Executive functions in intellectual disabilities: A comparison between Williams syndrome and Down syndrome

Floriana Costanzo, Cristiana Varuzza, Deny Menghini, Francesca Addona, Tiziana Gianesini, Stefano Vicari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Executive functions are a set of high cognitive abilities that control and regulate other functions and behaviors and are crucial for successful adaptation. Deficits in executive functions are frequently described in developmental disorders, which are characterized by disadaptive behavior. However, executive functions are not widely examined in individuals with intellectual disability. The present study is aimed at evaluating the etiological specificity hypotheses pertaining to executive functions by comparing individuals with intellectual disability of different etiology, as Williams syndrome and Down syndrome, on different aspects of executive functions. To this aim a battery evaluating attention, short-term and working memory, planning, categorization, shifting and inhibition, was administered to 15 children, adolescents and adults with Williams syndrome, to 15 children, adolescents and adults with Down syndrome and to 16 mental-age-matched typically developing children. The two groups with intellectual disability showed impairment in a set of executive functions, as auditory sustained attention, visual selective attention, visual categorization and working memory, and preserved visual sustained attention, auditory selective attention and visual inhibition. However, a distinctive profile has been found between the two syndromic groups on other executive functions. While participants with Down syndrome were poor in shifting and verbal aspects of memory and inhibition, those with Williams syndrome were poor in planning. The specific weakness and straights on executive functions may support the etiological specificity hypothesis accounting for distinctive cognitive development syndrome-specific.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1770-1780
Number of pages11
JournalResearch in Developmental Disabilities
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


  • Executive functions
  • Genetic syndromes
  • Intellectual disability
  • Neuropsychological profile

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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