Williams Syndrome and the genetics of sociability

The New York Times magazine has a great article on Williams Syndrome, the genetic disorder which leads to cognitive impairment, but with normal language and an outgoing and ‘chatty’ personality.

The article investigates the impact of this condition, but also explores what it tells us about the genetics of sociability.

Williams Syndrome results from the deletion of region q11.2 (section 11.2 of the ‘q’ or long arm) of chromosome 7. This causes 20 or so normally present genes to be missing.

The syndrome is associated with learning difficulties, slight facial differences and heart problems (not unlike several other genetic syndromes that affect the brain).

However, people with the syndrome are notable for their interest in language and conversation. They will often have a surprising vocabulary and delight in unusual words.

They also have what has been described as a ‘cocktail party personality’, meaning that they are outgoing, gregarious but often aren’t capable of dealing with deeper social issues because of their lower IQ.

The online article also has a video interview with someone with the syndrome who explains how it affects them and their family.

If you’re interested in hearing more about Williams Syndrome, NPR had an excellent radio show about it last year that’s well worth listening to.

Link to NYT article ‘The Gregarious Brain’.
Link to NPR programme ‘Williams Syndrome: It’s Not a Fairy Tale’.

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