Abnormalities in early visual processes are linked to hypersociability and atypical evaluation of facial trustworthiness: An ERP study with Williams syndrome.
Shore DM., Ng R., Bellugi U., Mills DL.
Accurate assessment of trustworthiness is fundamental to successful and adaptive social behavior. Initially, people assess trustworthiness from facial appearance alone. These assessments then inform critical approach or avoid decisions. Individuals with Williams syndrome (WS) exhibit a heightened social drive, especially toward strangers. This study investigated the temporal dynamics of facial trustworthiness evaluation in neurotypic adults (TD) and individuals with WS. We examined whether differences in neural activity during trustworthiness evaluation may explain increased approach motivation in WS compared to TD individuals. Event-related potentials were recorded while participants appraised faces previously rated as trustworthy or untrustworthy. TD participants showed increased sensitivity to untrustworthy faces within the first 65-90 ms, indexed by the negative-going rise of the P1 onset (oP1). The amplitude of the oP1 difference to untrustworthy minus trustworthy faces was correlated with lower approachability scores. In contrast, participants with WS showed increased N170 amplitudes to trustworthy faces. The N170 difference to low-high-trust faces was correlated with low approachability in TD and high approachability in WS. The findings suggest that hypersociability associated with WS may arise from abnormalities in the timing and organization of early visual brain activity during trustworthiness evaluation. More generally, the study provides support for the hypothesis that impairments in low-level perceptual processes can have a cascading effect on social cognition.