Navigation ability may be linked to genes | Machines Like Us: "In the study, Landau's team challenged people with Williams syndrome to watch while someone hid an object beneath a small cloth flap in one corner of a small rectangular room with four solid black walls that had no landmarks. Subjects were then blindfolded and spun around (think 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey') for about 10 seconds to disorient them. Once the blindfold was taken off, the subjects were asked to find the hidden object.
According to Landau, the people with Williams syndrome searched the four corners randomly; indicating that their ability to mentally visualize the layout of the room and quickly find which corner held the hidden object is severely impaired.
'They searched the room for the hidden object randomly, as if they had never before seen the overall geometry of the room or the lengths of the walls and their geometric – left and right – relation to each other,' Landau explained. 'If they could imagine the overall shape of the room's layout – that there are four walls, two of them long and two of them short and that the toy was hidden in a corner that has a short wall on the right and the long wall on the left – then they should have guessed that one of the two 'geometrically equivalent corners' was the right place. This is what typically developing humans do, as early as 18 months of age.'
Control subjects (healthy college-aged students) responded more typically, searching for the object in one of the two geometrically equivalent corners, as has been found in studies by many other investigators.
According to Landau, the results of this study provides another clue to the link between how genes work, how brains develop and become specialized and what can go wrong to result in very basic cognitive system malfunctioning.
'Although we are quite far from understanding the links between the specific genes that are missing in Williams syndrome and the behavior they show, such as failure to reorient, it is clear that the missing genes ultimately have some effect on the brain,' she said. 'Our evidence is the first to directly show a substantial deficit in this reorientation system that is caused by missing genes in humans.'"