Geometric and featural systems, separable and combined: Evidence from reorientation in people with Williams syndrome

Katrina Ferrara, Barbara Landau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Spatial reorientation by humans and other animals engages geometric representations of surface layouts as well as featural landmarks; however, the two types of information are thought to be behaviorally and neurally separable. In this paper, we examine the use of these two types of information during reorientation among children and adults with Williams syndrome (WS), a genetic disorder accompanied by abnormalities in brain regions that support use of both geometry and landmarks. Previous studies of reorientation in adolescents and adults with WS have shown deficits in the ability to use geometry for reorientation, but intact ability to use features, suggesting that the two systems can be differentially impaired by genetic disorder. Using a slightly modified layout, we found that many WS participants could use geometry, and most could use features along with geometry. However, the developmental trajectories for the two systems were quite different from one other, and different from those found in typical development. Purely geometric responding was not correlated with age in WS, and search processes appeared similar to those in typically developing (TD) children. In contrast, use of features in combination with geometry was correlated with age in WS, and search processes were distinctly different from TD children. The results support the view that use of geometry and features stem from different underlying mechanisms, that the developmental trajectories and operation of each are altered in WS, and that combination of information from the two systems is atypical. Given brain abnormalities in regions supporting the two kinds of information, our findings suggest that the co-operation of the two systems is functionally altered in this genetic syndrome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-133
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Geometry
  • Landmarks
  • Reorientation
  • Spatial navigation
  • Spatial representation
  • Williams syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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