Genie’s story this is one of the best examples of how far human cruelty can go.
Let’s dive into the life story of this young American girl and what were the implications of her tragic case for different studies of psychology that otherwise could never have taken place.
Genie: a summary of his case of isolation since childhood
The little genius (name given later by a doctor who treated her) was born in the city of Arcadia, California (USA) in 1957. Her father was Clark, a man suffering from severe depression caused by the death of his mother in a car accident several years earlier. The mother was Irene, a woman 20 years younger than Clark, who suffered constant physical abuse at the hands of her husband. Genie also had an older brother, John. There were two more births before Genie, but they didn’t survive.
Genie didn’t say his first words until he was almost two years old. She was assessed by a doctor who concluded that the girl may have had an intellectual disability. This marked a turning point in Genie’s life, from that point on, his father, Clark, he would decide that he couldn’t risk his daughter suffering from the dangers of the outside world, And took the drastic and cruel resolution to isolate the girl in a room, depriving her of virtually all stimuli.
From then until the age of 13, Genie spent every day of her life locked in a room., Chained to a chair that had a urinal attached. To sleep, he forced her into a cage, equipped only with some sort of sleeping bag. To make matters worse, Clark did not allow Genie to speak or make a sound, otherwise he would hit her or make wild animal noises to scare her. Genie’s stimulation was therefore reduced to almost zero, at all levels.
As for food, Genie was also in need. All her upkeep during those hellish years consisted of some sort of children’s cereal porridge, sometimes accompanied by a hard-boiled egg. Plus, she was always fed directly in the mouth, so she didn’t even learn to fend for herself in this regard. The only person who entered and left Genie’s room was her father.As he did not allow anyone to enter, not even his mother or brother.
The only items he could get into the room were old TV guides that Clark had previously cut photos of, waterproof clothing, or food packaging out of. Communication with her was limited to short, authoritative sentences such as “enough”, “for” or “no”. No wonder, when the case was discovered and Genie was 13, she could only understand about 20 words, as she had never learned the language in a conventional way.
Although total isolation was only for Genie, the rest of his families did not enjoy much freedom either.. Clark wouldn’t allow the usual outings from the house or even let them speak out loud, so Genie never listened to them (obviously they were forbidden to communicate directly). Clark’s psychological submission to his family was such that he sometimes picked up his gun, with the magazine in place, and just stared at them, defiantly.
Discovery of the Genie case
We don’t know how it happened, however in 1970, Irene fled the hell out of this house and took John and Genie with her.. Irene had no financial means to survive and was practically blind. Looking for a way out, he approached a charity office in Temple City. The woman looking after them quickly turned her attention to Genie and his peculiar demeanor, which came up against what one would expect from a creature his age.
It seemed to him that Genie could be an autistic girl. He made unintelligible noises, lost his gaze, and maintained strange postural behavior.It looked like he was clinging to bars that weren’t actually there. Her physical appearance resembled that of a 6 or 7 year old girl, even though she was wearing diapers. However, when the social worker found out that she was in fact 13 years old, she did not hesitate to contact the head of the office, who at the same time called the police.
The state immediately took custody of Genie, and Irene and, of course, Clark, were charged with gross negligence and continued child abuse. It was then that the world took notice of Genie’s terrifying case and began his treatment and studies of his behavior and language.
California State Social Services covered the cost of the treatments Genie needed to get the learning she should have known in her early years, which she was deprived of by her father’s actions. This way,the girl started therapy which allowed her to improve her language, allowing her to learn new words and build short sentences, But never reached the level that would correspond to a person without sensory deprivation.
However, after 4 years of treatment, the budget with which these therapies were maintained was closed, so Genie stopped receiving this aid. For this reason, it is not known how well the treatment might have had and the improvements the little one might have felt had it not been for this delay that had occurred to them and prevented them from completing. the original plan they were to help. Genius.
Also, after a series of hardships, her birth mother regained custody, but she really cared for her for a very short time, so Genie began a painful pilgrimage to several shelters, which meant regressions. back to its initial state. In some of these places, Genie was again mistreated, an ordeal which explains why the young girl again had the behaviors she had adopted in her confinement. For example, he stopped pronouncing the learned sentences to never speak again.
To date, almost no data is available on how the years after Genie’s life have passed. For privacy, all we know is that he spends his days in an adult center in Los Angeles, and that his mother is already deceased.
Genie’s story is an absolute human drama, and it’s a situation that by no means should happen. However, once the case is discovered, a series of psychological surveys were conducted to assess the effects of sensory deprivation in childhood. to this girl, an experiment that, logically, any ethics committee would have forbidden to carry out but which, on this occasion, had unfortunately taken place in real conditions.
What psychologists wondered was how much of human behavior is driven by genetics and how much of the environment they were raised in, a dichotomy that has generated huge amounts of study. This occasion was the occasion to discover some of these questions. For example, they tried to find out if the language was an innate or learned skill. With a lot of effort, they managed to get Genie to learn grammar and vocabulary for a 3-4 year old, but they couldn’t go any further.
In terms of impulse control, Genie had temper tantrums in which she was not vocalizing (Because he was not allowed as a child), but he hit objects and the ground, or scratched his face. In addition, she had no sexual inhibitions and generally initiated masturbation behaviors no matter where she was or who was present at the time. In fact, I have often tried to involve other people in this activity.
Not having enjoyed normal mobility during his early years had caused atrophy of the arms and legs, and it was not possible for him to walk normallySo many times he used the quadruped to move around spaces. Likewise, he had no control over his sphincters. Used to wearing diapers, she urinates and defecates any occasion, without the will to do so.
With great difficulty, specialists managed to teach some tasks, such as dressing unnecessarily external help. However, when the treatments were discontinued, it was not possible to continue with these teachings and it is not possible to know how far Genie would have come in his recovery. But the line separating altruistic help from simple experimentation was very blurryAnd that was the trigger to interrupt the program and bring the little one into total anonymity.
- Curtiss, S. (2014). Elf: psycholinguistic study of a current wild child. Perspectives in neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics. Academic Press Inc.
- Fromkin, V., Krashen, S., Curtiss, S., Rigler, D., Rigler, M. (1974). Language development in Genie: a case of language acquisition beyond the “critical period”. Brain and language. Elsevier.
- LaPointe, LL (2005). Wild children. Journal of Speech and Language Medical Pathology.