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Mental Health - Neurological Disorders - Neuroscience - Pediatrics and Child Health

Perceptual Learning in Williams Syndrome: Looking Beyond Averages
Published: Thursday, July 05, 2012
Author: Patricia Gervan et al.

by Patricia Gervan, Ferenc Gombos, Ilona Kovacs

Williams Syndrome is a genetically determined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by an uneven cognitive profile and surprisingly large neurobehavioral differences among individuals. Previous studies have already shown different forms of memory deficiencies and learning difficulties in WS. Here we studied the capacity of WS subjects to improve their performance in a basic visual task. We employed a contour integration paradigm that addresses occipital visual function, and analyzed the initial (i.e. baseline) and after-learning performance of WS individuals. Instead of pooling the very inhomogeneous results of WS subjects together, we evaluated individual performance by expressing it in terms of the deviation from the average performance of the group of typically developing subjects of similar age. This approach helped us to reveal information about the possible origins of poor performance of WS subjects in contour integration. Although the majority of WS individuals showed both reduced baseline and reduced learning performance, individual analysis also revealed a dissociation between baseline and learning capacity in several WS subjects. In spite of impaired initial contour integration performance, some WS individuals presented learning capacity comparable to learning in the typically developing population, and vice versa, poor learning was also observed in subjects with high initial performance levels. These data indicate a dissociation between factors determining initial performance and perceptual learning.