Genes, language, and the nature of scientific explanations: The case of Williams syndrome

Julien Musolino, Barbara Landau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


In this article, we discuss two experiments of nature and their implications for the sciences of the mind. The first, Williams syndrome, bears on one of cognitive science's holy grails: the possibility of unravelling the causal chain between genes and cognition. We sketch the outline of a general framework to study the relationship between genes and cognition, focusing as our case study on the development of language in individuals with Williams syndrome. Our approach emphasizes the role of three key ingredients: the need to specify a clear level of analysis, the need to provide a theoretical account of the relevant cognitive structure at that level, and the importance of the (typical) developmental process itself. The promise offered by the case of Williams syndrome has also given rise to two strongly conflicting theoretical approaches-modularity and neuroconstructivism-themselves offshoots of a perennial debate between nativism and empiricism. We apply our framework to explore the tension created by these two conflicting perspectives. To this end, we discuss a second experiment of nature, which allows us to compare the two competing perspectives in what comes close to a controlled experimental setting. From this comparison, we conclude that the "meaningful debate assumption", a widespread assumption suggesting that neuroconstructivism and modularity address the same questions and represent genuine theoretical alternatives, rests on a fallacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-148
Number of pages26
JournalCognitive neuropsychology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Language
  • Modularity
  • Williams syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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