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Williams Syndrome

November 15, 2006

A rare genetic disorder causes patients to be musically and conversationally gifted.


A genetic disorder with mixed blessings. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

People with a rare genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome generally have low I.Q.’s, weak writing and spatial skills, and myriad health problems. Yet they’re also fearlessly friendly, verbally expressive, and often, musically gifted. Lately, scientists like Ursula Bellugi of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have been making more sense of these symptoms, in part because the genetic defect that causes Williams is well understood.

URSULA BELLUGI (Salk Institute for Biological Studies):
And we’re now beginning to be able to link up the particular genetic defect with particular areas in development.

She cites several studies suggesting the brains of Williams patients are hard-wired for superior processing of sounds, faces, and emotions, with short shrift given to visual and spatial processing. She adds that understanding Williams may shed light on autism, since the disorders are in many ways opposites. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.