Curious Parents

The Rare Genetic Condition That Makes You Incredibly Loving Isn't What It Sounds Like

Imagine being born with a genetic quirk that makes you not only friendly, social, and loving, but extraordinarily so. That describes the rare condition known as Williams syndrome, which affects only 1 in 10,000 people worldwide. It may sound like these hyper-social individuals won the genetic lottery, but like many genetic conditions, it comes with its share of downsides.

Related Video: How Country Music Camp Uplifts Teens with Williams Syndrome

A Stranger Is Just a Friend You Haven't Met

If there's one word for the personalities of people with Williams syndrome, it's endearing. "It's sometimes called the opposite of autism, although there are overlaps," Jennifer Latson, author of "The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness," told National Geographic. People with Williams syndrome tend to be incredibly loving and trusting, so much that younger children with the condition are known to run up and hug people they've never met. Of course, just like everyone else, no two people with Williams syndrome are exactly alike. They can be outgoing or shy, positive or grouchy, talkative or quiet. Likewise, many who might have hugged strangers as children learn to control that behavior as they get older.

The condition is caused by a tiny genetic abnormality; just 26 to 28 genes missing from a single chromosome. As a result of this quirk, people with Williams syndrome are believed to have a surplus of oxytocin, sometimes called "the love hormone." They also experience abnormal behavior in the amygdala, which is involved in processing social cues. That's why most tend to be extremely social, expressive, polite, and completely unafraid of strangers. The majority also have an intense love of music. "Parents often say the joy and perspective a child with WS brings into their lives had been unimaginable," the Williams Syndrome Association writes.

The Other Side of the Coin

But a life with Williams syndrome isn't all hugs and friendship. The condition comes with a slew of medical concerns that can include heart and blood vessel problems, musculoskeletal issues, hypersensitive hearing, and developmental delays. The average IQ of someone with Williams syndrome hovers around 50–60, and they often struggle with numbers, spatial reasoning, and abstract thinking. Perhaps most heartbreaking of all, their challenge in processing social cues makes it difficult for them to form lasting friendships — something that they deeply crave.

Still, the warmth that comes with the condition is something special. "It's amazing to see people with Williams approach everyone with this basic belief in the goodness of the other person," Latson said.

Terry Monkaba, executive director of the Williams Syndrome Association, says of her son Ben, "He loves having Williams syndrome because he loves people and people love him." With the right care and support, those children and people like them can live long, happy lives, spreading joy to strangers the rest of us might normally ignore.

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

Read the book that brought Williams syndrome into the limelight: "The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness" by Jennifer Latson. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer August 7, 2017

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.