Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Williams syndrome in Japan: The interplay of genetics and culture

In Brief

Williams syndrome in Japan: The interplay of genetics and culture

A comparison of Japanese and American children with the rare developmental disorder called Williams syndrome shows how social context modifies the effect of temperament on personality and behavior.

The disorder is caused by the absence of a stretch of 20 genes on chromosome 7. Among its symptoms, which usually include mental retardation, one is particularly striking — extreme gregariousness and indiscriminate friendliness, especially toward strangers.

Using a standard questionnaire, the Salk Institute Sociability Questionnaire, researchers asked Japanese and American parents of children with Williams syndrome to rate the child on his or her tendency to approach others, behavior in social situations, eagerness to please, inclination to comment on and empathize with the feelings of others, and ability to remember names and faces. One question was, "Describe your child's typical reaction on meeting someone for the first time; please give examples." Parents of control ("typically developing") children matched for age and sex were asked the same questions.

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