Neuron Culture

My article on Williams syndrome and human sociability is now on the New York Times Magazine web site, at

This was one of the more enthrallling stories I’ve worked on. Williams syndrome rises from a genetic deletion of about 20-25 of our 30,000 genes, and those who have it can be pretty much counted on to be quite gregarious and social. How can a deletion amplify a trait? Is their sociability actually increased, or simply left less fettered?

As the story relates, research into Williams has addressed these questions, throwing some interesting light on not only what makes us seek out others but what drives our more guarded social behavior as well. To my surprise and delight, the findings in Williams dovetail with some fascinating research on social behavior in nonhuman behavior — a connection few have remarked on, but which holds some rich suggestions.

Enjoy, and drop a line if you care to.


  1. #1 jessica
    July 8, 2007

    Not all of this is relevant to the current blog, but your email address has rejected me (sob) & so here we go…

    Love your articles – darling metaphors! accessible explanations! logical assaults from/on multiple views! – but haven’t written or commented on them before now, so I suppose that bit can come first: Thank you for offering such comprehensive and engaging glances at interesting and important scientific matters, and the means by which to pursue further information concerning them. It gets fucking overwhelming… Reassuring to find writing that is consistently worth reading. Additionally, all work with Mind Matters is much appreciated (especially by those of us a bit too strapped for cash to pick up all the new journals & magazines we’d like). Amazing resource.

    Anyway. Prior to this the most I’d read about the disorder was surface-deep linguistic analysis &, that I can recall, I’ve never read anything about potential motivators for symptoms of the syndrome… & then what with having thrown in evolutionary psychology, so very !!!! I’ve been very caught up with language-debate recently, lots of fights with my self / others / books; seeing something akin to an offer at explaining why language feels inexplicably like relief – or, at the least, a starting point.

  2. #2 m
    July 9, 2007

    Wow, I saw this article while browsing through NYT’s web site. I have to say, the way you portrayed the subject through your writing was enthralling!

    After finishing, I googled your name to find more articles that you’ve written. You’re amazing. I love the way you tie things together, make analogies and draw conclusions for “non-scientific” readers. Keep writing!! As a student/budding science scholar/writer, I am also very inspired by your work. 🙂


  3. #3 TK Kenyon
    July 10, 2007

    Dear David,

    I absolutely loved your NYT article about Williams Syndrome. It was brilliantly written. I should be working on my next novel, but I read all 7 pages b/c I couldn’t stop.

    TK Kenyon
    Postdoc-Neurosci at UPenn
    Author- RABID: A Novel, starred review Booklist

  4. #4 Varient
    July 13, 2007

    I really enjoyed this article and the way that your expolored the notion of cognitive interaction.

    I would like to hear of your opinions on the subject of the subtle ways that the human libido affect the ways in which we personally interact and the way as a culture we interact and whether or not people with little or no libido are a step forward or a step backward in the evolutionary timeline.

    It is my opinion that the lack of libido makes a person act on a more rational plane as opposed to the avarage peson whose very emotional existance is contorted by longing for sexual interaction and social manipulation. I feel that i am somewhat of an outsider by having no libido. but i see it as a strength. I am able to see the subtle complexities in the least trivial of person to person encounters.

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