Williams syndrome: cognition, personality, and adaptive behavior

Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2000;6(2):148-58. doi: 10.1002/1098-2779(2000)6:2<148::AID-MRDD10>3.0.CO;2-T.


Williams syndrome is caused by a microdeletion of at least 16 genes on chromosome 7q11.23. The syndrome results in mild to moderate mental retardation or learning disability. The behavioral phenotype for Williams syndrome is characterized by a distinctive cognitive profile and an unusual personality profile. Relative to overall level of intellectual ability, individuals with Williams syndrome typically show a clear strength in auditory rote memory, a strength in language, and an extreme weakness in visuospatial construction. The personality of individuals with Williams syndrome involves high sociability, overfriendliness, and empathy, with an undercurrent of anxiety related to social situations. The adaptive behavior profile for Williams syndrome involves clear strength in socialization skills (especially interpersonal skills related to initiating social interaction), strength in communication, and clear weakness in daily living skills and motor skills, relative to overall level of adaptive behavior functioning. Literature relevant to each of the components of the Williams syndrome behavioral phenotype is reviewed, including operationalizations of the Williams syndrome cognitive profile and the Williams syndrome personality profile. The sensitivity and specificity of these profiles for Williams syndrome, relative to individuals with other syndromes or mental retardation or borderline normal intelligence of unknown etiology, is considered. The adaptive behavior profile is discussed in relation to the cognitive and personality profiles. The importance of operationalizations of crucial components of the behavioral phenotype for the study of genotype/phenotype correlations in Williams syndrome is stressed. MRDD Research Reviews 2000;6:148-158.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Behavior*
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Personality*
  • Williams Syndrome / psychology*