Music and Williams Syndrome Research
According the Williams Syndrome Association, Williams syndrome is a genetic condition that is present at birth and can affect anyone. It is characterized by medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and learning disabilities. These occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music.
Williams syndrome research supports the benefits of music as a processing strength, therapy tool, and motivator to help with learning. Coast Music Therapy has compiled the latest studies with the most persuasive results and regularly updates this list to reflect the most current research.
In summary, studies of brain anatomy in individuals with Williams syndrome suggest that asymmetry may link preserved auditory pattern perception and musical processing. These enhanced responses to music include increased engagement and preference for music and evidence of increased pitch perception and preserved rhythmic capabilities, despite deficits in other non-music areas. Preliminary findings show positive results when using music as a teaching tool for mathematics and verbal memory.
Music lessons are associated with increased verbal memory in individuals with Williams syndrome.
Researchers presented spoken or sung sentences that described an animal and its group name to 44 individuals with WS, and then tested their immediate and delayed memory using both recall and multiple choice formats. Those with formal music training (average duration of training 4½ years) scored significantly higher on both the spoken and sung recall items, as well as on the spoken multiple choice items, than those with no music training.
Research in Developmental Disabilities 2014 Nov 16 [ePub ahead of print] Dunning, B.A., Martens, M.A., & Jungers, M.K.
Neural correlates of cross-modal affective priming by music in Williams syndrome.
This study examined oscillatory brain activity during a musical affective priming paradigm in participants with Williams syndrome compared to a control group. The results suggest a specific connection between music and socio-emotional processing in Williams syndrome.
Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience 2014 Apr; 9(4):529-37.
Lense, M., Gordon, R., Key, A., Dykens, E.
Pitch processing in children with Williams syndrome: Relationships between music and prosody skills.
In WS, musical pitch discrimination was significantly correlated with performance on the prosody task assessing the discrimination of prosodic contours based on pitch only. Furthermore, musical pitch discrimination skills predicted performance on the prosody task based on pitch, and this relationship was not better explained by chronological age, vocabulary or auditory memory. These results suggest that children with WS process pitch in music and prosody through shared mechanisms. Read the full article here.
Brain Sciences 2014 May 15;4(2):376-95.
Martinez-Castilla, P., Sotillo, M.
Musical learning in children and adults with Williams syndrome.
Forty-six children and adults with Williams syndrome were provided musical instrument instruction. Use of auditory learning strategies predicted greater musical skill beyond individual musical and visual-motor integration abilities.
Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 2013; 57(9): 850-60
Lense, M., Dykens, E.
Do individuals with Williams syndrome possess absolute pitch?
Two studies were conducted to evaluate absolute or “perfect” pitch in individuals with Williams syndrome. Typically developing participants were also utilized for comparison. Results found that absolute pitch is rare in both individuals with Williams syndrome and typically developing individuals.
Child Neuropsychology 2013; 19(1): 78-96
Martinez-Castilla, P., Sotillo, M., & Campos, R.
Musicality correlates with sociability and emotionality in Williams Syndrome
Findings suggest that emotion-expressivity through music in Williams Syndrome may be linked to their sensitivity and responsivity to emotions of others, whereas general interest in music may be related to greater linguistic capacity in typically developing individuals. Musicality and sociability may be more closely related in Williams Syndrome than in typically developing individuals. Read the full article here.
Journal of Mental Health Research in Intellectual Disabilities 2013; 6(4): 268-279
Ng, R., Lai, P., Levitin, D.J., & Bellugi, U.
Sensitivity of the autonomic nervous system to visual and auditory affect across social and non-social domains in williams syndrome.
Compared to a control group, 22 individuals with Williams syndrome showed greater arousal linked to variation in heart beat period in relation to music.
Frontiers in Psychology 2012; 3, 343. Read complete article here.
Jarvinen, A., Dering, B., Neumann, D., Ng, R., Crivelli, D., Grichanik, M., Korenberg, J., Bellugi, U.
Effect of musical experience on verbal memory in Williams syndrome: evidence from a novel word learning task.
Within a group of 38 individuals with WS, those who had participated in formal music lessons scored significantly better on a verbal memory task when sentences were sung rather than spoken. Those who had not taken formal lessons showed no such benefit.
Neuropsychologia 2011; 49(11), 3093-102
Martens, M., Jungers, M., Steele, A.
Auditory attraction: activation of visual cortex by music and sound in Williams syndrome.
Compared to typically developing control participants, the group with WS exhibited unforeseen activations of the visual cortex to musical stimuli.
American Journal of Intellectual Disabilities 2010; 115(2), 172-89
Thornton-Wells, T., Cannistraci, C., Anderson, A., Kim, C., Eapen, M., Gore, J., Blake, R., Dykens, E.
Auditory cortical volumes and musical ability in Williams syndrome.
In comparison with 25 control participants, individuals with Williams syndrome showed significantly greater volumes in the left and right planum temporale, a region of the brain associated with language and music. Left planum temporale volume was significantly increased in a subgroup of the participants with Williams syndrome who demonstrated musical strengths. These findings suggest that differences in musical ability within WS may be in part associated with variability in the left auditory cortical region.
Neuropsychologia 2010; 48(9), 2602-9
Martens, M, Reutens, D., Wilson, S.
Cross-modal influences of affect across social and non-social domains in individuals with Williams syndrome.
Emotionally evocative music facilitated the ability of participants with WS to process emotional facial expressions. These skill may have been due to the effects of combining social and music stimuli and to a reduction in anxiety due to the music in particular.
Neuropsychologia 2010; 48(2), 456-66
Jarvinen-Pasley, A., Vines, B., Hill, K. Yam, A., Grichanik, M., Mills, D., Reiss, A., Korenberg, J., Bellugi, U.
Global and local music perception in children with Williams syndrome.
This study provides results on how individuals with WS process music compared with typically developing children.
Neuroreport 2005; 16(6), 631-634
Deruelle, C., Schon, D., Rondan, C., Mancini, J.
Music and anxiety in Williams syndrome: A harmonious or discordant relationship?
Compared to others with mental retardation, individuals with WS were more likely to take music lessons, play an instrument, and have higher ratings of musical skills.
American Journal of Mental Retardation 2005; 110(5), 346-358
Dykens, E.M., Rosner, B.A., Ly, T., Sagun, J.
Musical behavior in a neurogenetic developmental disorder: Evidence from Williams Syndrome.
Individuals with WS tend to be more engaged in musical activities than others, with possible neuroanatomical correlate of this engagement being increased activation in the right amygdale to music and sound.
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 2005; 1060, 325-334
Characterizing the musical phenotype in individuals with Williams syndrome.
Based on a survey of 118 individuals with WS, 1 control, and 2 non-WS special needs comparison groups, individuals with WS were found to be rated higher in musical accomplishment, engagement, and interest than comparison groups, and displayed greater emotional responses to music, musical interest at an earlier age, and spent more hours per week listening to music then all other groups.
Neuropsychology, Development, and Cognition. Section C, Child Neuropsychology 2004; 10(4), 223-247
Levitin, DJ., Cole, K., Chiles, M., Lai, Z., Lincoln, A., Bellugi, U.
Music & minds: Using a talent development approach for young adults with Williams syndrome.
Sixteen young adults with WS participated in a music and creative arts-based curriculum aligned with functional mathematics such as fractions, time, money, and measurement; results showed an enhancement in participant’s understanding of mathematics and increased opportunity to develop music abilities.
Exceptional Children, 69(3), 293-313
Reis, S.M., Schader, R., Milne, H., Stephens, R.
Neural correlates of auditory perception in Williams syndrome: An fMRI study.
This study provides evidence of a different neurofunctional organization in Williams syndrome, which may help to explain their atypical reaction to sound.
Neuroimage 2003; 18(1), 74-82
Levitin, D., Menon, V., Schmitt, J., Eliez, S., White, C., Glover, G., Kadis, J., Korenberg, J., Bellugi, U., Reiss, A.
Absolute pitch in Williams syndrome.
It appears that the incidence of “perfect pitch” is higher among individuals with WS than in the general population.
Music Perception 2001; 18(3), 491-503
Lenhoff, H., Perales, O., Hickok, G.
Music skills and the expressive interpretation of music in children with Williams-beuren syndrome: Pitch, rhythm, melodic imagery, phrasing, and musical affect.
This study included 14 children with WS and 14 age-matched controls; musical strength in WS is linked to strong engagement with music as a means of expression, play, and perhaps improvisation.
Neuropsychology, Development, and Cognition, Section C, Child Neuropsychology 2001; 7(1), 42-53
Hopyan, T., Dennis, M, Weksberg, R., Cytrynbaum, C.
Music and language skills of children with Williams syndrome.
Nineteen children with WS were compared with 19 typical children; compared to typical children, the WS group expressed greater liking of music and a greater range of emotional responses to music.
Child Neuropsychology 1999; 5, 154-170
Don, A., Schellenberg, G., Rourke, B.
Insights into the musical potential of cognitively impaired people diagnosed with Williams syndrome.
Research professor emeritus in Biology at UC Irvine gives overview of musical responses in individuals with WS.
Music Therapy Perspectives 1998; 16, 33-36
Musical abilities in individuals with Williams syndrome.
This article gives evidence for relatively preserved musical rhythm processing in individuals with WS based on study of 8 WS subjects and 8 controls, supporting the theory that musical ability constitutes an independent intelligence.
Music Perception 1998; 15(4), 357-389
Levitin, D., Bellugi, U.
Williams syndrome and the brain.
Overview of Williams syndrome cognitive profile with section on musical talent and relationship to neuroanatomy.
Scientific American 1997; 277(6), 68-73
Lenhoff, H., Wang, P., Greenberg, F., Bellugi, U.
Preliminary data suggests that brain asymmetry may account for exceptional musical abilities.
Science 1995; 270(5234), 219-220
Hickock, G., Bellugi, U., Jones, W.