higher incidence of spontaneous startles compared to fetuses not exposed at 20 weeks gestation. This study examined startle behaviour longitudinally from 20 to 35 weeks gestation to determine whether the previous results were due to 'developmental delay' or a 'permanent effect'. The number of spontaneous startles exhibited by fetuses of mothers who drank during pregnancy and fetuses whose mothers did not drink was recorded at 20, 25, 30 and 35 weeks gestation during a 45-min observation. The results indicate that exposure to alcohol during pregnancy significantly increases the exhibition of spontaneous startles by the fetus but across gestation there is significant catch-up in startle behaviour. The results suggest exposure to alcohol delays the natural maturation of spontaneous startle behaviour of the fetus but also has a smaller 'permanent' effect. It is suggested that these effects are mediated by alcohol exerting an effect on the inhibitory pathways controlling startle behaviour.
    No preview · Article · Feb 2005 · Physiology & Behavior
  • Jennifer F Little · Peter G Hepper · James C Dornan
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    ABSTRACT: The startle behaviour of the fetus (both spontaneous and elicited) was examined in fetuses of mothers who drank alcohol and mothers who did not. Fetuses exposed to alcohol showed a higher frequency of spontaneous startles and were less likely to exhibit a normal startle in response to a vibroacoustic stimulus. These differences illustrate a teratogenic effect of alcohol on CNS functioning in utero, possibly associated with brainstem damage.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2002 · Physiology & Behavior
  • Peter G Hepper · E Alyson Shannon · James C Dornan

    No preview · Article · Dec 1997 · The Lancet

Publication Stats

96 Citations
64.55 Total Impact Points


  • 2012
    • Queen's University Belfast
      • School of Psychology
      Béal Feirste, N Ireland, United Kingdom
    • Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
      Béal Feirste, N Ireland, United Kingdom