Neural processing of race by individuals with Williams syndrome: do they show the other-race effect? (And why it matters)

Soc Neurosci. 2012 Jul;7(4):373-84. doi: 10.1080/17470919.2011.628759. Epub 2011 Oct 25.


Williams syndrome (WS) is a genetic condition with a distinctive social phenotype characterized by excessive sociability accompanied by a relative proficiency in face recognition, despite severe deficits in the visuospatial domain of cognition. This consistent phenotypic characteristic and the relative homogeneity of the WS genotype make WS a compelling human model for examining genotype-phenotype relations, especially with respect to social behavior. Following up on a recent report suggesting that individuals with WS do not show race bias and racial stereotyping, this study was designed to investigate the neural correlates of the perception of faces from different races, in individuals with WS as compared to typically developing (TD) controls. Caucasian WS and TD participants performed a gender identification task with own-race (White) and other-race (Black) faces while event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded. In line with previous studies with TD participants, other-race faces elicited larger amplitude ERPs within the first 200 ms following the face onset, in WS and TD participants alike. These results suggest that, just like their TD counterparts, individuals with WS differentially processed faces of own-race versus other-race, at relatively early stages of processing, starting as early as 115 ms after the face onset. Overall, these results indicate that neural processing of faces in individuals with WS is moderated by race at early perceptual stages, calling for a reconsideration of the previous claim that they are uniquely insensitive to race.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Face
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prejudice*
  • Racial Groups / psychology*
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Williams Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult