Understanding motor acts and motor intentions in Williams syndrome

Laura Sparaci, Silvia Stefanini, Luigi Marotta, Stefano Vicari, Giacomo Rizzolatti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Williams syndrome (WS) is a rare genetic disorder associated with unusually hyper-social demeanor and ease with strangers. These personality traits are accompanied by difficulties in social interactions, possibly related, at least in part, to a difficulty in understanding others' mental states. Studies on mentalizing capacities in individuals with WS have often led to contrasting results, some studies revealing specific impairments, others highlighting spared mentalizing capacities. So far, however, no study investigated the performance of individuals with WS in non-inferential understanding of others' motor intentions. In the present study we investigated this capacity by using a computer-based behavioral task using pictures of hand-object interactions. We asked individuals with WS first to describe what the other was doing (i.e. a task implying no kind of intention reading), and secondly, if successful in answering the first question, to describe the motor intention underlying the observed motor acts (i.e. why an act was being done, a task requiring non-inferential motor intention understanding). Results showed that individuals with WS made more errors in understanding what the other was doing (i.e. understanding a motor act) compared to both mental-age matched controls and chronological-age matched peers with typical development, while showing mental-age appropriate performance in understanding why an individual was acting (i.e. understanding a motor intention). These findings suggest novel perspectives for understanding impairments in social behavior in WS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1639-1649
Number of pages11
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012


  • Motor skills
  • Social cognition
  • Understanding motor acts
  • Understanding motor intention
  • Williams syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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