The rare, genetically based disorder, Williams syndrome (WMS), produces a constellation of distinctive cognitive, neuroanatomical, and electrophysiological features which we explore through the series of studies reported here. In this paper, we focus primarily on the cognitive characteristics of WMS and begin to forge links among these characteristics, the brain, and the genetic basis of the disorder. The distinctive cognitive profile of individuals with WMS includes relative strengths in language and facial processing and profound impairment in spatial cognition. The cognitive profile of abilities, including what is ‘typical’ for individuals with WMS is discussed, but we also highlight areas of variability across the group of individuals with WMS that we have studied. Although the overall cognitive abilities (IQs) of individuals with WMS are typically in the mild-to-moderate range of mental retardation, the peaks and valleys within different cognitive domains make this syndrome especially intriguing to study across levels. Understanding the brain basis (and ultimately the genetic basis) for higher cognitive functioning is the goal we have begun to undertake with this line of interdisciplinary research.