Musicality correlates with sociability and emotionality in Williams Syndrome

(Ng R, Lai P, Levitin D, Bellugi U)

From the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California, USA

Williams Syndrome (WS) is a neurogenetic developmental disorder characterized by peaks and valleys of cognitive abilities. One peak that has been understudied is the affinity that many individuals with WS have toward music. It remains unknown whether their high levels of musical interest, skill and expressivity are related to their sociable personality or their verbal intelligence. Authors examined the relationships between musicality (musical interest, creativity and expressivity), sociability (social-emotionality, social approach) and language comprehension in WS and typically developing (TD) controls. Findings suggest that emotion-expressivity through music in WS 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 TD individuals. Musicality and sociability may be more closely related in WS relative than in typical development; implications for future interventions for this neurodevelopmental condition will be discussed.


Full PDF in English

In Italiano –

La Sindrome di Williams (WS) è un problema dello sviluppo neurologico caratterizzato da punti di forza e di debolezza nelle abilità cognitive. Una qualità che è stata poco studiata è l’affinità elettiva che molti soggetti con WS hanno verso la musica. Non è chiaro se l’alto livello di interesse musicale, di capacità esecutiva e di espressività sia correlato alla loro personalità sociale o alla loro intelligenza verbale. In questo studio gli autori hanno esaminato la relazione tra la musicalità (interesse musicale, creatività ed espressività), l’attitudine sociale (emotività sociale, approccio sociale) e la comprensione del linguaggio in bambini affetti da WS e in bambini con sviluppo neurologico tipico (TD). I risultati suggeriscono che l’espressività delle emozioni attraverso la musica nei bambini con WS potrebbe essere legata alla loro sensibilità nei confronti delle emozioni altrui, mentre l’interesse generico nella musica potrebbe essere dovuto a una maggiore capacità linguistica nei bambini con sviluppo tipico (TD). La musicalità e l’attitudine sociale potrebbero essere più affini nei soggetti WS piuttosto che nei soggetti TD. Gli Autori discutono i risultati nell’ottica di possibili interventi educativi per i soggetti con WS.


Music therapy success in redirection of fight-or-flight behaviors in children with ASD

Sent to me from my friends at the Fondazione Mariani in Italy, this small article update caught my eye specifically because of my recent experiences with children with ASD and music. My lower post (My pilot in music and autism: thoughts on empathy, mirroring and rapport) goes into some detail about my experience, but suffice it to say here that I’ve only found time and time again that music proves to be a brilliant ice-breaker and way to put kids at ease, especially when they suffer from some type of social anxiety. Taken from the Journal of Biomusical Engineering,  the following illustrates some recent findings in the world of music and ASD:

Journal of Biomusical Engineering Vol. 2 (2012)
Pilot study investigating the efficacy of tempo-specific rhythm interventions in music-based treatment addressing hyper-arousal, anxiety, system pacing, and redirection of fight-or-flight fear behaviors in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Berger DS
The Music Therapy Clinic, Norwalk, CT 06850, USA

Many behaviors in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) resemble fight-or-flight avoidance responses resulting from habitual states of fear, possibly induced by sensory processing issues, causing on-going stress and deregulation of systemic pacing. This study hypothesized that patterned, tempo-based, rhythm interventions, at 60-beats per minute (pbm), can regulate and induce systemic pacing, reduce repetitive anxiety behaviors and enable focus and calm in persons with ASD. Eight-week pilot study investigated the influence of four sensorimotor rhythm interventions for habituation (entrainment) of systemic inner rhythms, pacing, stress, anxiety, and repetitive behavior reduction, ultimately yielding eye-contact, attention, motor planning, and memory. Six subjects (n = 6) ages 8–12, with ASD and minimal expressive language, were treated in 45-minute weekly one-on-one music therapy session, over eight weeks. A rating scale tracked responses and progress in vivo per session, and on video-tape. Lifeshirt heart-monitor vest with embedded wireless sensors, worn by each subject during the first, fifth and eight sessions, tracked heart-rate data. Results support the hypothesis that highly structured rhythmic interventions at a slow tempo can yield levels of systemic pacing, motor planning, visual contact, attention, reduction of anxiety and repetitive behaviors, and functional adaptation.

And for my Italian friends:

I bambini affetti da disordini dello spettro autistico (ASD) mostrano comportamenti di evitamento, causati da uno stress cronico determinato dalla cattiva regolazione del ritmo interiore. Questo studio ipotizza che un intervento di musicoterapia basato su strutture ritmiche a 60 battiti per minuto possa regolare il ritmo interiore del bambino, diminuendo i comportamenti ansiosi e facilitando la concentrazione. È stato effettuato uno studio pilota di 8 settimane per indagare l’influenza di 4 diversi tipi di intervento ritmico per il miglioramento del contatto visivo, dell’attenzione e della memoria. Sei bambini di età compresa tra gli 8 e i 12 anni, affetti da ASD e con scarso linguaggio espressivo, sono stati trattati con sessioni individuali di musicoterapia per 45 minuti alla settimana, per 8 settimane consecutive. I progressi sono stati riportati su una scala e i comportamenti sono stati videoregistrati per una successiva analisi. Il battito cardiaco è stato monitorato nelle sessioni 1, 5 e 8 attraverso una maglietta dotata di sensori wireless. I risultati supportano la tesi che un intervento di musicoterapia prolungata con un tempo lento possa ridurre l’ansia e i comportamenti ripetitivi e migliorare il contatto visivo, la programmazione motoria e l’attenzione.

Neural systems for speech and song in autism

In commencement of the administration of my pilot study (as well as my primary investigator’s full experiments) in working memory, autism and music, here is an interesting article I came across today. The idea simply drives forward what we already know: where subjects who suffer from aphasia and other language difficulties falter in normative speech patterns, music provides a far higher stimulation in areas of the brain (this study concentrating on the left inferior frontal gyrus in particular) and thus lends to speech development which ordinarily may not have been possible.


Despite language disabilities in autism, music abilities are frequently preserved. Paradoxically, brain regions associated with these functions typically overlap, enabling investigation of neural organization supporting speech and song in autism. Neural systems sensitive to speech and song were compared in low-functioning autistic and age-matched control children using passive auditory stimulation during functional magnetic resonance and diffusion tensor imaging. Activation in left inferior frontal gyrus was reduced in autistic children relative to controls during speech stimulation, but was greater than controls during song stimulation. Functional connectivity for song relative to speech was also increased between left inferior frontal gyrus and superior temporal gyrus in autism, and large-scale connectivity showed increased frontal–posterior connections. Although fractional anisotropy of the left arcuate fasciculus was decreased in autistic children relative to controls, structural terminations of the arcuate fasciculus in inferior frontal gyrus were indistinguishable between autistic and control groups. Fractional anisotropy correlated with activity in left inferior frontal gyrus for both speech and song conditions. Together, these findings indicate that in autism, functional systems that process speech and song were more effectively engaged for song than for speech and projections of structural pathways associated with these functions were not distinguishable from controls.

The open access html doc may be found here and for those interested:

DOI: 10.1093/brain/awr335

As I begin my very first experimental session, I’ll do my best to keep a log here, simply because I very much enjoy the feedback, and it helps to keep my thoughts aligned.