Effect of musical experience on verbal memory in Williams syndrome: Evidence from a novel word learning task
Williams syndrome (WS) is a neurogenetic developmental disorder characterized by an increased affinity for music, deficits in verbal memory, and atypical brain development. Music has been shown to improve verbal memory in typical individuals as well as those with learning difficulties, but no studies have examined this relationship in WS. The aim of our two studies was to examine whether music can enhance verbal memory in individuals with WS. In Study 1, we presented a memory task of eight spoken or sung sentences that described an animal and identified its group name to 38 individuals with WS. Study 2, involving another group of individuals with WS (n = 38), included six spoken or sung sentences that identified an animal group name. In both studies, those who had participated in formal music lessons scored significantly better on the verbal memory task when the sentences were sung than when they were spoken. Those who had not taken formal lessons showed no such benefit. We also found that increased enjoyment of music and heightened emotional reactions to music did not impact performance on the memory task. These compelling findings provide the first evidence that musical experience may enhance verbal memory in individuals with WS and shed more light on the complex relationship between aspects of cognition and altered neurodevelopment in this unique disorder.