Study in Detail - Genie (Curtiss, 1977)

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Background

Genie was discovered in 1970. She was 13 years old and had spent her life locked in a room with nothing but a cot, a potty chair and cotton reels to play with. Her parents neglected her and her father often beat her for making sounds. She was fed baby food  and spent most of her day tied to a potty chair. She was only on special occasions allowed to play with two plastic raincoats. 

Both parents were charged with child abuse. Her mother, claimed that she was the victim of an abusive husband, and her father committed suicide before he was due to appear in court. Irene was never charged and the custody of Genie was given to Los Angeles Children's Hospital. Genie was fostered by researchers involved in her care at the hospital but, after funding for research ran out, Genie was returned to her mother, and finally to general foster care.

The Characteristics of a Privated Child

Genie was found with severe physical and intellectual retardation. She walked with a stoop and was almost entirely mute apart from a few utterances that were barely discernible as words. She was severely under-nourished and had stunted growth. She could not chew normal food and often urinated in her clothing. Any emotion displayed was often expressed inwardly; she displayed anger by biting and scratching herself.

After just a few days in the children's hospital, Genie started to show signs of progress. She began to help dress herself and use the toilet almost independently. She also began to form attachments to staff members, sometimes expressing distress and protesting when they left. After a few months she started to play and enjoyed day trips, although her language and eating behaviours were still delayed. It seems that the signs of privation were beginning to reverse through intensive rehabilitation. However, this proved rather an optimistic prophecy. After repeatedly being fostered Genie was eventually found to regress to her initial state of emotional disturbance and verbal silence. Despite working with speech therapists, she never gained normal language - her grammar in particular never developed beyond that of a toddler.

Aim

To investigate the developmental consequences of extreme isolation, although the primary aim was to help Genie. 

Procedure

Much of the data was gathered by working with and observing Genie. There were weekly interviews with Genie's mother, but it seemed she would often say what she thought the social workers wanted to hear (so the detail was not reliable). Information about Genie's early life had to be gathered from Genie's own behaviour and the few comments she made. There were daily doctor's reports about Genie and videotapes and tape recordings were made and catalogued, becoming a rich source of data. Psychological testing was used, with…

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