Williams Syndrome study

Williams Syndrome Research in Newcastle

Welcome to our homepage for research exploring components of cognition, behaviour and psychopathology associated with the genetic neurodevelopmental disorder Williams syndrome.

What is Williams Syndrome?

Williams syndrome is a relatively rare neuro-developmental disorder caused by the sporadic deletion of approximately 25-28 genes on chromosome 7. Prevalence is reported to be approximately 1:20,000. The disorder is associated with interesting aspects of cognition (eg. a dissociation between relatively good language in comparison to poorer spatial skills), extraordinary facets of social behaviour (eg. increased sociability) and the presence of psychopathology (e.g. increased anxiety). Across the various projects that we are running we are exploring different components of behaviour associated with children and adults who have Williams syndrome.

Find out more about Williams syndrome from the UK Williams syndrome Foundation website and a podcast from the website.

Our Research Group

For more information on any of these projects please e-mail Dr. Deborah Riby. Some of you may have helped with some of these ongoing projects. We provide regular updates about our work in the WS News Magazine for members of the WS Foundation and newsletters to all families involved in the projects. We also disseminate our work in peer reviewed journal articles and conference presentations.

You can follow our work on Facebook (‘Newcastle Williams syndrome Research Group’) and also on Twitter (@Newcastle_WS).

Academic Staff:

Dr Debbie Riby
Lecturer, School of Psychology,
Social Cognition in Typical and Atypical Development

Dr Jacqui Rodgers
Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University
Anxiety and Psychopathology in Typical and Aytypical Development

Professor Vicki Bruce
Head of School of Psychology, Newcastle University
Expert in experimental psychology, face perception in typical and atypical development

Dr Emily James
Honorary Associate Clinical Lecturer, Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University
Anxiety, repetitive behaviours and sensory processing in Williams syndrome

Dr Leigh Riby
Senior Lecturer, Dept of Psychology, Northumbria University
Cognitive Ageing in Typical and Atypical Development

Professor Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon
Associate Dean of Research, School of Life Sciences, Northumbria University
Gaze Behaviours in Typical and Atypical Development

Postgraduate Researchers

Rachel Cole-Fletcher
PhD Student, Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University
Social Perception and Social Cognition in Williams syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder
Supervised by D Riby, V Bruce

Joanna Greer
PhD Student, Dept of Psychology, Northumbria University
Memory and Cognitive Ageing in Adults with Williams syndrome
Supervised by D Riby, L Riby

Matthew Cranwell
PhD Student, Institute of Neuroscience, Newcastle University
Colour Perception in Autism and Williams syndrome
Supervised by Anya Hurlbert, Ann Le Couteur, D Riby

Affiliated Members

Dr Mary Hanley - Queens University Belfast
Dr Katie Little - Clinical Psychologist
Dr Ruth Fleck – Clinical Psychology
Dr Fiona Clark – Clinical Psychology
Miss Hannah Kirk – Monash University, Melbourne

News Alerts

Successful Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Graduates

Congratulations to the following graduates of the DClin from our group. All successfully completed their Doctorates in September 2012.

Dr Katie Little – Social Behaviours and Social Approach in WS
Dr Fiona Little – Emotion and Anxiety in WS
Dr Ruth Fleck – Hyperacusis and Sensory Processing in WS


If you are interested in taking part in our work please contact Debbie Riby. We are currently recruiting individuals with Williams syndrome for a number of projects. If you are interested in helping with our research please email us as we will be able to tell you about ongoing relevant projects depending on the age of the individual with WS.

New publications from our group

In 2012 we have published a number of academic papers on aspects of behaviour and psychopathology associated with WS. Here are references for our most recent publications:

Riby, D. M., Doherty-Sneddon, G., & Whittle, L. (2012). Face-to-Face Interference in Typical and Atypical Development. Developmental Science, 15, 281–291.

Doherty-Sneddon, G., Riby, D. M., & Whittle, L. (2012). Gaze Aversion as a Cognitive Load Management Strategy in Autism and Williams syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 53, 420-30.

Riby, D. M., Whittle, L., & Doherty-Sneddon, G. (2012). Physiological Reactivity to Faces via Live and Video Mediated Communication in Typical and Atypical Development. Journal of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology. 34, 385-95.

Riby, D. M., Janes, E., & Rodgers, J. (2012). Exploring the relationship between repetitive behaviours and sensory processing in Williams syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 42, 175-180.

Rodgers, J., Riby, D. M., Janes, E., Connolly, B., & McConachie, H. (2012).  Anxiety and Repetitive Behaviours in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Williams syndrome: A Cross-syndrome Comparison. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42, 175-180.

Jawaid, A., Riby, D. M., Owens, J., White, S. W., Tarar, T., & Schulz, P. E. (2012). ‘Too withdrawn’ or ‘too friendly’: considering social vulnerability in two neuro-developmental disorders. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research. 56, 335-350.

Newly Funded Project

In 2012 Drs Riby and Rodgers, with colleagues at Manchester Metropolitan and Liverpool John Moores Universities, were awarded funding from the WSF to explore the sound experiences of individuals with WS. This work relates to our previous explorations of the sensory experiences of individuals with WS and it will be interesting to find out the type of sounds that individuals with WS find particularly comforting or aversive. The findings will have therapeutic implications. This project begins Autumn 2012.

Public Engagement

In 2013 the British Science Festival comes to Newcastle upon Tyne. We will be having an exhibit to show our work on gaze behaviour in typical and atypical development. WE hope that this will also raise awareness of WS.

Academic Seminar Day

With colleagues from Kingston University and the Institute of Education, London, we were awarded funding for a series of 3 seminars on aspects of behaviour associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. On 20th March 2013 we will host the seminar in Newcastle and this event will focus on gaze and the use of eye tracking to explore cognition and behaviour in individuals with disorders of development. We look forward to welcoming academics to Newcastle for this event. You can visit our webpage for the seminar series.