Genie (feral child)
The first publicly released picture of Genie, taken just after California authorities discovered her at the age of 13
|Born||1957 (age 56–57)
Arcadia, California, U.S.
|Known for||Victim of severe child abuse and research subject in language acquisition|
Genie (born 1957) is the pseudonym of a feral child who was the victim of extraordinarily severe abuse, neglect and social isolation. Her circumstances are prominently recorded in the annals of abnormal child psychology. Genie's father kept her locked alone in a room from the age of 20 months to 13 years, 7 months, almost always strapped to a child's toilet or bound in a crib with her arms and legs completely immobilized, and left her severely malnourished. During this time she was never exposed to any significant amount of speech, and as a result she did not acquire language during childhood. Her abuse came to the attention of Los Angeles child welfare authorities on November 4, 1970.
In the first several years after Genie's early life and circumstances came to light, psychologists, linguists and other scientists focused a great deal of attention on Genie's case, seeing in her near-total isolation an opportunity to study many aspects of human development. Doctors monitored the way in which she interacted with her environment and other people, as well as her receptivity and response to different psychological treatment methods. Upon finding that she had not yet learned a language, linguists saw Genie as having the potential to be an important way to gain further insight into the processes controlling language acquisition skills and linguistic development. Extensive observations of their new-found human subject enabled them to publish multiple academic works testing theories and hypotheses identifying critical periods during which humans learn to understand and use language.
At first, Genie made unexpectedly rapid progress with all aspects of her development. Within months of being discovered Genie had developed exceptional nonverbal communication skills, and her consistent ability to nonverbally express her emotions and desires was of great interest to the people who studied her. Her early language acquisition far outstripped the scientists' anticipations, and led to early optimism about her prognosis. At the same time, she learned to form relationships with people and developed some basic social skills.
Throughout the time scientists worked with her she continued to make substantial advances her overall development, but even by the time their testing and observations ended she still had many behaviors characteristic of an unsocialized person. Similarly, although her linguistic abilities significantly expanded, she remained unable to fully acquire a language. In addition, tests on Genie's brain found persistent discrepancies far larger than any prior observations of people with fully intact brains. Her ability to learn right-hemisphere versus left-hemisphere tasks was similarly uneven, giving rise to many new hypotheses on brain lateralization and its effect on both language and other mental processes.
After being found Genie was initially cared for at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and her subsequent placements eventually gave rise to rancorous debate. After living at Children's Hospital until late June 1971 she was moved into the home of her teacher at the hospital for a month and a half, which was the first of several moves. Upon removal from this home she was then placed with the scientist who was heading the research team studying her, where she lived for approximately four years and where most of the testing and research on her was conducted. In mid-1975, soon after turning 18, she went back to live with her mother, who could not adequately care for her. After a few months her mother then had Genie placed for a year and a half in the first of a series of institutions for disabled adults, where she experienced further extreme physical and emotional abuse. Cut off from almost all of the people who had studied her, her newly acquired language and behavioral skills rapidly regressed.
In early January 1978 Genie's mother suddenly decided to forbid all of the scientists except for one from having any contact with Genie, and all testing and scientific observations of her immediately ceased. The only post-1977 updates on Genie and her whereabouts are personal observations or secondary accounts of them, and all are spaced several years apart. Throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s she moved through several additional abusive foster placements where her mental condition continued to decline, but by early 1993 she was living in a more supportive living arrangement. As of 2008, ABC News reported that Genie was living in California, "in psychological confinement as a ward of the state—her sixth foster home. And again, she is speechless."
Although no scientific analysis of Genie has occurred since late 1977, psychologists and linguists have continued to write about Genie's case and development long after this time. Since the case study on Genie concluded, there has been considerable media attention given to her life and the methods of the research team surrounding her. This, in turn, has sparked an ethical debate about their treatment and has led to questions regarding whether she had reached the limits of her developmental potential. In particular, Genie's case has been extensively compared with that of Victor of Aveyron, an eighteenth-century French child who similarly became a classic case of late language acquisition and delayed development.
- 1 Early history
- 2 Hospital stay
- 3 First foster home
- 4 Second foster home
- 5 Loss of funding and research interest
- 6 Early adulthood
- 7 Current
- 8 Impact
- 9 Media
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 Citations
- 13 Sources and further reading
- 14 External links
Genie was the last, and second surviving, of four children of parents living in Arcadia, California. Her father worked in a factory as a flight mechanic during World War II and got a job in the aviation industry after the war ended; her mother, originally from Oklahoma, had come to southern California as a teenager with family friends fleeing the Dust Bowl. During her early childhood Genie's mother suffered an accident in which she sustained a severe head injury, giving her neurological damage that caused her to begin having degenerative vision problems in one eye. As a child Genie's father was not very close to his mother, who ran a brothel and had little involvement in his upbringing, and his father died of a lightning strike. He mostly grew up in various orphanages around the American Pacific Northwest, and his mother had given him a feminine name which made him the target of constant derision throughout his childhood. Because of this, he harbored a great deal of resentment towards his mother; Genie's brother and the scientists who studied Genie believed this was the root of his anger problems later in life.
When Genie's father reached adulthood, he changed his name to one which was more typically masculine. His mother began to spend as much time with him as she could, but found him extremely strict and difficult to be around. According to his wife, he and his mother unrelentingly argued about her unsuccessful efforts to convince him to adopt a less rigid lifestyle. Nevertheless, for the rest of her life he continued to remain almost singularly fixated on his mother and treated all other relationships, including those with his family, as ancillary at best.
From the start, the family and friends of Genie's mother had strongly opposed their marriage because her husband was around twenty years older than her. In the years immediately after getting married they seemed to be happy and living well to most who knew them, but others thought of Genie's father as something of a distant loner. He quickly began forbidding his wife from engaging in activities outside their home, and beat her with increasing frequency and severity. At one point during the early part of their marriage, she suffered a complete mental breakdown due to his treatment and required a stay in a mental hospital. After she married, her eyesight in both eyes started more rapidly deteriorating due to lingering effects from the pre-existing neurological damage, the onset of severe cataracts, and a detached retina. Her diminishing vision forced her to become increasingly dependent on her husband. Genie's mother recalled that her husband's intensely close relationship with his mother was a continual source of frustration to her, as she felt it was interfering with their marriage, and she and her husband constantly argued about this and other topics.
From the outset of their relationship, Genie's father made it very clear that he neither liked children nor ever wanted to have any. Still, after about five years his wife became pregnant. Genie's father continued to beat her mother throughout her pregnancy, and near the end apparently attempted to beat and strangle her to death. She was in the hospital recovering from this when she went into labor, but gave birth to a daughter who appeared to be healthy. When the girl's crying disturbed her father, he placed her in the garage; as a result, at 10 weeks old she died of pneumonia. Their second child, born a year later, was a boy diagnosed with Rh incompatibility who died at two days of age, allegedly from both complications of Rh incompatibility and choking on his own mucus.
Another son was born three years later, once again with Rh incompatibility. His father forced his wife to keep their son quiet as much as possible, and as a result he was slow to develop and late to walk and to talk. When he was four, his paternal grandmother began to grow concerned about her son's increasing instability and her grandson's developmental delays. She decided to take over her grandson's care for several months, and he made good progress with her before eventually being returned to his parents. Genie was born around five years after her brother, and it was around this time that her father began to isolate himself and his family from those around them.
Genie's birth was a standard Caesarean section with no complications, and she was in the 50th percentile for weight. The next day she showed signs of Rh incompatibility and required a blood transfusion, but was otherwise healthy. A medical appointment at three months showed that she was gaining weight normally, but found a congenital hip dislocation which required her to use a highly restrictive Frejka splint from the age of four and a half to eleven months. Due to the splint Genie was late to walk, and researchers believed this led her father to start speculating that she was mentally retarded. Because of this belief, he made it very clear that he did not like Genie. He made a concerted effort not to talk to or pay attention to her, and strongly discouraged his wife and son from doing so. Genie's mother later recalled that Genie was not a cuddly baby, did not babble much, and resisted solid food, but at the age of six months she was reportedly in overall good condition and, "taking food well." She further claimed that at some point Genie began to say some individual words, but could not recall any specific details.
At subsequent doctor's appointments, up until the age of 11 months, records indicate that Genie was alert and sitting up on her own but was falling behind in weight gain. At 11 months, she was down to the 11th percentile for weight. The people who later studied her believed this was a sign that she was starting to suffer some degree of malnutrition. After the Frejka splint was removed the doctor said Genie would need additional physical therapy, but her father refused to allow access to any further treatment. When Genie was 14 months old, she came down with a fever and pneumonitis. The pediatrician who examined her said that although her illness prevented a definitive diagnosis, there was a possibility that she was mentally retarded. He also suggested that the brain dysfunction kernicterus might be present; Rh incompatibility is a significant risk factor for kernicterus, and severe cases can lead to serious brain damage. Her father took this opinion to mean that Genie was severely retarded, using it as justification for isolating and abusing her.
Six months later, when Genie was 20 months old, a pickup truck hit and killed her paternal grandmother in a hit-and-run traffic accident. Her death deeply affected Genie's father, far beyond a normal level of grief. Because she had been walking with her grandson Genie's father viewed him as responsible, which further heightened his anger. When the truck's driver subsequently received only a probationary sentence for both manslaughter and drunk driving, he became nearly delusional with rage.
One of the scientists who later worked with Genie and her mother believed that these events made Genie's father feel as if the outside world had failed him. He therefore decided that he would need to protect his family from everybody else, and in doing so he lacked the self-awareness to recognize the destruction his own actions caused. Upon learning of the court's decision, he decided to further increase the family's isolation. He still thought that Genie was severely retarded and therefore needed additional protection, and believed the best way to provide this for her was to hide her existence entirely. Genie's father immediately quit his job and moved his family into the two-bedroom house his mother had been living in. He insisted on leaving his mother's car, which sat in the garage, and bedroom completely untouched as shrines to her. Genie was increasingly confined to the second bedroom upstairs, while the rest of the family slept downstairs in the living room.
During the daytime, for approximately 13 hours a day Genie's father tied Genie to a child's toilet in a makeshift harness which, according to her brother, their father forced his wife to make. The harness was designed to function like a straitjacket, and while in it Genie wore only diapers and could only move her extremities. At night, usually around 7 PM, when her father remembered to move her she was put into a sleeping bag where she would be bound and placed in a crib with a metal-screen cover, her arms and legs immobilized. Researchers believed that at times she was simply left tied to the child's toilet overnight, although her mother later disputed this. At first her mother could sometimes take her out to the back yard and put her in a small playpen, but Genie reportedly angered her father because she frequently took it apart; although her mother said she was allowed to stay with her daughter while in the yard, the doctors who worked with Genie believed this was a sign that her parents often left there by herself for extended periods of time. After a short period of time, Genie's father decided not to allow her outside her room at all.
Researchers concluded that if Genie vocalized or made any other noise, her father beat her with a large plank he kept in her room. To keep her quiet he would bare his teeth and bark and growl at her like a wild dog, sometimes making Genie's brother do this as well, and he grew his fingernails out to scratch her. If he suspected her of doing something he did not like he made these noises outside the door to intimidate her, and beat her if he believed she had continued to do it. The exact reason for his dog-like behavior was never definitively discerned, but at least one scientist speculated he may have viewed himself as a guard dog and was acting out the role. This instilled an intense fear of cats and dogs in Genie that persisted long after she was freed. Doctors also gave serious consideration to the possibility that Genie's father subjected her to sexual abuse or forced her brother into doing so, although they never uncovered any definite evidence of it. Once, when Genie was suffering from constipation, her father made her drink an entire bottle of castor oil. The ensuing effect on her health was so serious that, for the only time during her captivity, Genie's father allowed a doctor to examine her.
Apart from her father's beatings, Genie's only meaningful human interaction occurred when she was being fed. Her father fed her as little as possible, and only gave her baby food, cereal, Pablum, an occasional soft-boiled egg, and liquids; she was never given any kind of solid food. Her father, or when coerced her brother, spooned food into her mouth as quickly as possible. If she choked or could not swallow fast enough, it would be rubbed into her face. Although Genie's mother claimed Genie was fed three times a day, she also said that when hungry Genie sometimes risked a beating by making noise to get attention, leading researchers to believe Genie's father often refused to feed her. Later she told psychologists that, when possible, at around 11 PM she surreptitiously tried to give Genie additional food. Due to this, Genie developed an unusual sleep pattern in which she slept from 7 to 11 PM, woke up for a few minutes, and fell back asleep for an additional 6 1/2 hours; the pattern continued for several months even after she was freed.
Genie's father had an extremely low tolerance for noise, to the point of refusing to have a working television or radio in the house. He almost never allowed Genie's mother or brother to speak, and viciously beat them if he heard them talking without permission. They were particularly forbidden to talk to or around Genie, preventing her from being exposed to any meaningful amount of language besides her father's occasional swearing. What conversations they had were therefore always very quiet and out of Genie's earshot. Her father almost never permitted anyone else to leave the house, only allowing his son to go to and from school; to ensure complete isolation, even he had to prove his identity through various means before entering. To discourage disobedience, he frequently sat in the living room with a shotgun in his lap. He did not allow anyone else in the house, and at night would frequently leave the outside lights on to help prevent anyone else from approaching the property; in case someone did come, he always kept his gun nearby.[A]
The only sensory stimulation Genie experienced from outside her home came by way of two windows, through which she could hear some traffic noises and see both the side of a neighboring house and a couple inches of sky, and could also occasionally hear birds and airplanes flying over the house. At times she could hear a neighboring child practicing the piano, which researchers thought may have accounted for her later preference for classical piano music. Even these stimuli were extremely limited, as the windows were almost entirely blacked out and the house was well away from the street and other houses. The only visual stimuli Genie had access to besides the room itself were cracks in the otherwise patternless paint, the crib, the chair, and two plastic rain jackets hanging on the wall which Genie could see from the chair. On rare occasions her father allowed her to play with plastic food containers, old spools of thread, TV Guides with many of the illustrations cut out, and the raincoats.
Genie's mother was almost completely blind by this time, and was essentially passive by nature to begin with. Her son later recalled that throughout this time, his parents constantly fought with each other. Their father continued to beat his wife and threatened to kill her if she attempted to contact her parents, close friends who lived nearby, or the police.[B] Genie's father also forced his son into silence, giving him instructions on how to keep his father's actions secret and beating him with many of the same implements he used on Genie. As Genie's brother grew older, the beatings he endured increased in both frequency and severity. He felt completely powerless to do anything to stop his father, as he knew his mother could not put up any resistance and feared severe retribution for attempting to intervene in any way; on multiple occasions, he tried to run away from the house. No one in the neighborhood knew of the abuse Genie's father inflicted on his family, or was aware that Genie's parents ever had a child besides their son. Convinced that Genie would die by age 12 her father promised that, if she survived past that age, he would allow his wife to seek outside assistance. When Genie turned 12 he reneged on that promise, and Genie's mother took no action for another year and a half.
In late October 1970, Genie's mother and father had a violent argument in which she threatened to leave if she could not call her parents. He eventually relented, and shortly thereafter Genie's mother was able to get herself and Genie away from her husband while he was out of the house; Genie's brother, by then 18, had already run away from home to live with friends. She and Genie went to live with her parents in Monterey Park. Around three weeks later, on November 4, Genie's mother brought Genie along while seeking disability benefits in nearby Temple City, California. On account of her near-blindness, she inadvertently entered the general social services office next door. The social worker who greeted them instantly sensed something was not right when she first saw Genie; she was shocked to learn Genie's true age was 13, having estimated from her appearance and demeanor that she was around 6 or 7 and possibly autistic. She notified her supervisor, and after questioning Genie's mother and confirming Genie's age they immediately contacted the police. Genie's parents were arrested and Genie became a ward of the court, whereupon a court order was immediately issued for Genie to be taken to Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Her physical condition and near-total unsocialized state provided the immediate impetus for her admission, but authorities also noted her complete lack of speech at the time.
Upon Genie's admission to Children's Hospital David Rigler, a therapist and USC psychology professor who was the chief psychologist at the hospital, and Howard Hansen, then the head of the psychiatry division and an early expert on child abuse, took direct control of Genie's care. The day after Genie's admission they assigned physician James Kent, another early advocate for child abuse awareness, to conduct the first examinations of her. He later stated this examination revealed by far the most severe case of child abuse he would ever encounter, and came away extremely pessimistic about Genie's prognosis. Rigler said the hospital could not procure Genie's developmental history, and largely had to rely on the police investigation to piece together Genie's childhood.
Shortly after the arrest of Genie's parents, the arresting officer questioned them with his partner. He found that Genie's mother would not speak about her family—and particularly not her children—and Genie's father never seemed to acknowledge anything said to him. Genie's brother did cooperate, and gave detectives some important information about his father. In the house the family had been living in, police found several devices Genie's father had used to restrain and hit Genie and her brother. They also discovered detailed notes Genie's father had written, chronicling his mistreatment of his family and his efforts to conceal it. Although they gained some insight into Genie's childhood, even after the investigation there were a large number of questions left unresolved; writing in mid-1993, Rigler stated that, "There were and there remain deep concerns about the exact nature of her abuse."
News of Genie's rescue reached major media outlets on November 17, 1970, receiving a great deal of local and national media attention. That night, Walter Cronkite included a segment on Genie in the CBS Evening News. The Los Angeles Times ran two consecutive front-page stories on Genie, and continued to run prominent stories on her and her family for over a week. Authorities only released one photograph of Genie, and this picture significantly fueled public interest in her. Children's Hospital staff said large numbers of reporters began coming to the hospital hoping to see her, making it very difficult to maintain her anonymity as Hansen desired. Acting at least partially on advice from his attorney, despite requests Genie's father refused to speak to the media. Genie's brother also made no public statements, but Genie's mother did talk to reporters in the weeks immediately afterwards.
After the story reached the media large crowds went to try to see Genie's father, which he reportedly found extremely difficult to handle. On November 20, on the morning before a scheduled court appearance on charges of child abuse, Genie's father committed suicide by gunshot; his son was standing with a friend outside the house, with no knowledge of his father's intentions. Upon arriving police found two suicide notes from Genie's father, one intended for his son and one directed at the police. One of the notes contained the declaration, "The world will never understand." His suicide further heightened media interest in the other members of Genie's family.
After the initial police investigation and the suicide of Genie's father, law enforcement and hospital staff exclusively focused on Genie and her mother.[C] Children's Hospital staff decided they wanted to keep Genie's mother involved in Genie's life because she was Genie's only association with her family and her past. Hansen was an acquaintance of attorney John Miner, who had recently stepped down as the Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, and asked him to represent her in court. Miner, who knew about the case from the media and had already taken considerable interest in it, readily agreed. She told the court that beatings at the hands of her husband and her near-total blindness had left her unable to intervene on behalf of her children. Charges against her were subsequently dropped, and over the next several years she received counseling at Children's Hospital; Hansen was her therapist's direct supervisor. The following year, with the consent of Genie's mother and her psychologists, Miner was named Genie's legal guardian.
Characteristics and personality
Genie was extremely pale and severely undersized and underweight for her age, standing 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m) and weighing only 59 pounds (27 kg). Upon admission to Children's Hospital, she had nearly two full sets of teeth in her mouth and a distended abdomen. A series of X-rays taken soon after her admission found she had moderate coxa valga in both hips and an undersized ribcage, and her bone age was determined to be that of an 11 year old. The restraining harness her father used had caused a thick callus and heavy black bruising on her buttocks, which took several weeks to heal.
Genie's gross motor skills were extremely weak; she could not stand up straight nor fully straighten her limbs. Kent was somewhat surprised to find her fine motor skills were significantly better, determining they were at approximately a two-year-old level. The day after being admitted to the hospital, he noticed she could use only her fingers to flip through pages of a magazine. She had very little endurance, only able to engage in any physical activity for brief periods of time. As Genie never ate solid food as a child she was completely unable to chew and had very severe dysphagia, unable to swallow any solid or even soft food and barely able to swallow liquids. Because of this she would hold anything which she could not swallow in her mouth until her saliva broke it down, and if this took too long she would spit it out and mash it with her fingers. She constantly salivated and spat, and continually sniffed and blew her nose on anything that happened to be nearby.
Despite tests which determined Genie had normal vision in both eyes she could not focus them on anything more than 10 feet (3 m) away, which corresponded to the dimensions of the room she was kept in. Her characteristic "bunny walk", in which she held her hands in front of her like claws, suggested difficulty with sensory processing and an inability to integrate visual and tactile information. She was also completely incontinent, and gave no response whatsoever to extreme temperatures. Doctors noticed her extreme fear of cats and dogs from the outset, but initially attributed it to an inability to think rationally; its actual origin, that her father had acted like a growling dog to intimidate her, was not discerned until years later.
After moving into Children's Hospital Genie showed interest in many hospital staff members, often approaching complete strangers and walking with them; Kent said that, even at the very beginning of her stay, she made reasonably good eye contact with other people. At first, she seemed more eager to interact with hospital staff than anyone else. However, she showed no signs of attachment to anybody in particular, giving no response to anyone coming or going. Kent said she did not seem to distinguish between people, and thought she was more interested in the room itself than the people in it with her. At first, her apathy towards other people extended to the members of her family. When her mother and brother came to visit her at the hospital for the first time, Kent and Genie were playing with some puppets she had taken a liking to. When they attempted to greet Genie Kent said she walked over to her mother and gave her a brief, expressionless look before turning back to Kent and resuming her play, in the process never acknowledging her brother. At first Genie would not allow anyone to touch her, quickly shying away from any physical contact.[D]
Genie had no situational awareness whatsoever, acting on any of her impulses regardless of the setting. Her behavior was typically highly anti-social, and proved extremely difficult for others to control. She also had no sense of personal property, frequently pointing to or simply taking something she wanted from someone else. In particular, when eating she sometimes tried to give her food to the person next to her before grabbing for their food.
Doctors found it extremely difficult to test Genie's mental age, but on two attempts they found Genie scored at the level of a 13 month old. Even when she was first admitted, doctors saw she was clearly picking up some non-verbal information from other people and showed a small amount of responsiveness to it. During his first sessions with Genie, Kent made the first attempts to discern her capacity for communication. Genie demonstrated some ability to nonverbally communicate, but could only get across a few very basic needs. She did not make any facial expressions, and her movements usually contained no discernible body language. Genie clearly distinguished speaking from other environmental sounds, but she remained almost completely silent and was almost entirely unresponsive to speech. When she did vocalize, it was always extremely soft and devoid of tone.
Linguists later determined that Genie only showed understanding of about 15–20 words, all of which she responded to as if they had been spoken in isolation. Hospital staff concluded that her active vocabulary consisted of just two short phrases, "stop it" and "no more". Some doctors thought she may have spontaneously said a few other words or negative commands, but there was no record of them. Without nonverbal information, she could not respond to very simple sentences. Doctors found no evidence of any metabolic disorders or skull deformations, a neurologist could not find signs of neurological disorders, her chromosomes were normal, and a preliminary EEG had no indications of any mental disorder. After testing Genie and checking existing medical records, which also uncovered no clear mental disabilities, researchers determined she had not acquired a language and was not simply selectively mute.
Despite her lack of language, Genie appeared very interested in exploring environmental stimuli. She seemed especially curious about different sounds, and one of the very few positive signs Kent saw was that, from the very beginning, she searched for the source of noises. When upset she would wildly spit, blow her nose into her clothing and rub mucus all over her body, frequently urinate, and scratch and strike herself. These tantrums were usually the only times Genie was at all demonstrative in her behavior. Even then her face stayed completely expressionless, and she never cried or vocalized. Some accounts said she could not cry at all. To make noise, she would push chairs or other similar objects. Her outbursts initially occurred very often without any obvious trigger, and continued until she either had her attention diverted or had physically tired herself out; at that point Genie would again become silent, and gave off no nonverbal signals. Nonetheless, hospital staff hoped to nurture her closer to normality.
Soon after Genie was found, Jay Shurley, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Oklahoma and a specialist in extreme social isolation, took an interest in her case. In the year and a half after Genie was rescued, Shurley came on three three-day visits, and got permission to conduct daily observations of Genie and to carry out a sleep study; the first of these visits was in December 1970, and the others were in approximately six month intervals. From his studies, he hoped to determine whether or not Genie was autistic. He also wanted to determine whether or not she was born mentally retarded, had sustained irreversible brain damage due to her severe malnutrition during chilhood which left her retarded, or had merely been rendered functionally retarded by her isolation and abuse. Shurley's daytime observations of Genie led him to believe she was not autistic, with which later researchers concurred. Although her behavior indicated a high level of emotional disturbance, by the time he began observing her she showed a great desire to find new sources of stimulation. He also wrote that she did not exhibit behavioral defense mechanisms characteristic of autism.[E]
For his sleep studies Shurley found Genie cooperative, and although he did not learn the cause of her atypical sleep pattern until after the conclusion of his studies he had no significant difficulties gathering data.[F] When analyzing the data from his first test, he noted that Genie's almost total lack of language could potentially have impacted his results. Shurley found no signs of brain damage, and ruled it out as a cause of her lack of speech. Some aspects of her sleep were typical for someone her age, and others were initially highly irregular but had almost entirely normalized by Shurley's last session. Throughout his sessions, he found no sudden onset of irregularity in her sleep. However, he observed a few persistent abnormalities, including a significantly reduced amount (and much larger than average variance in duration) of REM sleep and an atypically high number of sleep spindles.
In 1972 Shurley wrote that he could not definitely determine the cause of these abnormalities, and at the time considered either functional or congenital retardation possible. Eventually, largely from the latter he concluded Genie had been retarded from birth, as significantly elevated numbers of sleep spindles are a phenomenon typically found in people born with severe retardation. However, scientists following the case remained divided on this issue. Much later, for example, Susan Curtiss emphatically argued that, though Genie clearly had serious emotional difficulties, she could not have been retarded. Curtiss pointed out that for every calendar year after her rescue, Genie had made a year's developmental progress, which would not be expected if her condition was congenital. She also argued that some of the aspects of language Genie acquired were uncharacteristic of someone retarded from birth. They instead believed that Genie was born with at least average intelligence, and that the years of abuse and isolation she endured had left her functionally retarded.
Shurley also noted that Genie's was the most severe case of isolation he had ever studied or heard about, which he maintained more than 20 years later. Throughout the time scientists studied Genie, he offered several suggestions about how to work with her. David Rigler said that, despite their later disagreements, Shurley's recommendations were the only useful advice he ever received on handling Genie and he attempted to follow them as much as possible. Shurley thought that, because of the unique circumstances of Genie's childhood, she would make an excellent case study on many fronts.
Upon first meeting with Genie, James Kent made the first efforts to discern her emotional and intellectual state. He initially observed no reactions from her, but eventually found that she seemed afraid of a small puppet. When she threw it on the floor Kent looked at Genie, pretending to be very concerned, and said, "We have to get him back", and was startled when she repeated the word "back" and nervously laughed. As they played with the puppet she repeated "back" several times, and when Kent said, "The puppet will fall" she repeated "fall". Playing with this and similar puppets quickly became her favorite activity, and during the early part of her stay was, apart from her tantrums, one of the few times she expressed any emotions. He quickly realized that there would be a large number of doctors involved in working with Genie, and was concerned that without a steady presence in her life she would not learn to form a normal relationship. He therefore decided to accompany her on walks and to all of her appointments.
Within a few days of arriving at Children's Hospital, Genie started learning to dress herself and began voluntarily using the toilet. Despite this, she continued to have nightly episodes of nocturnal enuresis and daytime incontinence remained an ongoing problem for her. Both of these slowly improved during her stay at the hospital but persisted even years later, tending to resurface when she felt under duress. Within weeks she became much more responsive to nonverbal stimuli, although at first her demeanor remained devoid of nonverbal signals. She also gradually became more responsive to other people talking, although doctors were unsure whether she was responding more to verbal or nonverbal stimuli.
Genie quickly began growing and putting on weight, and although her walk remained very distinctive she steadily became more confident in her movements. After two weeks at the hospital, to give Genie a sense of freedom Kent took her out to the hospital's play area for the first time. In December Kent decided to move her to the hospital's rehabilitation center, giving her access to more activities and opportunities to socialize. After four weeks she had good eye–hand coordination, and her ability to focus on objects with her eyes had noticeably improved. Around this time, Kent and the other hospital staff assigned to Genie began to see her as a potential case study. David Rigler obtained a small grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to do preliminary studies on her, and hospital staff began organizing a research team and planning to submit a larger grant request in May 1971.
Doctors observed that Genie quickly developed a sense of possession, hoarding objects to which she took a liking. Colorful plastic objects quickly became her favorite things to collect and play with, which doctors speculated was due to the items her father had let her use as a child; she did not seem to care whether they were toys or ordinary containers, although she especially sought out beach pails. Hospital staff found that, during the first few months of her stay, they could simply give Genie one of these objects to bring her out of a tantrum. Later during her stay, when Kent started taking her on trips outside the hospital, Genie's favorite places were stores with plastic toys. If someone in a toy store looked interesting to her or was holding something she liked, Genie would walk right up and attach herself to who or what had caught her attention, requiring intervention from Curtiss or Kent to separate her. By April, almost six months into her stay at Children's Hospital, Genie began to exhibit a sense of possession over items that she thought were hers but was otherwise impartial towards.
Everybody who worked with Genie noticed how intensely she explored her surroundings, although objects still seemed to intrigue her much more than other children. Doctors saw that she enjoyed intentionally dropping or destroying small objects, and most of the hospital staff tried using this to get her to outwardly express her anger. As Genie did this more often, she would tear up from laughing so hard. She also showed deep fascination with classical piano music played in front of her; years later, Susan Curtiss described Genie as acting like she was either in a trance or hallucinating when she heard music she enjoyed. She did not have the same reaction to musical recordings, and if the song being played was anything other than classical music she would walk up and change the sheet music to a book which she knew had pieces she liked.
Within a few months of her rescue, Genie's demeanor and responsiveness to others had considerably changed. The scientists were concerned that she almost never interacted with other children—one visiting psychiatrist wrote in May 1971 that she acted as if other children were, "no different from the walls and furniture in the room,"—but after a month she started becoming sociable with familiar adults, first with Kent and soon with other familiar hospital staff. During her stay, she became especially friendly with several of the hospital's cooks. She would sometimes work very hard to get people to stay with her, and expressed disappointment if she failed. Not long afterwards she began showing happiness when familiar people came to visit, and Kent noticed that, for no discernible reason, her greetings were far more energetic than her relatively mild unhappiness when people left. She got along with both men and women, but they noticed she was afraid of men who wore khaki pants and showed a particular affinity for men with beards; they attributed the latter to her father having been clean-shaven.
In January 1971, doctors administered a Gesell Developmental Evaluation and found Genie to be at the developmental level of a 1–3 year old. She started showing more interest in people speaking and attempted to mimic some speech sounds, and although her imitations were very infrequent doctors thought this was a positive sign. Her voice was very soft, completely monotonic, and extremely high-pitched, far above even the normal range of children who are first learning to speak. This was a trait which scientists had observed in earlier cases of feral children. People who heard her voice said she sounded either like a deaf child or someone with cerebral palsy, although people trained in speech pathology only said the latter. As Genie had been forced to repress all vocalization from a very early age, her larynx and vocal tract were extremely underused and left her unable to control air flow and her vocal chords.
Genie gradually began to express more of her emotions outwards, although she continued to attack herself when angry, and her nonverbal communication skills quickly became exceptional. Everyone who met her said she had an indescribable way of capturing and eliciting emotions, and she seemed able to communicate her desires to people without talking. Upon seeing Genie for the first time, Shurley recalled that she instantly reached out to him in a way which he could not explain. Later during her stay at Children's Hospital, when Curtiss and Kent went to toy stores with Genie, complete strangers would buy something for her because they sensed she wanted it. When this occurred, both of them were amazed that these gifts were always the types of objects Genie most enjoyed.
Genie's vocabulary slowly increased at first, but began to accelerate at a progressively faster rate. From the very beginning, she consistently showed understanding of far more words than she spoke. Around 5 months into her stay she began spontaneously producing one-word answers to questions. Soon after, she appeared to understand some give-and-take of conversation. Later during her stay she also used language, as well as other behaviors, to get people to do things for her, and by the time she left the hospital she was reportedly very good at getting what she wanted from hospital staff. The words she used indicated a fairly advanced ability to mentally categorize objects and situations, showing that she had undergone some mental development during her childhood. Her acquisition to this point was far more rapid than what the hospital's doctors had anticipated, leading to an increased sense of optimism for her overall development.
After charges were dropped against Genie's mother, she began visiting the hospital twice a week. As Genie got better at forming relationships with the hospital staff she grew more comfortable with her mother, and her mother also grew better at interacting with her. After a few months, doctors saw Genie begin to exude happiness when she knew her mother was coming. Although Genie never displayed any emotion when separated from her mother or as her mother left, Kent observed that as her mother kept visiting Genie would have a tantrum after her second visit in the week and never after the first. At first they thought Genie was angry because her mother reminded her of her past, but by 1972 Kent said they began to think that Genie felt abandoned because she knew she would not see her mother again until the following week. At around the same time she started engaging in physical play with adults, eventually beginning to enjoy giving and receiving hugs.
By April and May 1971, Genie's scores on the Leiter International Performance Scale tests had dramatically increased. Overall her mental age was at the level of a typical 4 year 9 month old, but on individual components she showed a very high level of scatter.[G] Around that time, when a minor earthquake struck Los Angeles, she ran frightened into the kitchen and rapidly verbalized to some of the cooks she had befriended. This was the first time she sought out comfort from another person, and the first time she was so readily verbal. However, she still had a hard time with large crowds of people, even after months at the hospital. At her birthday party, she became so anxious at all the guests present that she had to go outside with Rigler to calm down.
Genie continued to exhibit frustration and have tantrums, but they began to be responses to situations which would have stirred up similar emotions in most young children. Kent recalled her being very disappointed when she could not go on outings due to a doctor's appointment. Unlike past times, where doctors quickly cheered her up by giving her one of her favorite objects, she could continue to sulk for a considerable period of time. In April 1971 she began to direct some of her anger outwards, which the doctors saw as substantial progress, but she did not entirely stop harming herself when angry.
Beginning in January 1971 scientists conducted a series of neurolinguistic tests on Genie, making her the first language-deprived child to undergo any detailed study of her brain. In early March of that year, neuroscientists Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima came from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies to administer their own series of brain exams. Doctors already suspected Genie was extremely right-hemisphere dominant, but Bellugi and Klima's tests went even further and showed asymmetry at a level which had previously only been documented in patients with either split-brain or who had undergone a hemispherectomy. Shurley's sleep-studies had found sleep patterns typical in a left-hemisphere dominant person, leading scientists to believe she was most likely right-handed. Over the next few years multiple tests of Genie confirmed this, as did observations of her in everyday situations, and her brain was completely physically intact. Despite this, her left hemisphere appeared to have undergone no specialization whatsoever.
Among the tests Bellugi and Klima administered were a series of dichotic listening tests. Genie underwent audiometry tests which confirmed that she had regular hearing in both ears, but Bellugi and Klima found that she identified language sounds with 100% accuracy in her left ear while correctly answering at only a chance level when tested on her right ear. When given monaural tests for both language and non-language sounds she answered with 100% accuracy in both ears, which was normal. On non-language dichotic listening tests she showed a slight preference for her left ear, which was typical of a right-handed person and helped rule out the possibility of her brain's hemispheres only being reversed in dominance.
Based on the results of these tests, Bellugi and Klima believed that Genie had been developing as a normal right-handed person until the time her father began isolating her. They attributed the imbalance between Genie's left and right hemispheres to the fact that Genie's sensory input as a child was almost exclusively visual and tactile, functions which are predominantly controlled in the right hemisphere of a right-handed person. Although this input had been extremely minimal, it was sufficient to cause the lateralization of these functions. They therefore believed that because Genie had no linguistic input to stimulate lateralization in the left hemisphere, her language functions never lateralized to her left hemisphere. Since Genie was able to distinguish speech sounds with her right hemisphere, they thought that Genie's language had lateralized there instead.
During their testing Bellugi and Klima also noted that Genie seemed to know far more words than she would spontaneously say, but since she was so responsive to nonverbal stimuli they could not tell what she used to respond to other peoples' speech. They recommended using tests and games to establish her level of comprehension, as these would more accurately pinpoint her linguistic abilities than would observations of her language in everyday interactions. To get the best results, they especially emphasized that non-language cues such as tone of voice and facial expressions had to be entirely eliminated. The scientists who went on to examine Genie's language acquisition designed their tests with Bellugi and Klima's advice in mind.
Interest as a case study
At the time Genie was discovered, hypotheses proposed by Noam Chomsky and Eric Lenneberg about the innateness and acquisition of language were being widely discussed in both lay and academic circles. In the 1950s Chomsky argued that language was what separated humans from all other animals, and that the ability to learn language was innate to humans. In 1964, Lenneberg proposed that humans have a critical period for language acquisition, defining the end of this period as the onset of puberty. Prior to Genie's discovery, there had been no way to test these hypotheses. Though ancient and medieval texts made several references to language deprivation experiments, modern researchers labeled such ideas "The Forbidden Experiment", impossible to carry out for ethical reasons.
Coincidentally, the François Truffaut film The Wild Child also premiered in the United States only a week after Genie's rescue. The Wild Child chronicled the life of Victor of Aveyron in the years immediately after his discovery at the age of 13, and portrayed the efforts of then-aspiring medical student Jean Marc Gaspard Itard to integrate him into society during Victor's stay at Paris' school for the deaf, the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris (known in the early 1800s as the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris). In particular, the film focused on Itard's efforts to teach Victor language. The movie was a major success, and further heightened public interest in cases of children subjected to extreme abuse or isolation.
Prompted by this coincidence of timing, David Rigler led a team of Children's Hospital doctors and outside scientists who sought a three-year grant from the NIMH to study Genie in May 1971. At the suggestion of Jean Butler, Genie's special education teacher at the hospital, they screened The Wild Child during their first meeting as an inspiration for ideas; the scientists later said this had a profound impact because they immediately saw the parallels with Genie. The grant meetings lasted for a week, and there were a wide variety of suggestions as to what the case study should center on. Years later, the scientists all recalled that pinning its direction down was very difficult.
Rigler ultimately decided that the primary focus of their research would be to test Chomsky and Lenneberg's hypotheses, and selected UCLA linguistics professor Victoria Fromkin to head linguistic evaluation.[H] The decision to focus on language acquisition came as a surprise to several of the scientists, including Shurley—he had pushed for greater focus on her social and emotional development, and he was only marginally aware of Fromkin's work prior to Rigler's decision—but none of them voiced any objection to it. The research team also planned to continue periodic evaluations of Genie's psychological development in various aspects of her life. Soon after submitting their proposal, the team received approval from the NIMH and commenced their studies.
Prior to the grant meetings, Children's Hospital authorities had begun searching for a foster home capable of providing the level of care Genie required. Although there had been many disagreements between the scientists during the meetings, there was unanimous consensus that she could not indefinitely live at the hospital and hospital staff escalated their efforts to find foster care arrangements for her. From the time she had been admitted to Children's Hospital researchers had tried to keep her identity concealed, and it was around the time of the grant proposal that they adopted the pseudonym Genie for her. The name referenced parallels researchers saw between Genie's sudden emergence into society from captivity past childhood and a genie's sudden emergence from a bottle without having a human childhood.
Soon after the NIMH accepted the grant proposal, Susan Curtiss began her work on Genie's case as a graduate student in linguistics under Victoria Fromkin; over the coming years, Curtiss would be one of the most influential figures in Genie's life. Curtiss already knew of Genie from news reports, and said she was surprised that she had gotten an opportunity to be involved in the study. She gladly accepted the opportunity, and met Genie for the first time in late May. Together with Fromkin, she tested Genie and tracked her language acquisition, writing numerous papers covering various aspects of Genie's progress. She began observing Genie's speech from the start, and used hospital films and transcripts to piece together what she could of her early progress.
For the remainder of Genie's stay at Children's Hospital, Curtiss met with Genie almost every day. When Curtiss first saw Genie she found Genie's behavior bizarre and antisocial, and wrote that she looked extremely dirty and unkempt. Genie still indiscriminately spat, and blew her nose on anything around her. In addition, although her trouble with incontinence had markedly improved it remained an ongoing problem. Curtiss remembered Genie and her clothing having a powerful stench as a result. Genie still had considerable difficulty with chewing and swallowing, and Curtiss found her eating habits particularly distasteful. Despite this, Curtiss thought Genie somehow still looked very pretty and remembered being immediately drawn to her.
Very soon after meeting Genie, Curtiss quickly recognized her powerful nonverbal communication abilities. Although Genie had learned some language by this time, and was continuing to rapidly expand her linguistic abilities, Curtiss soon realized that it was not yet at a usefully testable level. She therefore decided to dedicate the next few months to simply getting to know Genie and gaining her friendship. For the remaining time that Genie was at Children's Hospital Curtiss began to go along with Genie and Kent on trips into town, and she and Genie very quickly bonded with each other.
At around the same time Susan Curtiss began her work, doctors reevaluated Genie on the Leiter scale and measured on a Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale; these both put her estimated mental age between a 5 and 8 year old. Child psychologist David Elkind, who was involved in the research team's meetings, evaluated Genie and reported she understood object permanence. Elkind also noticed that a significant time after Genie heard a dog she later attempted to mimic its barking, marking the first time she demonstrated the capacity to engage in deferred imitation; he and the hospital psychologists saw both events as major cognitive gains. Later that month, when Genie was with Jean Butler, Butler asked a boy holding two balloons how many balloons he had; when the boy said "three", Butler said Genie appeared startled and quickly gave him another balloon. She, the hospital staff, and linguists saw this as a significant step, as it demonstrated that she was listening to other people, she understood significantly more language than she produced, and that she could count to at least some degree.
On trips outside the hospital, Curtiss noticed Genie often approached the front doors of random houses and seemingly hoped someone would invite her in. David Elkind took her on a walk through Griffith Park, and like Curtiss and Kent noted how intently she explored her surroundings. Her physical health continued to improve, and by this time her endurance had significantly increased; Curtiss remembered that when doctors took Genie out for walks, she would tire everyone else out. Around this time she began to use the first sentences consisting of two morphemes, and started to construct her first two-word utterances; linguists saw this as an especially important step for her development. Her doctors, at that time, predicted a completely successful rehabilitation could be possible.
First foster home
During Genie's stay at Children's Hospital Jean Butler became very close to her, and both Kent and Jay Shurley praised Butler's work. In June 1971, Butler obtained permission to take Genie on day trips to her home in Country Club Park, Los Angeles. Near the end of that month, after one of these trips Butler told the hospital that she (Butler) might have contracted rubella, to which Genie would have been exposed. Although the scientists and hospital staff had been looking to place Genie in a foster home for months, they were reluctant to give foster custody to Butler and were very skeptical of her story, strongly suspecting she had concocted it as part of a bid to take over as Genie's primary caretaker. Nonetheless, Genie was temporarily quarantined in Butler's home as an alternative to placing her in isolation at the hospital. Butler, who was unmarried and living alone at the time and childless, subsequently petitioned for foster custody of Genie, and despite the hospital's objections the stay was extended while authorities considered the matter.
Butler's journal and films are the primary source of information available on Genie's speech and the only source containing data on her behavior during this time, as the scientists' writings on Genie contain almost nothing from this period. One behavior Butler documented was Genie's hoarding, first observed at Children's Hospital; in particular, Genie collected and kept dozens of containers of liquid in her room. The scientists did not know what caused her to do this, although it is a common trait of children from abusive homes. On several occasions Butler went to the beach with Genie, who seemed fascinated with the water and waded in up to her ankles. Butler worked on Genie's ongoing incontinence, which gradually eased and almost entirely went away by the end of her stay. Although Butler could not discern the reason for Genie's intense fear of cats and dogs, after witnessing it firsthand Butler tried to help her overcome it by watching episodes of the television series Lassie with her and giving her a battery-powered toy dog. Butler wrote that Genie could eventually tolerate fenced dogs, though there was no progress with cats.
Butler, the scientists, and the NIMH evaluating committee all noted a marked improvement in Genie's demeanor during her stay with Butler, agreeing that she seemed more relaxed. Butler claimed that she had made additional progress with Genie's behavior; she wrote that she had gotten Genie to stop attacking herself when angry, instead getting her to express anger through words or by hitting objects. She also said that Genie had become noticeably more talkative, and that her vocabulary and grammar had undergone substantial growth; in early August she wrote to Shurley that Genie's utterances were significantly longer and more grammatically complex, and demonstrated she was continuing to acquire language. Both she and the scientists also noticed that soon after moving in Genie started showing the first signs of reaching puberty. This both marked a dramatic improvement in her overall health and definitively put her past Lenneberg's proposed critical period for language acquisition. David Rigler, however, noted that the onset of menstruation complicated efforts to deal with her incontinence.
Around the time Genie moved in with Butler, her mother's therapists had arranged for her to have corrective cataract surgery which helped her regain much of her eyesight. Genie's mother got along very well with Butler, and her relationship with Genie continued to improve. However, Butler began to strenuously resist visits from the researchers, whom she felt overtaxed Genie and to whom she began disparagingly referring in her journal as the "Genie Team", a name which stuck. She expressed this view to Genie's case handler in several letters, and wrote in her journal that the agency shared her concerns. Butler particularly seemed to dislike James Kent and Susan Curtiss. She felt Kent was too permissive towards Genie's behavior, alleging that he refused to intervene when Genie engaged in socially inappropriate behavior; Butler said that at times, he actively encouraged Genie in some of her habits. Butler also thought Curtiss had insufficient experience working with children and was overzealous in her efforts to elicit speech from Genie, writing that when Curtiss visited Genie would not speak at all. During the latter part of Genie's stay, Butler prevented both of them from visiting.
The scientists on the research team found Butler extremely difficult to work with, and thought she was interfering with their efforts to give Genie the level of support they felt she required. She frequently argued with researchers about Genie's handling, especially with Rigler, although he maintained that these disputes were never as heated or personalized as Butler portrayed them. At least some believed that Butler was insufficiently capable of providing the standard of care they sought for Genie. Even those who did not were critical of her lack of willingness to work with the research team, and thought she was negatively affecting the case study. The scientists strongly contested Butler's claims of pushing Genie too hard, contending that she enjoyed the tests and that they allowed her to take breaks at will. Both Kent and Curtiss emphatically denied Butler's accusations towards them. The other scientists viewed Butler as personally troubled, noting her longstanding and widely known reputation for combativeness among coworkers and superiors. On several occasions, Butler's accounts of events involving Genie conflicted with those of other present researchers.
Several of the scientists, especially Curtiss and Howard Hansen, recalled Butler openly stating that she hoped Genie would make her famous. Curtiss especially remembered Butler repeatedly proclaiming her intent to be, "the next Anne Sullivan". While Genie was living with her she was being compensated by the grant money, and to Rigler's consternation she sought to increase this amount as a part of her bid for foster custody. She also demanded several times to be credited in the scientists' research publications; although Rigler initially acquiesced on this, the scientists eventually decided against it.
During Genie's stay Butler had the man she was dating—who was himself a former professor at the University of Southern California and a well-known, respected psychologist—move in with her, as she believed authorities would view her pending foster application more favorably if she offered a two-parent home. Butler wrote he and Genie got along very well, which Shurley later corroborated, and he sometimes attempted to mediate disputes between Butler and the scientists. According to Shurley, he was also very intent on gaining foster custody of Genie. Butler received positive evaluations from both the agency's case handler and the NIMH's evaluating committee, and some of the scientists on the research team believed that Butler would likely be made Genie's foster parent. However, the case handler's superiors were very divided over the adequacy of Butler's home.
In mid-August, California authorities informed Butler they had rejected her application for foster custody. The extent, if any, to which Children's Hospital influenced the decision is unclear. Rigler maintained several times that despite the scientists' objections neither the hospital nor any of its staff had intervened, and said the decision surprised him. A few days before the decision came down he had written a letter to Butler in which he said that, despite his frustration due to her lack of cooperation with the scientists and her attempts to increase the amount of grant money she received as Genie's caretaker, he thought her home was suitable and her application would likely be accepted. The Nova documentary on Genie, however, states the rejection of Butler came partially on the hospital's recommendation; there is evidence many hospital authorities, including Hansen, felt Butler's ability to care for Genie was inadequate, and hospital policy forbade its staff members from becoming foster parents of its patients. Butler herself believed the hospital had opposed her application so Genie could be moved somewhere more conducive to research, and wrote that Genie, upon being told of the decision, was extremely upset and had said, "No, no, no."
Second foster home
During Genie's stay with Butler the scientists maintained that if authorities denied Butler foster custody, they did not want Genie to return to living at the hospital. Despite continuing to search, authorities had not found another home capable of taking her. In early August Hansen suggested to Rigler that he take custody of Genie if authorities rejected Butler, and although he initially balked at the idea decided to talk it over with his wife, Marilyn; Marilyn had graduate training as a social worker and had just completed a graduate degree in human development, and had previously worked in both nursery schools and Head Start Programs. They had three adolescent children of their own, and ultimately decided that, if no one else would, they were willing to temporarily care for Genie until a new foster home became available.
When considering this possibility, all of the scientists knew how unusual it would be to make David Rigler Genie's foster parent while still one of her therapists and the head of the research team. From the outset Rigler acknowledged that this would clearly put him in a dual relationship with Genie, but he and the other members of the research team agreed that the need to provide Genie a sufficient level of care was so dire that they needed to get her into the first available adequate home as soon as possible. The hospital and the other scientists agreed that the Riglers' home offered the type of environment they wanted for her and decided that, in the absence of any other options, if they could not find someplace for Genie they would support her living with the Riglers. Jay Shurley said the Riglers also thought their experience with raising three children would give them an advantage over Butler.
After Genie was removed from Jean Butler's house, she was returned to Children's Hospital. As an alternate living arrangement for her had not yet been located, the Riglers then decided to take control of Genie's care. Despite the hospital's policy, Children's Hospital authorities, John Miner, and the state consented to making the Riglers temporary foster parents. On the same day she went back to the hospital, she was transferred to their home in Los Feliz. They initially intended the arrangement to last for a maximum of three months, but Genie ultimately stayed with them for four years. Shortly after she moved in one of the Riglers' children went away to college, enabling her to have her own room and bathroom in the house.
While living with the Riglers Marilyn became Genie's new teacher and Susan Curtiss was allowed to visit almost every day, both to conduct her tests and to go on outings with Genie. The rest of the research team was given far more access to Genie as well, and throughout her stay they planned and carried out a wide array of tests. When she moved in David Rigler also decided to make himself Genie's primary therapist, taking over this role from James Kent. Much of Genie's development during this time was either tracked in notes or captured on film, and David Rigler said she eventually learned how to operate the cameras herself.
Immediately upon moving in with the Riglers, Genie's incontinence resurfaced. In the first weeks of Genie's stay it was especially severe, and took months to gain control of. The scientists noticed that Genie's speech was much more halting and hesitant than Butler had described. Genie very rarely spoke and, for the first three months of her stay, when she did it was almost always in one-word utterances. Although her physical health had clearly improved, she was still extremely thin and remained undersized for her age. Both in their house and in public she continued to have a very difficult time controlling herself, frequently engaging in highly anti-social behavior which demonstrated a total lack of situational awareness.
The Riglers also saw that Genie was extremely afraid of both cats and dogs, regardless of how she encountered them. They had both a cat and a Labrador retriever puppy, and when Genie first moved in she was terrified of both animals. Upon seeing their puppy for the first time she immediately ran into the next room and hid. The scientists still did not know the reason for her fear, but both David and Marilyn used the puppy to gradually acclimate. After around two weeks she grew comfortable with the Riglers' cat and dog, and learned to walk the dog and feed it by herself, but remained extremely afraid of unfamiliar cats and dogs.
Furthermore, unless Genie saw something which frightened her, both her speech and behavior exhibited a great deal of latency. Most of the time, her responses were several minutes delayed. She did not usually listen to anyone unless she was being directly addressed or Curtiss was playing classical music on the piano. Most of the time, after a while she would simply walk away from someone who was speaking to her. The Riglers also found Genie frequently took things which belonged to their children and could be very destructive, requiring full-time supervision. She was captivated by books and magazines, especially National Geographic issues—of which the Riglers had a very large collection—and David Rigler especially found it disconcerting that she did not hesitate to tear out a page or a picture she liked.
In addition, despite Butler's reports that she had stopped Genie's self-harming Marilyn observed Genie still acted out her anger on herself. Certain situations in particular, such as spilling liquids, set her off, which doctors attributed to her having been beaten for these actions as a child. To counter this, Marilyn first taught Genie to direct her frustrations outward by jumping, slamming doors, hitting objects, stomping her feet, and generally "having a fit." Marilyn soon noticed Genie wanted to be complimented on her appearance, and to further discourage her from attacking herself Marilyn began painting Genie's fingernails and telling her she did not look good when she scratched and cut her face, a tactic which proved very effective. When situations came up which especially upset Genie, Marilyn also tried to explain in words that these were not a big deal.
As Marilyn worked with Genie, she began to gain more control over her responses. In early 1972, after Marilyn spoke to Genie when she had a tantrum for inadvertently spilling a cup of water, when the same situation arose around a week later she controlled her emotions for the first time. Later, when Marilyn could see Genie getting upset, Marilyn would say to her, "You are upset. You are having a rough time." Genie gradually began verbally communicating her frustration by responding, "rough time" when Marilyn said this, eventually only needing to hear, "You are upset" before saying, "rough time". Eventually, Genie could indicate her level of anger; depending on whether she was very angry or merely frustrated, she either vigorously shook one finger or loosely waved her hand.
Marilyn also saw that Genie still had a great deal of difficulty with chewing and swallowing, and immediately began working with her by giving her progressively tougher foods and physically raising and lowering her jaw. After approximately four months, Genie was capable of eating all types of solid food. After noticing Genie's complete indifference to temperature, Marilyn worked to help Genie become more attuned to her body's sensations. In late 1973 she began to show some degree of sensitivity to temperature for the first time, although it was still much less than normal.
After a few months, as Genie grew more settled into living with the Riglers, her incontinence mostly disappeared and her demeanor improved. Although Genie was very lazy in both Curtiss' and the Riglers' estimation—they noted that even after learning to chew Genie tried to select foods which did not require her to—and her laziness sometimes masked the extent of her progress, she quickly made many noticeable gains. During her stay her physical health continued to improve, and she kept growing and putting on weight. Gradually, Genie began to outwardly exhibit more of her emotions, both positive and negative. A major breakthrough Curtiss observed was when, upon going to the Riglers' house one morning in 1972, she found Genie in tears because she was feeling sick and had just found out she needed to see a doctor.
Although Genie never developed fully normal social skills, she became somewhat more sociable in her interactions with the members of her foster family and other people. Curtiss began reading Genie children's stories and at first, even when Genie was willing to sit with her, she did not seem to be paying attention. After two months, in mid-October 1971, Curtiss saw that Genie was clearly listening and responding to her; after that point, she began paying attention to people even when they were not speaking directly to or about her. Sometimes, she would even spontaneously contribute to an ongoing conversation. She continued to take things from other people, but her responses clearly showed the scientists that she knew she was not supposed to. Her responses to most stimuli became more rapid, but even by the end of her stay she sometimes took a few minutes before acknowledging something or someone. She also became somewhat more responsive to what other people said, although she still frequently did not show any obvious signs that she had heard the other person.
From the time Genie moved in with the Riglers, they and the other scientists on the research team worked very hard to help Genie control herself in public. Over the course of the first several months of her stay, her behavior improved to the point that she started going to first a nursery school and then a public school for mentally retarded children her age. David Rigler wrote that eventually she rode the school bus with other people her age, and attended social functions at her school. Although it was very difficult for Genie to manage some of her urges, by the end of her stay she had made substantial progress with controlling herself in public. During her stay the scientists continued to measure her mental age, and as it had before she showed a very high degree of scatter. She consistenly scored higher on tests which did not require language, such as the Leiter, than tests with a vocabulary component such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children.
In February 1973 Genie gave Curtiss some rings she had gotten, which was the first time Genie ever gave or shared something with Curtiss. Around the same time, David Rigler and Curtiss both remembered Genie developing a crush on her bus driver, which scientists saw as a sign she was maturing. By May 1975 she began initiating games with other people for the first time, and at least once she started a role-playing game with Curtiss in which she had to speak; as this game involved pretending to be a dentist and a patient, Curtiss believed Genie's motivation was her ongoing crush on her dentist. Genie also learned how to do some simple work around the house, such as ironing and operating a sewing machine. By the end of her stay, she had learned to make simple meals for herself.
Relationship with her mother
While Genie was living with the Riglers her mother continued visiting her, usually meeting once a week, and the bond between her and Genie continued to grow stronger. David Rigler said Genie went on increasingly frequent overnight visits to her mother, who was living alone in the same house but without most of the items associated with Genie's abuse. Genie frequently visited her maternal grandparents as well, and formed a good relationship with them. However, though the Riglers never expressed any antipathy towards her, years later Marilyn said she was uncomfortable with acting as a mother to Genie in her house in front of Genie's real mother. Except on three occasions when Genie's mother came to their house they typically met at a park or restaurant, as Marilyn thought a more neutral location for their meetings would help diminish the awkwardness for both of them. The Riglers went to great lengths to be polite to Genie's mother, but their efforts inadvertently came off to her as condescension.
Many other scientists on the research team did not welcome the presence of Genie's mother, citing a strong dislike for her passivity during Genie's early life. Genie's mother got along considerably better with Jay Shurley, who came from a Texas ranch family similar to hers during her childhood before she moved to California. Although he acknowledged the amount of help many of the hospital staff—especially Kent and Howard Hansen—had given her, Shurley found it troubling that, in his mind, they did not treat her as an equal. Their conversations convinced him that she was acutely aware of and felt very self-conscious due to the wide class difference between herself and the researchers, and he thought that the other scientists made inadequate efforts to reach out to her.[I] Several of the people on the research team, including the Riglers, denied that they ever viewed Genie's mother as inferior.
The scientists, in turn, later speculated Genie's mother gave them a mostly cool reception because they were a reminder of her inaction during Genie's childhood. They further thought she was in denial over both Genie's condition and the hand that she had in causing it. David Rigler distinctly remembered one day when Genie's mother saw Genie walking shortly after her eye surgery, and after a little while he said she abruptly asked him, "What have you done to her that she walks this way?" Rigler said he regarded both as positive steps for Genie's mother, as it meant the therapy she was receiving was helping her come to terms with what had happened to her and her children. Curtiss said that Genie's mother often gave conflicting statements about her life before and during Genie's captivity, seemingly telling them what she thought they wanted to hear. At times, they believed she feared either reprobation or ostracism for telling the truth. Therefore, she wrote that they only relied on her statements when no other potential source of information existed or when there was corroborating evidence.
Jean Butler—who had married shortly after Genie was removed from her house and was now using her married name, Ruch—stayed in touch with Genie's mother. Although Genie's mother later recalled that most of their conversations were shallow in nature, they continued to get along very well. As soon as Genie left her house, Ruch began attacking the scientists and their work; she never stated whether she had a particular motive, but the scientists on the research team believed it was due to her bitterness over the rejection of her application for foster custody. While Genie was living with the Riglers, Ruch persistently criticized their testing and accused them of actively harming Genie. On several occasions, she attempted to convince the NIMH's evaluating committee that the scientists were deliberately forcing Genie's mother out of Genie's life. She especially accused them of misusing the grant money, arguing that more of it should have gone to Genie's mother for financial support.[J] Genie's mother steadily began listening more to Ruch, and came to feel the scientists were marginalizing her. Researchers were aware of Ruch's denunciations of their work, and consistently denied the accusations she made. They also thought that her actions were strikingly peculiar, but except for Shurley none of them recognized her influence over Genie's mother.
Continued brain exams
The findings of Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima on their dichotic listening tests had raised a large number of questions about how Genie's brain would develop, and the scientists continued to measure her brain functions through various tests. Some right-hemisphere language acquisition had previously been observed in split-brain and hemispherectomy patients, and the scientists monitored Genie's language compared to them. They also wanted to observe her brain's development as she was exposed to more verbal and nonverbal stimuli, as they wanted to see whether Genie would remain so extremely right-hemisphere dominant and, if she did, determine what parts of her brain she was using for language acquisition. They speculated it could be possible that as Genie acquired more language she would start to use her left hemisphere, either for all the tasks the left hemisphere typically performs or exclusively for language. In the fall of 1971 they began a series of brain exams under the direction of Curtiss, Victoria Fromkin, and Stephen Krashen—who was then also one of Fromkin's graduate students—at the Brain Research Institute at UCLA.
Dichotic listening tests
The scientists continued both the verbal and nonverbal dichotic listening tests, which were administered throughout 1972 and 1973. These tests corroborated Bellugi and Klima's original findings. They found Genie remained extremely left-ear dominant for language sounds, and maintained her left-ear preference within normal range for non-language sounds. Her monaural tests also continued to come back with a 100% accuracy rate. This definitively ruled out the possibility that Genie's lateralization was only reversed, and helped the scientists develop the hypothesis that she was acquiring language in her right hemisphere.
The scientists found no physiological problems with Genie's left hemisphere explaining its extreme disuse. Therefore, their explanation was that abnormal neurological activity in her left hemisphere—which they speculated was due to her atrophied language center—was blocking all language reception in her right ear. Because she could distinguish non-language sounds with some degree of accuracy in the ear which would normally be non-dominant for them, they thought that it was only language sounds which her left hemisphere obstructed. They also wrote their conclusion that Genie's left hemisphere had not lateralized while her right hemisphere had also supported a hypothesis, put forth in 1972, that the right hemisphere lateralized first because its functions are more directly involved with picking up on environmental stimuli.
Along with continuing the dichotic listening tests, Curtiss, Fromkin, and Krashen gave Genie several tachistoscopic tests to measure her ability on a variety of brain functions. During 1974 and 1975 they also gave her a series of evoked response tests, which consisted of a language test and a facial recognition test. The scientists' tests showed a higher right-hemisphere level of involvement in all of the non-language cortical tasks on which they tested Genie, and found she performed most functions primarily using her right hemisphere, such as perspective, recalling unrelated objects, gestalt perception, and number perception, at a much higher level than those typically performed by the left hemisphere, such as sequential order tests. As they continued their testing, they observed Genie's improvement on these tasks was similarly uneven.
For instance, in May 1975 the scientists administered a Mooney Face Test, consisting of a set of 50 real and 20 false faces in black and white. Genie correctly identified all of the real faces and only missed 6 false ones, the highest in medical literature at that time.[K] On subsequent gestalt perception tests, Genie's scores were significantly above average. Genie's ability to piece together objects from solely tactile information, another right hemisphere task, was also extremely good. On one such test she finished in far less time than most people and got 38 out of 45 correct, which was an extremely high score. Of the mistakes, 6 were on the most difficult components and one was on the second most difficult. On other tests of right-hemisphere tasks she did not have such an abnormally high performance, but performed markedly better than other people in equivalent phases of development. In 1977 the scientists measured her capacity for stereognosis at approximately the level of a typical 10 year old, significantly higher than her estimated mental age.
Genie's improvement on right hemisphere functions was also extraordinarily rapid, and far outstripped her ability to learn left hemisphere tasks. For instance, in January 1972, about a year and three months after being rescued, her scores on Raven's Progressive Matrices were in the 50th percentile for an 8 1/2–9 year old. Some of her abilities, such as her spatial awareness, were at or higher than the level of typical adults, indicating that her brain had lateralized and that her right hemisphere had undergone specialization. On spatial awareness tests, her scores were reportedly the highest ever recorded in the medical literature to that point. Because her performance was so high on such a wide variety of tasks predominantly utilizing the right hemisphere, the scientists concluded that her exceptional abilities extended to typical right-hemisphere tasks in general and were not specific to any one task.
By contrast, Genie performed significantly below average on tests measuring predominantly left-hemisphere tasks. When they administered sequential order tests, she scored well below average for someone whose brain was fully intact. In addition to having difficulty in test settings, her difficulty with mastering sequential order significantly impaired her ability learn and master basic everyday tasks such as tying her shoes. When attempting to perform these tasks her movements were remarkably slow, although it was impossible to tell whether the cause was the nature of the task or the general latency her actions and responses typically exhibited.
In addition, Genie's progress on left hemisphere tasks was much slower. The scientists especially noted that Genie had a great deal of difficulty learning to count in sequential order. During Genie's stay with the Riglers, the scientists spent a great deal of time attempting to teach her to count. She did not start to do so at all until late 1972 and by 1975 could only count up to seven, which even then remained very difficult for her. Similarly, when the scientists administered Knox Cubes tests in 1973 and 1975 Genie's score improved from the level of a 6 year old to a 7 1/2 year old. Although more rapid than her progress with language, it was significantly slower than her advances with right hemisphere tasks.
There were a few primarily right hemisphere tasks Genie did not perform well on. In October 1975, the scientists administered a 15-item memory for design test in which she had to recreate a meaningless shape made of straight lines after looking at it for five seconds. Genie scored at a "borderline" level on this test, although she did not make the mistakes typical of brain-damaged patients.[L] In addition, on a Benton Visual Retention Test and an associated facial recognition test Genie's scores were far lower than any average scores for people without brain damage, at the very low end of average for people with left-hemisphere lesions, and in the low average range for people with right-hemisphere lesions. Although this sharply contrasted with Genie's facial recognition in multiple everyday situations, in which she had immediately recognized and put a name to faces she had not seen in years, researchers wrote that they had anticipated her results on this test.
Curtiss' explanation for this discrepancy was that, although these tasks predomintantly utilize right-hemisphere brain functions, they likely require use of both hemispheres. For instance, the creators of the memory for design test had written that it requires the person both to remember the design and to reconstruct it through a series of complicated motor actions in a specific order. Previous results from these tests showed that people with any abnormal brain function, in either the left or the right hemisphere, consistently scored much lower than people without any kind of brain damage. Since Genie exclusively used her right hemisphere, these would therefore be very difficult for her.
When the scientists administered tests specifically geared at determining where Genie was processing language, they found more evidence that she was using her right hemisphere for language functions. On one evoked response test Genie had no difficulty with giving the correct meaning of sentences using familiar homophones, for instance the sentences "I sock Bobo" and "The sock is red". This demonstrated that her receptive language comprehension was significantly better than her expressive comprehension, which was similar to the results of split-brain and hemispherectomy patients. Similarly, on a tachistoscopic test in 1975 Genie had little difficulty when asked to point to words which rhyme, a task which split-brain and hemispherectomy patients were known to perform well on.
The scientists monitored her responses on these tests with an EEG, and picked up more activity from the two electrodes over the right hemisphere of her brain than they did from the electrodes placed over the normal locations of the Broca's area and Wernicke's area in the left hemisphere. In particular, they found a high level of involvement from her right anterior cerebral cortex in these tests. Throughout the time they conducted these tests, their results did not change. Taken with Genie's results on the dichotic listening tests, Genie's tachistoscopic and evoked response tests lent further support to the researchers' belief that Genie was using her right hemisphere for language. The lack of improvement on both left hemisphere tasks and right-ear language identification bolstered their conclusions.
Thorough testing of Genie's linguistic abilities began in October 1971. Most of the scientists' tests involved Genie pointing to or arranging words and letters written on cards, a method Jean Marc Gaspard Itard pioneered while working with Victor of Aveyron. Curtiss and the other scientists also continued to observe Genie's progress outside the test settings. Between their linguistics tests, the exams conducted on her brain functions, and other evaluations of her social and psychological progress, the scientists speculated she may have been more tested than any other child. The scientists considered her acquisition of language to be a substantial part of their larger goal of helping her to integrate herself into society, so although they wanted to observe what vocabulary and grammar Genie could acquire on her own, out of a sense of obligation they assisted her whenever possible. Linguists wrote that while her emotional difficulties obviously impacted her life, and may have contributed to the delayed acquisition and use of a few pieces of grammar, it could not have significantly impeded her ability to acquire language.[M]
On broader levels Genie's language development followed some normal patterns of young children when they are learning a first language, but researchers noted many marked differences with her language acquisition. The size of Genie's vocabulary and the speed with which she expanded it continued to outstrip all anticipations. She continued to learn and use an unusually high number of nouns, color words, and words for emotion, and her utterances continued to focus on objective properties to an unusual degree for someone in her phase of language acquisition. By the end of her stay, she could accurately name most objects she encountered.
By contrast, Genie had far more difficulty with learning basic grammar. She clearly learned and could utilize certain principles of grammar, such as word order and recursion, and her receptive comprehension was significantly ahead of her production. However, the rate at which she acquired them was far slower than normal. Genie's utterances grew progressively longer, but she still spoke in very short sentences. On a few occasions she delivered monologues of considerable length, but even these consisted of a series of short utterances which she said together.
By the end of her stay with the Riglers Genie still spoke significantly less than most people in a similar phase of acquiring a first language, and she continued to speak in utterances shorter than she was capable of producing. Although her vocabulary was continuing to grow, and her grammar had clearly expanded, her speech remained vastly different from that of a typical English speaker. Even by mid-1975, there were still many pieces of grammar which she had not acquired. The scientists' efforts to teach her ritual speech worked in some instances, but at times were completely unsuccessful.
After finding that Genie processed language through her right hemisphere, the scientists compared her language acquisition with split-brain and hemispherectomy patients who also used their right hemispheres. Genie's acquisition of vocabulary, and her ability to use it, was congruous with these patients. Although there were a few marked differences her grammatical deficits were generally similar to this population, as were many of the aspects of grammar that she did learn. These observations helped refine existing hypotheses on the capacity for right-hemisphere language acquisition.
In many cases, Genie's language development was used to help gauge her overall psychological state. For instance, her beginning to form imperative sentences using the vocative suggested not only progress in her language comprehension but an increasing level of self-confidence and self-concept. However, researchers noted she only began using them in 1973, much later in the language acquisition process than most. Even then they remained very rare in her speech, and she was almost entirely unable to use them in everyday situations. Researchers believed this was because imperatives require the speaker to feel a right to place demands, and a person with insufficient self-concept would not feel able to do this. Similarly, by December 1972 Genie understood and used the pronoun I but interchangeably used you and me. Curtiss thought this was a manifestation of Genie's inability to distinguish who she was from who someone else was.
In some instances, learning a new aspect of language played a direct role in helping to further her psychological and mental development. At the time Genie learned to use the ritual phrase "May I have [example]" she was also learning how to use money. This phrase gave her the ability to ask for payment and helped fuel her desire to make money, leading her to take a more active role in performing activities which would lead to a reward. At least once, when Marilyn began setting the table—a task for which Genie was often paid—Genie stood up from Curtiss playing the piano and actively interrupted Marilyn so she could be rewarded. This came as a complete surprise to Curtiss, as this was the first time Genie had ever walked away from someone playing a piece of piano music she liked. In the last two years of her stay Genie also began using language to describe fictional events, and in 1974, soon after the first lie she told, she began to give detailed descriptions of some of her fantasies to the scientists in language. The scientists considered these to be substantial gains, both for her language and cognitive development.
In their observations of Genie's daily interactions, in addition to measuring Genie's language they also attempted to gauge her conversational competence. While speaking, Genie inconsistently applied what grammar she did know. As she had during her stay at Children's Hospital, Genie demonstrated the ability to use language to attempt to manipulate people. After mid-October of 1971 Genie listened to other people speaking, and could generally stay on topic in a discussion, but she frequently did not acknowledge common pieces of conversation. If she did respond, it was frequently a repetition of an earlier comment. She was generally more willing to discuss topics which interested her, although she would sometimes talk about other subjects. If she found herself unable to say something semantically related to the topic, she sometimes tried to contribute using other means. In conversations, she was able to respond to a few pieces of grammar which she did not produce and which she showed no comprehension of in test settings.
Despite Genie's desire to socialize, she never learned to use any automatic speech. If someone else used automatic speech she did not acknowledge it unless repeatedly asked to, and even then her response was very forced. In addition, she never learned any profanity nor ever used other substitute swear words. These two aspects of speech are typically either bilateral or originate in the right hemisphere, and split-brain and hemispherectomy patients normally learn them without any difficulty, but this did not affect the scientists' assessment of Genie as extremely right-hemisphere dominant. Curtiss believed Genie's childhood environment impeded her subsequent ability to learn conversational operators, as she never had the opportunity to observe conversation.
When Genie first moved in with the Riglers, her voice was still extremely high-pitched and soft. The scientists spent a considerable amount of time working to strengthen her voice and help her gain control of it, and over time it somewhat lowered and became moderately louder. She eventually gained enough control over her voice to modify pitch and volume, and during the latter part of her stay with the Riglers began incorporating these abilities into her speech. The overall quality voice substantially advanced, but even by mid-1975 it remained very difficult for her. When she attempted to modulate her voice, her entire body would stiffen from concentration.
By at least mid-1973, Genie could pronounce all of the individual phonemes found in General American English. However, she often deleted or substituted sounds. Because of this, people unfamiliar with her manner of speaking often found it extremely difficult to understand her. The scientists believed Genie was sometimes unaware of how her pronunciation sounded, but sometimes her haplologies were clearly intentional. Curtiss attributed the latter to Genie trying to say as little as possible and still be understood, noting that Genie could speak more clearly if firmly, explicitly requested to. At times she compressed entire sentences into single syllables, which she had to be actively discouraged from doing. Eventually Curtiss and Marilyn convinced Genie to stop her most extreme haplologies, but she continued to delete sounds when possible. Due to this, linguists following the case began referring to Genie as the Great Abbreviator.
Recalling past events
From the very first time James Kent met with Genie at Children's Hospital, he was convinced that she had memories of her past but did not have the means to express them. A few months into Genie's stay with the Riglers, in December 1971, she demonstrated the ability to use both language and non-verbal communication to describe events which had occurred in the fairly recent past. Several months later, sometime during early to mid-1972, the Riglers overheard Genie saying, "Father hit big stick. Father is angry." to herself, demonstrating she could even talk about her life before learning language. This gave researchers new insights into her early life and disproved the theory of 18th century philosopher Étienne Bonnot de Condillac that humans require language to form memories.
During the rest of her stay with the Riglers, she would constantly repeat "Father hit" to herself. Eventually, Genie could provide longer and more detailed memories of her childhood. She did not speak about her past very often, but gave researchers valuable information when she did. On the few occasions when she spoke in long monologues, at different points during them she would reference her childhood. The Riglers tried to get her to talk about it as much as possible, and Marilyn would sometimes coach Genie by role-playing as Genie's real mother. Before the Riglers worked with Genie to understand the concept of death she often asked where her father was, afraid that he would come to get her. She gradually began to speak about her father, and could talk about his treatment of her.
"Father hit arm. Big wood. Genie cry...Not spit. Father. Hit face – spit. Father hit big stick. Father is angry. Father hit Genie big stick. Father take piece wood hit. Cry. Father make me cry. Father is dead."
In contrast to her language, Genie's ability to utilize nonverbal communication continued to excel. With some words, she would pantomime them as she spoke; for instance, the scientists noted she would crouch into a seated position when she said the words "sit" or "sick". Although this is normal to some degree among children learning a first language, she seemed to use them as an integral part of her vocabulary. To improve her intelligibility she also invented her own system of gestures, and frequently used these as she was speaking. The way in which she made them was of particular interest to the scientists, as they did not follow the patterns of deaf children; instead of creating them for semantic meaning, Genie used gestures to represent phonemes regardless of context.
Curtiss said Genie would also act out events, especially if she could not use language to communicate something. If the other person did not understand her right away, she would persist until she got her message across. To encourage Genie to talk, Curtiss devised a game in which they made simple sentences together, such as "Genie is silly", and then read and acted them out together. The scientists made multiple efforts to teach Genie to read and write, and initially Genie made no progress. Curtiss decided to stop trying after 1973, as Genie had made no progress, although others subsequently attempted to teach her. By the time Curtiss completed and published her dissertation, Genie could read around five to ten names and words.[N] She also learned to write individual letters in print, although if she wanted to write something she usually needed someone to give her the correct letters. Even after learning to write, she often chose to dictate a message to someone who could write it down for her.
When Genie was first removed from confinement she would only draw pictures if asked to, but during her stay with the Riglers she began to use drawings if she could not express herself in words. As with spoken language, she could use these drawings to depict desires or fictional events. Her sophisticated sense of perspective rapidly became evident in many of her drawings; by November 1971, she could depict silhouettes and figures in profile, both of which require a relatively high degree of cognitive ability. At times, she dictated or wrote a subtext for her drawings or gave them names.
In addition to her own drawings, Genie often used pictures from magazines to relate to daily experiences. She especially collected pictures of things that frightened her, a behavior for which the scientists never found an explanation; Curtiss recalled one incident when a helmeted diver scared Genie, after which she would not relax until she showed Curtiss a picture she had found of a similar looking diver in a magazine. Several months into Genie's stay with the Riglers, she found a picture of a wolf in a magazine which sent her into a terror. When the Riglers saw her reaction, they asked Genie's mother if she knew what might have caused it; this was when she told them for the first time about how her husband had acted like a dog to intimidate Genie, making the underlying reason for her fear apparent to them.
Throughout Genie's stay, the Riglers and Curtiss saw how frequently and effectively she used her nonverbal skills. As she had during the latter part of her stay at Children's Hospital, she still seemed to be able to communicate with complete strangers without speaking. David Rigler vividly remembered an occasion when he and Genie passed a father and a young boy carrying a toy firetruck without speaking to each other, and said the boy suddenly turned around and gave the firetruck to Genie. Other people who worked with Genie during this time reported witnessing similar interactions between Genie and other people.
Although the scientists tried to get Genie to talk as much as possible, they knew that historians and scientists studying Victor of Aveyron thought one of the major flaws with Jean Marc Gaspard Itard's work was his insistence that Victor learn one method of communication—in his case writing—to the exclusion of others. To take full advantage of her ability to use gestures, in 1974 the Riglers arranged for her to learn a blend of American Sign Language and signed English. Even while learning sign language Genie continued to use gestures she had already invented and generated her own gestures, although she started creating them based on semantic meaning. The scientists did not track her progress with sign language to the same degree as her verbal language, but did record a few of her advances with it.
Loss of funding and research interest
Despite Genie's progress, after three years the National Institute of Mental Health, which had been funding the research, grew concerned about the lack of scientific data being generated and the disorganized state of project records. Outside of Curtiss and Fromkin's work, David Rigler did not define parameters for the scope of the research team. A huge amount of information was being collected, but apart from the linguistics data much of it was of very limited value. Many of the tests Rigler and the other scientists carried out had no clear purpose, and did not produce meaningful information. Even for those which did, the enormous volume of non-linguistics data proved to be a hindrance to research as there was far more data than could have realistically been used. Eventually, it became impossible for researchers to determine the importance of much of this information. The scientific team was also storing its documentation in suboptimal condition, filed with no discernible categorization system.
In 1973 Rigler asked for and received a one year extension on the grant, but the NIMH said it wanted more hard data and coherent organization of the researchers' work. Rigler said he and the other scientists tried to comply, but found the case was not conducive to producing quantitative statistics. He argued the NIMH did not understand the nature of Genie's case, saying much of it necessarily relied on unquantifiable observations, and pointed out that in what he believed to be the most congruous case, that of Victor of Aveyron, the scientists working with him reported similar difficulties. While acknowledging that their methods were less than ideal, he said that he and the rest of the research team were doing the best they could.
When the year-long extension neared its end and the scientists were preparing to request another extension, Jean Butler Ruch began vociferously arguing against it. She obtained David Rigler's proposal for an additional three-year extension—which, due to a processing mistake, she managed to do before he presented it to the NIMH—and began lobbying for its rejection, continuing to dispute the progress Genie had made. When the NIMH's grants committee met to consider Rigler's proposal, they acknowledged that the research was considerably and demonstrably beneficial to Genie and would not cause her active harm. Nonetheless, they did not feel the research team adequately addressed their concerns about the direction and organization of the project. They ultimately concluded that there had been minimal overall progress and, "the research goals projected probably will not be realized". In a unanimous decision the committee denied the extension request, cutting off funding for the study.
Now 18, Genie had made noticeable gains in many aspects of her psychological development. She had become markedly more able and willing to interact with other people, and her self-help skills had noticeably increased. David Rigler wrote in June 1975 that Genie continued to make significant strides in every field which the scientists were testing. However, Curtiss wrote that despite the marked improvements in Genie's behavior, much of her demeanor remained characteristic of an unsocialized person. Interactions with her remained abnormal in quality, and she continued to exhibit many anti-social behaviors. Although she managed to gain some control over her most socially inappropriate impulses, she had not completely eliminated them.
Furthermore, although Genie's language had greatly expanded and papers from the time indicated she was continuing her acquisition, her progress remained considerably slower than initially expected. While she could sometimes engage in a sustained conversation, she continued to show a lack of responsiveness to other people and often either refused to respond or perseverated on a topic. Although her vocabulary and grammar had obviously expanded, and she showed a higher receptive than expressive degree of comprehension, she still only spoke in phrases such as "Ball belong hospital". This lead Curtiss to later question how much grammar Genie had really learned and for how long Genie had truly been acquiring it.
Despite the NIMH grant ending, Curtiss continued to both test and go on outings with Genie. In 1975, the Riglers decided to end their foster parenting. David Rigler said that, from the time Genie was first admitted to Children's Hospital, their ultimate goal was to return Genie to her mother's custody, and when Genie turned 18 her mother wished to care for her. In the early summer of 1975, the Riglers and John Miner agreed to let Genie move back in with her mother at her childhood home.
When Genie moved in with her mother the Riglers offered to assist in any way they could, as they anticipated that Genie's mother would not be able to take care of Genie by herself and knew that she did not have the financial means to seek additional outside assistance. To prepare both Genie and her mother, during the last six months of her stay with the Riglers Genie spent every weekend at her mother's house. When she left the Riglers signed Genie up for a summer school program, and intended to enroll her in a summer day camp when this ended. However, when the school program ended Genie expressed a desire to stay at home with her mother, to which they and her mother acquiesced.
When Genie began to live with her mother, she found some of Genie's behavior patterns greatly distressing. Genie still lacked a great deal of self-control, and she often did not respond to statements or commands from her mother. Despite the Riglers offers for continued assistance, the task of caring for Genie quickly overwhelmed her mother. After a few months, she found that taking care of Genie was both physically and financially too difficult for her to manage. Without notifying Miner or any of the scientists, she contacted the California Department of Health to find care for Genie. Genie was then transferred to the first of a succession of foster homes, where she ended up staying for a year and a half.
In this new foster home, Genie was living with two other mentally retarded girls approximately her age. At first, both Curtiss and the social workers assigned to Genie thought the home was well-suited for Genie. Soon after she moved in they observed that the house was an extremely rigid environment, and saw that Genie had far less access to many other objects and activities which she had enjoyed with the Riglers. Curtiss was concerned that Genie would have a difficult time adjusting to living without these. Not long after Genie moved in the people running the home began subjecting her to extreme physical and emotional abuse, which deeply traumatized her. She began experiencing both incontinence and constipation, and quickly returned to her coping mechanism of silence.
The incident with the most severe impact occurred when Genie was severely beaten for vomiting and told that if she did it again she would never be allowed to see her mother, which rapidly accelerated the pace of her regression by making her extremely frightened of opening her mouth for fear of vomiting and facing more punishment. Even when she was hungry she could barely eat, only opening her mouth just long enough to put food in, and her physical health rapidly declined. Her fear also made her afraid to speak, rendering her almost completely silent. As she still wanted to communicate with people she knew, she began almost exclusively using the sign language she had learned while with the Riglers. Her mother, whom she desperately missed, was almost never permitted to visit, causing Genie to become extremely withdrawn. At one point while living there, she refused to talk for five months.[O]
Except for Curtiss and David Rigler, all of the scientists were completely cut off from Genie during her stay in this foster home. Rigler saw Genie on a few outpatient evaluations, and went to her foster home, "from time to time". He did not witness any of her abuse firsthand, but thought the woman in charge of the home was strikingly odd and severe. Curtiss continued to meet with Genie once a week to continue her research. She saw some of Genie's treatment in her new foster home, and Genie frantically signed to her about what was happening; Curtiss said that although she could tell Genie desperately wanted to tell her in words, Genie's fear of opening her mouth rendered her unable to. On several occasions, she told Curtiss she wanted to see her mother and to return to the Riglers. Curtiss quickly started petitioning to have Genie removed, but she said that because she was still only a graduate student it took a long time to get authorities to take her seriously. She also told the Riglers what was happening, but according to her they took no immediate action.
Eventually Curtiss was able to get social services involved, at which point both they and Curtiss had a very difficult time contacting John Miner, who was still Genie's legal guardian. Curtiss recalled that they only succeeded after repeated attempts over several months. Once they got his attention they convinced Miner—who had not seen Genie in approximately a year and a half—to attend a party with Genie. The extent of her physical and mental regression stunned him, and he then worked with David Rigler to get her taken out of the home. When Genie left in April 1977, because of her previous treatment she required a two-week stay at Children's Hospital. She saw her mother and the Riglers during this time and both her physical and mental condition moderately improved, although she continued to use sign language for most communication. At around the same time, Curtiss and Fromkin obtained year-long grants from the National Science Foundation to continue their work with Genie.
After her hospital stay Genie was moved to another foster home until December of that year, when the arrangement collapsed. Through the end of that month into early January Genie was placed in a temporary setting, and subsequently moved into another foster home. During this time Genie's development continued to deteriorate, and none of the scientists besides Curtiss saw her. In early January 1978 Curtiss wrote to Miner that Genie experienced a great deal of stress whenever she had to move, and that the frequency of these moves further traumatized her and played a direct role in her continued regression.
In 1976, Curtiss finished and presented her dissertation, Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day "Wild Child". The following year, Academic Press published it as a hardcover. Upon publication, it received reviews from several prominent scientists. Its speech analysis covered Genie's utterances from admission to Children's Hospital until the early summer of 1975, and contained some of Genie's drawings and excerpts of Curtiss' non-language observations from the same time frame.
When Genie's mother saw a copy of Curtiss' dissertation after its publication, despite having thought of Curtiss and Genie as friends she was reportedly very offended at the title and some of the contents. Privately she disputed some specific details, primarily regarding her husband's treatment of herself and Genie and the family's situation during Genie's captivity; however, her official complaint did not. Instead, she argued that Curtiss could only have obtained these details from her therapists or their supervisors, which would have been a breach of patient confidentiality. She also began to argue that the scientists' tests pushed Genie far beyond the limits of her endurance, alleging that they sometimes tested her between 60 and 70 hours per week. Genie's mother decided to sue Children's Hospital, her therapists, their supervisors, and several of the researchers both over the book and over allegations of excessive and outrageous testing, claiming the researchers gave testing priority over Genie's welfare, invaded Genie's privacy by constantly filming her and exposing family details in their publications, and severely overworking her throughout the course of the case study.
Regional media immediately picked up the lawsuit, and the Los Angeles Times ran several prominent articles on it. Members of the research team, many of whom had not heard about Genie in years, were shocked when they found out about it. David Rigler initially thought the focus of the suit would be Shurley's sleep-studies, as these were the most invasive tests conducted, but quickly found out Shurley supported Genie's mother and had offered to testify against several of the other scientists. Everyone named in the lawsuit maintained their earlier contentions that although the tests challenged Genie, she mostly found them enjoyable and was always triumphant upon finishing. They especially emphasized that the tests were always private and one on one, and that both she and the people testing her viewed these times as bonding experiences. Both Curtiss and David Rigler said that when a session ended, Genie was always rewarded in an emotional or material way.
All of the scientists were adamant that they never coerced Genie, pointing out that this would have invalidated their results, and said Genie's mother and her lawyers grossly exaggerated the amount of time they tested Genie. Curtiss emphatically stated she never conducted testing sessions for more than 45 minutes, that Genie could take a break whenever she wanted, and that sometimes Genie herself would initiate the tests. After finishing, Curtiss said they would spend the rest of their time together, "just being friends." Rigler also wrote that although their tests had scientific value, they were also intended to gain information that could aid them in giving her proper psychological treatment. He further argued that if researchers had not done as much testing as they did, they would not have been satisfying the purpose of the grant.
In addition, they maintained that they did everything possible to ensure the privacy of Genie and her family. He wrote that they would have stopped filming Genie if she ever showed signs of not wanting to be filmed. Both Curtiss and Fromkin categorically denied any breach of confidentiality, asserting that the details on Genie's family were already publicly available and that other scientists on the research team had previously referenced them without incident. Curtiss pointed out that she and all of the other scientists had tried to maintain the privacy of Genie and her family, and in all their publications went to considerable lengths to keep their identities concealed. When the pending legal proceedings reached the news, Curtiss said she and all of the other scientists were extremely upset that several stories used the real names of both Genie and her mother.
After finding out about the lawsuit, the scientists being sued thought that it was extremely out of character for Genie's mother and strongly suspected that she was not the driving force behind it. While David Rigler was giving his deposition, he discovered that Jean Butler Ruch had goaded Genie's mother into suing. According to him, this was when the scientists realized the extent to which Ruch had turned Genie's mother against them. He later wrote that Ruch had hired and paid for the lawyers Genie's mother used. The lawyers confirmed the extent of Ruch's involvement and influence she had over Genie's mother, and one of them later said that Ruch "was a sort of Svengali for [Genie's mother]."
At the outset, the lawyers for Genie's mother agreed there were serious problems with the scientists' testing, indicating they thought it would be possible to win a substantial judgment against them. They said that although the scientists' work with Genie almost certainly started out of goodwill, they thought publicity surrounding the case caused the scientists to lose sight of their stated goal of rehabilitating her. They pointed to the NIMH's rationale in rejecting the grant extension, arguing this should have been a sign of flaws in the scientists' research methods. In addition, they argued that many of the tests were given so often that they only indicated Genie's familiarity with them, negating any scientific value they might have had.
As the lawsuit went forward, however, the lawyers for Genie's mother increasingly felt their case was extremely tenuous at best. When they found out that Curtiss had already set up a trust fund in Genie's name and that her intention from the start had been to give all the royalties from her dissertation to Genie, they advised Genie's mother to take this money—a little over eight thousand dollars—and drop the suit. However, Jean Butler Ruch convinced her to persist and both of her lawyers withdrew, leaving her to represent herself in court. According to ABC News and Russ Rymer, the suit was settled in 1984. However, in a 1993 letter to The New York Times responding to a review of Rymer's book, David Rigler wrote, "[T]he case never came to trial. It was dismissed by the Superior Court of the State of California 'with prejudice,' meaning that because it was without substance it can never again be refiled."
After the conclusion of the legal proceedings, despite several requests from David Rigler, Genie's mother refused to allow him or other members of the research team to see her. Susan Curtiss said that in late December 1977 she had been asked if she could be Genie's legal guardian, but that a week later, after a meeting with Genie in early January 1978, Genie's mother suddenly prevented Curtiss from seeing Genie. She never contacted Curtiss again, and Curtiss said that she never had a chance to talk to Genie to explain why she could no longer meet with her. Despite the lack of new data, Curtiss and other linguists who had worked on Genie's case continued to analyze Genie's utterances and the results of her brain exams.
With the exception of Jay Shurley, Genie's mother also decided to break off all contact with all of the other scientists. She moved in 1987 without leaving a forwarding address, although she stayed in the Los Angeles area. It is not known exactly when Kent, Hansen, or the Riglers saw Genie last, but on March 30, 1978, guardianship of Genie was officially turned over to her mother and none of them saw her after that time. Genie's mother began taking Genie with her on her visits to Ruch's house, but despite being allowed to see Genie Ruch continued spreading negative rumors about Genie's condition, hoping to convince people that the scientists' work with Genie was so flawed that the results of their tests were completely useless. She especially targeted Curtiss, who had become a linguistics professor at UCLA, arguing that Curtiss' dissertation was largely based on fabrications. Throughout the early 1980s Ruch repeatedly called Curtiss at her house, and frequently attended Curtiss' lectures to ask hostile questions.[P]
While the lawsuit filed by Ruch had convinced Shurley, who had remained friendly with Genie's mother and Ruch, to work with her on a book detailing how the scientists had handled Genie; Shurley was self-described as, "bent on revelation". With encouragement from some within the scientific community, including at least one person with firsthand knowledge of the case, as a prelude to a larger work they co-authored one paper in 1985. After they delivered it at a conference together he decided to back out, saying he was shocked at how vicious and personal her attacks on the Genie team were. Despite their agreement on the flaws in the scientists' work, he thought Ruch was so malicious as to be sadistic. His decision earned the enmity of Ruch, who decided to keep working on the project without him. She continued her campaign against the scientists until 1986, when a stroke left her with aphasia and prevented her from completing her work. She died in 1988 following another stroke.
From January 1978 until 1993, Genie moved through a series of at least four additional foster homes and institutions. In these placements, she continued to be subjected to severe levels of abuse and was often forbidden from seeing her mother for long periods of time. In some of these homes she was further physically abused and harassed to extreme degrees, and her development continued to regress. Shurley saw her at least twice during this time, at her 27th birthday party in 1984 and again about two years later. In an interview he said her mental state had severely deteriorated, and that both times she looked very depressed and almost demented. Except for two brief moments when she exhibited some outward signs of happiness, during the rest of the time he was with her she was very stooped over, gave off almost no non-verbal signals or facial expressions, and made very little eye contact.[Q]
In 1992, Curtiss said that since she last saw Genie she had only heard two updates on Genie's condition, both of which indicated she barely spoke and was depressed and withdrawn. When Russ Rymer published his magazine articles on Genie in April 1992, he wrote she was living in a large state institution for mentally retarded adults and only saw her mother one weekend every month. In the afterword of the 1994 edition of his book, he detailed conversations he had with Genie's mother both just before and after the publication of his magazine articles. At that time, Genie had recently moved into a new foster home which was much more supportive and permitted Genie to visit her on a far more regular basis. According to her mother Genie was happy and, although her speech was hard to understand, was significantly more verbal.
By mid-1993, the Riglers had reestablished contact with Genie's mother and had seen Genie for the first time in 15 years. David Rigler wrote in July 1993 that, "my wife and I have resumed our (now infrequent) visits with Genie and her mother." In response to a review of Rymer's book, which repeated what Rymer had originally said about Genie's living arrangements and had further alleged Genie was being inadequately cared for and isolated, Rigler wrote that Genie was living in a small, private board and care facility where she was doing well and that her mother regularly visited; he did not say how long Genie had been there. When the Riglers visited her there for the first time, David Rigler said she seemed to be happier and had immediately recognized and greeted him and Marilyn by name, but did not comment further on her mental state.
Genie is a ward of the state of California, and is living in an undisclosed location in the Los Angeles area. In May 2008 ABC News reported that in 2000, someone who talked to them under condition of anonymity had hired a private investigator who located Genie. She was reportedly living a relatively simple lifestyle in a small private facility for mentally underdeveloped adults, and appeared to be happy. Although she only spoke a few words, she could still communicate fairly well in sign language. In 2003, Genie's mother died of unspecified natural causes at the age of 87. Jay Shurley died at the age of 86 in February 2004, John Miner died in February 2010 at the age of 92, and David Rigler died days before turning 93 in early April 2014.
In 2002 Susan Curtiss said that she still wanted to see Genie again, primarily to meet with her as a friend but also expressing interest in assessing her language abilities. As of May 2008, despite badly missing Genie and repeatedly attempting to find her, Curtiss and James Kent had still not seen her since January 1978. In a related interview later that month, Genie's brother told reporters he had not seen Genie since 1982 and said he wished he had been more involved in her life. By his own account he had refused to watch or read any accounts of Genie's case until just before he was interviewed, and had only recently heard any updates on her. He was glad she had gotten so much attention, and said he was happy to hear that she was reportedly doing well where she was living.
Genie's is one of the best-known cases of language acquisition in a child with delayed development. Since Curtiss published her findings many linguistics books have used Genie's case study as an example to illustrate principles of language acquisition, frequently citing it as proof of Chomsky's proposition of innate and a modified version of Lenneberg's critical period hypothesis. She wrote that even if humans possess the innate ability of humans to acquire language, Genie demonstrated the necessity of early language stimulation in the left hemisphere of the brain to start. Since Genie never fully acquired grammar, Curtiss submitted that Genie provided evidence for a weaker variation of the critical period hypothesis. Curtiss's arguments have become widely accepted in the field of linguistics, and were the impetus for several additional studies. In addition, Curtiss' post-1977 analyses of Genie's language were markedly more negative in their assessment of her linguistic development than all of her earlier works. This discrepancy has sparked a considerable debate among other linguists regarding how much language Genie learned and whether or not she had truly reached the limit of what grammar she could acquire.
The study of Genie's brain aided scientists refine several existing hypotheses regarding brain lateralization, especially its effect on language. The disparity between Genie's linguistic abilities and her competence in other aspects of human development suggested there was a separation of cognition and language acquisition, a new concept at the time. Genie's nonverbal skills were exceptionally good, which demonstrated that even nonverbal communication was fundamentally different from actual language. The unevenness of her development on right-hemisphere versus left-hemisphere tasks gave the scientists valuable information about the manner in which certain brain functions develop, as well as the way lateralization affects a person's ability to improve upon them. Genie's difficulty with certain tasks which had been thought to be predominantly right-hemisphere oriented also gave the scientists more insight into the processes controlling these functions. Because Genie's language acquisition occurred in her right hemisphere, its course also aided linguists in determining the capacity for right-hemisphere language acquisition in people after the critical period.
The manner in which doctors and scientists handled Genie has become the source of debate among the people involved in the case. Years after the case study ended, a few of the scientists who had participated to various degrees expressed the view that the scientists heading the case study had put their research ahead of Genie's best interests. During the initial grant meetings in May 1971, Elkind voiced concern about focusing on Genie's linguistic development on the grounds that it could cause love and attention to be contingent on her language. He said that the meetings grew increasingly tense and bitter, and did not feel that other researchers adequately addressed his concerns. After May 1971, despite his longstanding personal friendship with both the Riglers he declined further involvement. When asked about his decision years later he cited a desire not to be involved in a case which, in his view, gave priority to scientific study over Genie's care.
Shurley started his work with Genie highly optimistic about the potential for research, but he said that the atmosphere he witnessed at the grant meetings made him increasingly leery of Genie's handling. He especially noted that the later grant meetings were only open to scientists and excluded many of the people who had worked most closely with Genie at the hospital, including Butler and the hospital cooks. While he acknowledged that the scientists at the center of the case had been in a completely unprecedented situation, his observations left him very cynical about their work with Genie and caused him to minimize his involvement. By the time the case study ended he felt that all of the scientists, including himself, had been guilty to varying degrees of using Genie as an object and putting themselves and their goals ahead of her and her mother's best interests. Shurley pointed out that the study of Victor of Aveyron was fraught with this dilemma and ended with Itard abandoning Victor, who lived out the last several years of his life with a woman caring for him in Paris.
Kent, the Riglers, and Curtiss all unequivocally stated that this was never the case, and that Genie's welfare was always their first priority. Although they acknowledged their failure to successfully rehabilitate Genie, all of them said that they did the best that any of them were capable of. They all said their love and attention for Genie was entirely unconditional, never contingent on her developmental progress. Both of the Riglers said they gave Genie as much support as possible and always did what they thought was best for her, arguing that their willingness to take her in for four years demonstrated how committed they were to her well-being. They and Curtiss separately said that they always rewarded Genie for her participation in testing, regardless of her performance.
Rigler and Howard Hansen also readily acknowledged researchers at the original grant meeting had numerous views on the ideal direction for their research, but both said the disagreements were completely typical of scientific discourse and never involved animosity. Instead, they said the difficulty was simply due to the exceptional nature of the case. Both also said that for everyone involved, their primary objective was always to successfully rehabilitate Genie. The Riglers and Curtiss further stated that everyone involved in Genie's life, with the exception of Jean Butler Ruch, worked together as best they could and never fought with each other, denying that divisions among the scientists caused the disintegration of the case study. David Rigler agreed there were many unusual actions taken during the study, but said this was because the case had no good precedent. The topic has since become a significant debate within the larger scientific community, and has been discussed in several books and academic papers.
The lack of distinction between Genie's caretakers and therapists has also come under scrutiny. Rymer contended that the two roles became blurred very early on and progressively got less clear, and that personal friendships prevented the scientists at the center of the case from recognizing it. He cited the decision in 1971 to make John Miner Genie's legal guardian as the point at which this began, as Hansen was both Miner's acquaintance and directly involved in providing therapy for Genie's mother. In Rymer's analysis, although none of the scientists had intended to become involved in dual relationships with Genie and her mother, both the scientists at the center of the research team and all of the primary therapists for Genie's mother gradually did to varying degrees. By early 1975, he argued there were no discernible lines between the two roles. This, he argued, prevented the scientists from being able to properly assess the utility of their work and impeded the scientists' ability to provide the best possible care for Genie.
In particular, the decision to make David Rigler a foster parent and Genie's primary therapist while simultaneously managing the case study has proven highly controversial. Shurley thought that that Butler/Ruch had been the person who showed Genie the most love, although he acknowledged how difficult and toxic she had been for everyone else around Genie to work with, and expressed the view that the best long-term outcome for Genie would have been to live with her. His view of the Riglers was that, although they gave Genie a sufficient level of care, they viewed Genie as a test subject first and never showed her an adequate level of affection. Rymer submitted that the arrangement played a significant role in compromising the research team's objectivity, and in turn contributed to the case study's lack of coherence. He and others, including historian Harlan Lane, argued that this accelerated the breakdown of roles for those involved in Genie's life. Several independent reviews of Genie's case also accused the Riglers and the other scientists of abandoning Genie after the case study concluded, arguing that they should have done more to remain involved in her life and treatment.
The Riglers agreed that the arrangement was extremely atypical, but on several occasions maintained that this was done out of an urgent need to place Genie in a stable environment capable of meeting her needs. They argued that because no one else had found a suitable living arrangement for Genie, their home had been the best available option. They both said that they genuinely loved Genie, and made sure to provide her with a home where she could always feel love and compassion. David and Marilyn Rigler's perception was that she had made substantial progress while living with them, and appeared to be happy. David Rigler further wrote that several independent evaluations of Genie's condition throughout her stay concurred with their assessment. They and Curtiss also maintained that they had wanted to continue working with Genie, and that her mother prevented them from seeing her through legal means.
While representing the Riglers in court in 1977 and 1978, John Miner went out of his way to give them credit for acting as foster parents to Genie for four years. Similarly, when Curtiss spoke to Rymer in the early 1990s she praised their work with Genie and their willingness to raise her in their home, although she also felt that David Rigler had not done enough when she brought Genie's abuse in foster care to his attention. In a 1997 review of Genie's case, author Justin Leiber wrote that he did not hold the scientists primarily responsible for losing contact with Genie after early 1978. He instead argued that the legal and institutional processes surrounding Genie's placement had dominated the case, and that they were the driving force which prevented the scientists from doing more for Genie.
In the 1994 Nova documentary on Genie, Harlan Lane suggested that the scientists found it difficult for the scientists to attain the ideal balance between research and rehabilitation. His and other analyses of Genie's case also argued that the instability regarding her living arrangements affected her emotional state, which in turn led to her plateauing and subsequently regressing in her behavior and language. Like Shurley, Lane pointed out the similarities between the way the cases of Genie and Victor of Aveyron ended. Lane and several authors after him stated that the results of Genie's case and the manner in which the scientists went about conducting their research, especially given the parallels with Victor's case, would be important for future scientists working on similar cases to study.
After the Fritzl case came to the public's attention in late April 2008, ABC News ran two stories, almost two weeks apart in early May of that year, comparing the Fritzl case to Genie's. Their stories noted many of the similarities between Genie's father's abuse of his family and Josef Fritzl's imprisonment of his daughter and three of his grandchildren, and compared the physical and mental problems of the grandchildren Fritzl held captive to those which Genie displayed when she was first found. Their first story featured interviews with James Kent and Curtiss, and reporters noted they were unable to contact David Rigler, who was 87 years old, as he was reportedly in declining health. The second story contained an interview with the police officer who arrested Genie's parents, who said he still vividly remembered the case and described some of the conditions he found inside their house.
Reporters also interviewed Genie's brother, who was 56 at the time, for both stories, which was the first time he publicly discussed his or Genie's life. In addition to discussing his parents and his and Genie's childhood, he talked about his life after leaving his mother's house. He said he spent several years drifting around the country and working various jobs, was arrested for various misdemeanors, and combatted alcohol abuse for much of his adult life. He eventually became a house painter in a small town in Ohio, and at the time of the interview he was uninsured, diabetic, and had recently survived a heart attack. He told reporters that he had been divorced for several years, and that although he never wanted to have children due to his childhood he had a daughter and two grandchildren. They lived near him, but he rarely spoke with them. Finally, he indicated he was still struggling to cope with the trauma of his and Genie's upbringing, describing himself to reporters as, "a living dead man". He said that he tried to keep it out of his memory as much as possible, though he kept and shared pieces of a small collection of family photographs from his early childhood and a few letters and pictures his mother sent him in the 1980s.
Author Russ Rymer wrote a two-part magazine article in The New Yorker entitled Genie: A Silent Childhood which ran in mid-April 1992. The following year he published a book—his first—called Genie: A Scientific Tragedy.[R] The works cover Genie's life up until the time of publication, as well as the scientific team who studied her. In addition, the book summarizes the life of Victor of Aveyron and Jean Marc Gaspard Itard's work with him, discussing the movie The Wild Child and its effect on the public's view of language-deprived children, and compares Victor and Genie's lives. He chiefly documented the case from the perspectives of the scientists, but shortly before the publication of the magazine articles was able to speak to Genie's mother and obtained several documents and pieces of correspondence from her.
Rymer stated that his initial intention was only to write a single twenty thousand word New Yorker magazine article, but that upon beginning to work on the project found it much larger than he anticipated. He wrote many of the scientists outright refused to discuss the case with him, and that those who spoke about it only very reluctantly did so. He also noted that the scientists' accounts of the case were, without exception, vastly different from each other. At the time he talked to them, he said they had mostly lost contact with one another. In November 1993, Rymer added an afterword to his book in which he said there had been a rift between many of the scientists. He said his interviews had caused some of the scientists to start speaking to each other again, and specifically took some credit for reopening communication between the Riglers and Genie's mother. Rymer also wrote that, due to his book's attempts to reconcile the frequently disparate accounts of the scientists, prior to its publication he had anticipated at least some of the people he spoke to would have a strong negative reaction to it. In a 2008 interview he said he was still scarred from covering the case, and said its divisiveness made the book extremely difficult to write.
Rymer's book was one of five finalists for the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Awards, in the category of general non-fiction, and was one of ten winners of the 1995 Whiting Writers' Award. Upon its publication, it received several prominent reviews. Among them was an overall positive reception in the New York Times from scientific reporter Natalie Angier, whose review was published in late April 1993; she wrote she had previously read both of the magazine articles, and took an extremely negative view of the scientists. Angier's review garnered very harsh criticism from Susan Curtiss and James Kent, who strongly disagreed with both the review and the book, and prompted David Rigler to make his first public statement on Genie's case. In a letter to the New York Times published in mid-June 1993, Rigler wrote that Angier's review was unfairly critical of the scientists. He pointed to several parts of it which he said contained substantial omissions and factual inaccuracies regarding both the book and the entire case, and gave his own account of his and Marilyn's work with Genie and her mother.[S]
Several books about feral and/or abused children contain chapters on Genie. Many books on linguistics and psychology also speak about Genie's case. Linguist Steven Pinker discussed Genie's case in his 1994 book The Language Instinct, using it to argue for Chomsky's theory on the innateness of language and concurring with Curtiss and Fromkin's assessment of Genie. In 1997 linguist Geoffrey Sampson broadly criticized Chomsky's theory and directly responded to Pinker's analysis of Genie in his book Educating Eve: The 'Language Instinct' Debate, arguing it was highly implausible that Genie was sufficiently emotionally intact to provide solid evidence for innate acquisition in humans. In 2005 he published a revised version of his book, The 'Language Instinct' Debate: Revised Edition; in it he responded to criticism of his original representation of Genie's case, but ultimately concluded that he did not need to reconsider his position.
Film and television
In 1994, Nova made a documentary on Genie titled Secret of the Wild Child.[T] PBS aired it in the United States and the BBC aired it in the United Kingdom. Narrated by Stacy Keach, the documentary covered Genie's life and the scientists' case study up until her two-week stay at Children's Hospital in April 1977 and the time that the lawsuit was starting to be filed. At the end, it also mentioned Genie's then-current living arrangements. Rymer's book provided the basis for the documentary, and like that work it features segments on Victor of Aveyron and comparisons between Genie and Victor. The archived film Nova used from the UCLA library had significantly deteriorated, and required restoration for use in the documentary. The documentary won multiple Emmy Awards for news and documentary programming, in the category of informational or cultural programming, in both 1994 and 1995. In 2002, an episode of the television series Body Shock on feral children entitled Wild Child included a segment on Genie.[U] The episode was aired by Channel 4 in the UK and on TLC in the United States. It discussed Genie's life until the time that Curtiss lost contact with her, and at the end briefly mentioned Genie was still a ward of the state in California and that Susan Curtiss was still searching for her.
The independent film Mockingbird Don't Sing, released in 2001, is based on Genie's case. Written by Daryl Haney and directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, it followed Genie's life until sometime just before her mother filed the lawsuit, at which point the film ends and messages flash across the screen informing viewers of what happened after the film's timeline. The film is primarily from the perspective of Susan Curtiss, the only person who worked with Genie to be involved in its making. Bromley Davenport said he was very sentimental about the movie and researched Genie's case for two years for it, in the process recording around 40 hours of interviews with Curtiss. For legal reasons, all of the names in the film were changed. The movie tied for first place as the best screenplay at the 2001 Rhode Island International Film Festival.
- In her dissertation on Genie Susan Curtiss alluded to knowledge of additional details regarding Genie's childhood, which she did not discuss.
- In 1977 Genie's mother wrote he had only beaten her on two occasions, both times during the last year of Genie's captivity. She also wrote that although she and her husband had disagreements, he never made death threats against her.
- After the police conducted a series of interviews with Genie's brother, they and Children's Hospital staff almost immediately decided to leave him on his own. After briefly staying with their mother he said she began dedicating all of her love and attention to Genie, and he decided to leave the area. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he and his mother sporadically communicated before losing all contact. In a 2008 interview, the police officer who arrested Genie's parents said he regretted their inaction on his behalf.
- She would sit on her mother's lap when requested, but remained very tense and got up as quickly as possible. At least once, upon getting away she immediately burst into a silent tantrum. Hospital staff noted her mother seemed entirely oblivious to the tone of Genie's reactions; on at least one occasion, she commented on how happy she thought Genie had been.
- Psychologist and autism specialist Mitzi Waltz noted that, although psychologist Ole Ivar Lovaas was conducting autism research at UCLA during this time, no one ever attempted to involve him in the case or sought his opinion on whether or not Genie was autistic. Years after the case study on Genie ended, Susan Curtiss said she and the other scientists felt that Lovaas' methods of aversion therapy would have unduly limited Genie's freedom and prevented access to the nurturing environment they desired for her.
- These 11 PM awakenings were less frequent during Shurley's second session, and by the time of his last sleep study in January 1972, when Genie no longer lived at Children's Hospital, they had entirely ceased. Genie's mother only told him about her late-night attempts to feed Genie later during 1972.
- For instance, Genie could bathe herself at the level of a typical 9 year old but remained unable to chew food better than a 2–3 year old.
- Lenneberg declined to participate in the case, saying no definite conclusions could be drawn because the level of trauma associated with Genie's childhood would be impossible to discern.
- Shurley also contended that this class difference played a substantial role in increasing the tension between Genie's mother and the scientists on both sides, but several other scientists denied this. They pointed out that both of the Riglers and Curtiss had originally come from lower and lower-middle-class backgrounds, and that Jean Butler came from and had always lived a very upper-middle-class lifestyle.
- Among Ruch's accusations was that Rigler had intentionally added more people to the initial grant request than were ever actually involved in the case. When Rigler reviewed it he reportedly found one psychologist included in the application whose name he did not remember, but said this was merely an unintentional oversight on his part.
- Curtiss thought Genie's score had the potential to have been even higher because all of her incorrect answers were either masks or caricatures of faces, leading Curtiss to think Genie may not have understood that she was only supposed to select the realistic looking faces.
- However, Curtiss remembered one other test she and Fromkin administered by forming a shape with colored sticks and having Genie replicate it from memory; she said Genie not only reconstructed the design but, despite not being asked to, exactly copied the colors as well.
- This has remained the source of debate among linguists. Some, such as Derek Bickerton, accepted Curtiss and Fromkin's assessment. Others, including Geoffrey Sampson, have argued that this was extremely implausible and therefore negated much of the value ascribed to her case.
- Prior to this time, even though she could not read she could remember the definition of a word card for the duration of the session—for instance, if Curtiss showed Genie a card which said "red" on it, for the rest of the session Genie would use it to represent the word red. However, she could not carry this memory over to future sessions.
- In an interview Curtiss alluded to knowledge of additional abuse that occurred in this foster home, which she did not discuss.
- Ruch's husband died of bone cancer in 1982.
- When Shurley showed Russ Rymer two photographs from these visits it took Rymer several seconds to realize the pictures were of Genie, and only recognized her at all because of the familiar patterns on her dresses. He described Genie in the first of these pictures as having, "a facial expression of cowlike incomprehension."
- Also published as Genie: An Abused Child's Flight From Silence and Genie: Escape From A Silent Childhood.
- Rigler made a few short comments on the book itself as well; besides responding to Rymer's assertion that the lawsuit had been settled out of court, he also wrote that the book, unlike Angier's review, had accurately documented the reasons for Genie's initial admission to Children's Hospital.
- Broadcast as Genie: A Deprived Child in the United Kingdom.
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Sources and further reading
- Aitchison, Jean (1989). The Articulate Mammal: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics (3 ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-41-508395-9. OCLC 802910308.
- Benzaquén, Adriana Sylvia (2006), "Confinement and Freedom", Encounters with Wild Children: Temptation and Disappointment in the Study of Human Nature, Montreal, Quebec: McGill-Queen's University Press, pp. 244–264, ISBN 978-0-77-352972-4, OCLC 61427587.
- Bickerton, Derek (1990), "The Fossils of Language", Language and Species, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-22-604610-5, OCLC 802686883.
- Curtiss, Susan (1977), Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day "Wild Child", Perspectives in Neurolinguistics and Psycholinguistics, Boston, MA: Academic Press, ISBN 978-0-12-196350-7, OCLC 3073433.
- Curtiss, Susan (1988), "Abnormal language acquisition and the modularity of language", in Newmeyer, Frederick J., Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey: Volume 2, Linguistic Theory: Extensions and Implications 2, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, pp. 96–116, doi:10.1016/0013-4694(86)90177-X, ISBN 978-0-51-162105-5, OCLC 18836853, archived from the original on May 29, 2013, retrieved May 1, 2013.
- Curtiss, Susan; Fromkin, Victoria A.; Rigler, David; Rigler, Marilyn; Krashen, Stephen D. (1975), "An update on the linguistic development of Genie", in Dato, Daniel P., Developmental Psycholinguistics: Theory and Applications, Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics, Washington, D. C.: Georgetown University Press, pp. 145–153, ISBN 978-0-87-840110-9, OCLC 2114555, archived from the original on May 29, 2013, retrieved April 29, 2013.
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- Collection of documents and film footage pertaining to Genie's case – UCLA Library Special Collections Department