Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Some Thoughtful Disagreement with the No Racial Stereotypes study

Williams syndrome children show no racial stereotypes or social fear | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine

But not everyone is convinced. Aliya Saperstein from the University of Oregon praised the study’s “clever research design” and said that it shows the Williams Syndrome children are clearly less biased than normal ones. That is interesting in itself, but Saperstein is sceptical that they lack racial bias entirely. In the PRAM-II test, Santos claims that children without any biases should make pro-white responses half of the time, but she showed that the Williams syndrome children did so 64% of the time. This wasn’t significantly different from a chance result but the estimate was based on a very small sample size. Given larger numbers, those extra fourteen percentage points might indicate an important difference.

Robert Livingston from Northwestern University agrees. He says, “I think that it’s problematic to make strong conclusions on the basis of null findings, particularly with a sample as small as 20 WS children.”

It’s also worth noting that the PRAM-II test doesn’t give children the option of a truly unbiased response. They can’t say that the story could fit either image equally – they can only give fewer pro-white answers. As Saperstein says, “The results don’t demonstrate or prove an absence of bias. And like all similar tests, the study may tap partly into one’s knowledge of social stereotypes not just one’s personal biases.”

Livingston also notes that when we’re talking about racial bias, there is a difference between stereotypes, which are based on our beliefs, and prejudices, which are based on our feelings and evaluations of other people. The Williams Syndrome children may not show prejudice, but Livingston says, “Very few if any people who do not show stereotypes.”

Regardless of whether the Williams Syndrome children lack racial bias altogether, it’s clear that they aren’t affected by it to the same extent as normal children. Santos’s results also suggest that racial and gender biases have different origins. The former is borne at least partly out of social fear while the latter has different roots.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Life Without Fear: Dealing With Williams Syndrome : NPR

A Life Without Fear: Dealing With Williams Syndrome : NPR:

Full audio version is available by following the link above.

"The drama class had just gotten out, and everybody was standing around talking when Jessica noticed her 9-year-old, Isabelle, making her way over to an elderly woman Jessica had never seen. The woman was neatly dressed, most likely just a well-meaning suburban grandmother who had come to retrieve a grandchild on behalf of an over-extended parent, most likely a perfectly harmless person.

Isabelle, as she usually did, exchanged hellos and struck up a conversation. It was the usual post-drama-class conversation until about two minutes in. Then Isabelle dropped the bomb.

'Will you take me? Can I go home with you?' Jessica heard Isabelle plead.

Jessica's daughter, Isabelle, has Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder with a number of symptoms. Children with Williams are often physically small and frequently have developmental delays. But also, kids and adults with Williams love people, and they are literally pathologically trusting. They have no social fear. Researchers theorize that this is probably because of a problem in their limbic system, the part of the brain that regulates emotion. There appears to be a disregulation in one of the chemicals (oxytocin) that signals when to trust and when to distrust.

This means that it is essentially biologically impossible for kids like Isabelle to distrust."

Walk For Williams Syndrome | Remedy

Walk For Williams Syndrome | Remedy:

"Lace up your sneakers and get ready to walk! The Remedy Band will be participating in the ‘Walk For Williams’ charity event on May 15th, 2010 at Willis Road Elementary School in Sharpsburg, GA. Registration for the event will take place at 9 AM, with the walk getting underway at 10 AM.

In addition to the walk for charity, there will be a silent auction that includes, among other items, 4 sets of two Atlanta Braves Tickets with Diamond Preferred Valet Parking passes. There will also be a 50/50 raffle and games and activities for kids and adults alike.

Along with heightening awareness about Williams Syndrome, the goal of the event is to raise $2,000 and all proceeds from the event will be donated to the Williams Syndrome Association."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Specific gene regulates intelligence in patients with Williams Syndrome - Oneindia News

Specific gene regulates intelligence in patients with Williams Syndrome - Oneindia News:

"Researchers, led by Dr. Julie R. Korenberg, found that variations in the expression of STX1A could account for 15.6 percent of cognitive variation in a group of 65 WS patients, a very high level of confidence in comparison to prior genetic studies.

STX1A is involved in the electrochemical processes that occur at the brain's synapses.

The study describes a new approach in determining the relationship between gene expression and intelligence in patients with WS- a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by the deletion of only two dozen genes from chromosome 7, a tiny fraction of the almost 30,000 genes found in humans.

'Williams Syndrome patients are missing a very, very small amount of genetic material. In almost all other respects, their make-up is the same as the general population, so we knew to take a very close look at a small number of genes. We analyzed ten different genes, but the data spoke, and STX1A clearly stood out in relation to the different patients' intelligence levels,' Korenberg said.

STX1A has a fundamental role in the brain's neurotransmission machinery. It supports the process by which electrical signals speed from one neuron to the next.

'In terms of the brain, we're talking about a basic utility when we look at STX1A,' said Korenberg.

The study points the way to further research that may have long-range benefits for WS patients as well as the general population.

Korenberg suggested there may be pharmaceutical treatments in the future that could help enhance synaptic function.

She said that the researchers overcame obstacles with some creative problem solving.

Since brain cells from live patients were unavailable for study, lymphoblastoid cells from the lymph system grown in culture provided the genetic material to analyze.

In addition, the researchers developed a more precise measure of WS intelligence test data, using a technique called Principal Component Analysis (PCA).

In comparison to standardized IQ tests best suited for the general population, the PCA approach was able to better represent a baseline pattern of intelligence in WS patients.

The WS baseline adjusted for relative strengths and weaknesses in the study group, and was able to illuminate the impact of specific genes like STX1A more accurately.

The study was published in the open access/online scientific jounal PLoS ONE. (ANI)"

NPR Interviews Meyer-Lundenberg on Lack of Racism in Williams Syndrome

Is There An Anti-Racism Gene? : NPR:

"According to recent research, those afflicted by the rare genetic disorder known as Williams Syndrome substantially less prone to develop racist attitudes than those without Williams. Host Michel Martin takes a look at the study with one of its authors, Dr. Andreas Meyer-Lundenberg."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Drawing Abilities in Williams Syndrome: A Case Study - Developmental Neuropsychology

Drawing Abilities in Williams Syndrome: A Case Study - Developmental Neuropsychology:

"Children with Williams syndrome (WS) have been reported to exhibit an unusual cognitive profile characterized by marked preservation of linguistic abilities and poor visuospatial abilities against a backdrop of generalized mental retardation. Much of the data documenting this profile come from studies of older children and adults with WS. Very few studies have reported findings from the preschool and early school-age period. As a result, little is known about the early development of cognitive processes in children with WS. Capirci, Sabbadini, and Volterra (1996) reported data from a longitudinal case study of early language development in a young child with WS. This article presents the longitudinal profile of visuospatial abilities in this same child. Data on copying and free drawing collected over a period extending from late preschool to early school age are reported. It is clear from these data that this child does indeed exhibit deficits in visuospatial abilities. Her performance clearly improved with age, but deficits persist."

Current Biology - Absence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping in Williams syndrome children

Current Biology - Absence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping in Williams syndrome children:

You can download the short article here.

"Stereotypes — often implicit attributions to an individual based on group membership categories such as race, religion, age, gender, or nationality — are ubiquitous in human interactions. Even three-year old children clearly prefer their own ethnic group and discriminate against individuals of different ethnicities [1]. While stereotypes may enable rapid behavioural decisions with incomplete information, such biases can lead to conflicts and discrimination, especially because stereotypes can be implicit and automatic [2], making an understanding of the origin of stereotypes an important scientific and socio-political topic. An important process invoked by out-groups is social fear [3]. A unique opportunity to study the contribution of this mechanism to stereotypes is afforded by individuals with the microdeletion disorder Williams syndrome (WS), in which social fear is absent, leading to an unusually friendly, high approachability behaviour, including towards strangers [4]. Here we show that children with WS lack racial stereotyping, though they retain gender stereotyping, compared to matched typically developing children. Our data indicate that mechanisms for the emergence of gender versus racial bias are neurogenetically dissociable. Specifically, because WS is associated with reduced social fear, our data support a role of social fear processing in the emergence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping."

Williams syndrome makes kids lack social anxiety and racial biases: study

Williams syndrome makes kids lack social anxiety and racial biases: study:

"Most kids demonstrate a clear-cut preference for their own ethnic group by the time they turn 3. But children with a rare genetic disorder called Williams syndrome don’t have any racial biases. And while they do possess the gender stereotypes that other kids have, they don’t experience normal social anxiety, according to study researcher Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of Germany’s University of Heidelberg.

A gene deletion that affects the brain and other organs is what causes Williams syndrome, and kids with the disorder are 'hypersocial,' says Meyer-Lindenberg.

'The whole concept [of social anxiety] would be foreign to them,' Meyer-Lindenberg told LiveScience.

In his study, kids without Williams syndrome assigned positive traits like friendliness to photos of people who were the same race as they were. When they were asked something with a negative connotation (like, 'which is the naughty boy?'), they mostly pointed to pictures of people who were a different race."