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Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(6):733-8.

Facial expression recognition in Williams syndrome.

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  • 1Neurorehabilitation Unit, IRCCS 'E. Medea', (Lc), Bosisio Parini, Italy.


Individuals with Williams syndrome (WS) excel in face recognition and show both a remarkable concern for social stimuli and a linguistic capacity for, in particular, emotionally referenced language. The animated full facial expression comprehension test (AFFECT), a new test of emotional expression perception, was used to compare participants with WS with both chronological and mental age-matched controls. It was found that expression recognition in WS was worse than that of chronologically age-matched controls but indistinguishable from that of mental age controls. Different processing strategies are thought to underlie the similar performance of individuals with WS and mental age controls. The expression recognition performance of individuals with WS did not correlate with age, but was instead found to correlate with IQ. This is compared to earlier findings, replicated here, that face recognition performance on the Benton test correlates with age and not IQ. The results of the Benton test have been explained in terms of individuals with WS being good at face recognition; since a piecemeal strategy can be used, this strategy is improved with practice which would explain the correlation with age. We propose that poor expression recognition of the individuals with WS is due to a lack of configural ability since changes in the configuration of the face are an important part of expressions. Furthermore, these reduced configural abilities may be due to abnormal neuronal development and are thus fixed from an early age.

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