Curtiss 1977 "Genie" study

Background, aim, procedure, handful of results, conclusion and evaluation

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Background life of Genie

  • At 5 months she was said to be "alert" (suggests she was a "NORMAL" baby)
  • At 14 months she caught an illness, saw a paediatrician who said she showed possible signs of retardation, but was difficult to tell because of the fever
  • Family moved into Genie's grandmother's house who had died
  • Genie's father isolated her in a separate room, tying her to a "potty chair" during the day and into a crib at night
  • Genie occasionally made noise to attract attention but was beaten for it so she stopped
  • Genie's mother began to turn blind and found it difficult to talk to her, whilst her brother copied her father and did not speak to her
  • Genie's father did not think she would live beyond 12 years, and promised her mother that if she did then she could go get help for Genie
  • When Genie was 13 (her father went back on his promise) her mother took Genie and left the home after a violent argument with Genie's father
  • They went to a welfare office to get help, where a worker realised something was very wrong and had the police involved
  • Genie's parents were charged with child abuse, but her father hung himself on the day of the trial
  • Genie was admitted to hospital with severe malnutrition


(I've only written about Genie's background life, but in most books you can find out what happened to her older sister and brother.  I don't know if I actually have to know Genie's background for the exam, so thought I would include it anyway)

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  • To primarily help Genie, and to see if a child of 13 years could learn language
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  • At the start of the study, Genie could not chew food; stand upright or straighten her arms and legs.  She made few sounds but was alert and curious
  • There were weekly interviews with Genie's mother, which may not be reliable since she would mostly say what she thought the social-workers would want her to say (demand characteristics)
  • Informations about Genie's life had to be gathered from her own behaviour and the few comments she made
  • There were daily doctor reports about Genie
  • Video tapes and tape recordings were made and catalogued*
  • Psychological testing was used, with observations and language testing


*You can find a few on YouTube 

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  • In time Genie's language began to emerge and she started asking the names of things around her
  • Genie began to show an understanding of numbers: In a classroom a teacher asked a child with 2 balloons who many balloons they had. The child said "3" and Genie, looking startled, gave the child another balloon
  • Genie moved to a rehabilitation centre and began to develop, but not normally. She had delayed responses: she could be asked to do something and then respond up to 10 minutes later. She chose the path of least effort and seemed lazy.


(I've only chosen 3 results to learn as there are so many given in the book, but feel free to look at some of the others!)

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  • Genie's language developed within the right hemisphere of her brain, and her language was abnormal, which supports the idea that there is a critical period* for "normal" language development and Genie had gone past it


*Critical period: something has to be learned by a certain time or not at all, the period is thought to be from 2 years to puberty (the brain is not mature by the age of 2 and is fully mature by puberty)

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  • Data is rich, detailed and thorough; qualitative and quantitative data used; many research methods used = data is valid
  • Genie is a false name so her privacy during and after the study could be protected = strong ethics


  • Suggestion of developmental problems in infancy*, so she may not have developed "normally" after she was found because of this
  • Genie was the subject of a study and was subjected to a great deal of questioning and observation, little mention of informed consent, right to withdraw or briefing**


*See "Background"

**This may have been hard in the circumstances, but even so the testing would not usually happen in a rehabilitation unit

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Natalie Braund

I'm not sure if we have to know Genie's background for our exam, so I included it anyway.  I only included Genie's background, but she did have a sister who was locked in a garage and died of pneumonia at 2 years old, and her older brother was taken and raised by Genie's grandmother on her father's side.


It's one of the saddest case studies I've ever had to remember :(


i asked my teacher about the background info and she said it allows you to create better evaluation points and just have knw 2 points on background (few) ..obv with aim.procedure, and the rest we Got to knw! i just did this study in lesson just before easter ! :0
thanks for this :)

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