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Genie (feral child)

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A clearly-defined black and white close-up photograph of Genie from the chest up against an indeterminate background. Her eyes are focused slightly above and to the right of the camera, and she has an expressionless, vacant, innocent look on her face.
The first publicly released picture of Genie, taken just after California authorities took control of her care at the age of 13.
Born 1957 (age 57–58)
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.[1][2] When Genie was a baby her father decided that she was severely mentally retarded, causing him to dislike her and withhold as much care and attention as possible. Around the time she reached the age of 20 months Genie's father decided to keep her as socially isolated as possible, so from the age of 20 months to 13 years, 7 months, he kept her locked alone in a room. During this time he almost always strapped her to a child's toilet or bound her in a crib with her arms and legs completely immobilized, and left her severely malnourished.[3][4][5] The extent of Genie's isolation prevented her from being 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.[1][3][4]

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. Upon finding that Genie 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 to test theories and hypotheses identifying critical periods during which humans learn to understand and use language. Throughout the time scientists studied Genie, she made substantial advances with her overall mental development. Within months of being discovered Genie had developed exceptional nonverbal communication skills and gradually learned some basic social skills, but even by the end of their case study she still had many behaviors characteristic of an unsocialized person. She also continued to learn and use new language skills throughout the time they tested her, but ultimately remained unable to fully acquire a first language.[6][7][8]

When authorities first found Genie they initially arranged for her admission to Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and her subsequent placements eventually gave rise to rancorous and protracted debate. After living at the hospital until late June 1971 she moved into the home of her teacher at the hospital for a month and a half, and upon removal from this home authorities placed her with the family of the scientist heading the research team. 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, Genie's mother then had her placed in the first of a series of at least six institutions for disabled adults. During the year and a half Genie lived at this location, she experienced further extreme physical and emotional abuse.[3][4][9] Cut off from almost all of the people who had studied her, her physical and mental health severely deteriorated and her newly acquired language and behavioral skills rapidly regressed.[3][4]

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. Most of the scientists who studied and worked with Genie have not seen her since this time. 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. 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."[3] Although no scientific analysis of Genie has occurred since late 1977, psychologists and linguists have continued to discuss Genie's case and development long after this time and there has been considerable academic and media attention given to her life and the methods of the research team surrounding her. 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.[4][10][11]

Early history

Genie was the last, and second surviving, of four children born to 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 a family of farmers in Oklahoma, had come to southern California as a teenager with family friends fleeing the Dust Bowl. Both of them had extremely unstable upbringings, and had no meaningful level of education.[12][13][14] During her early childhood Genie's mother suffered an accident in which she sustained a severe head injury, giving her lingering neurological damage that caused degenerative vision problems in her right eye.[15] Genie's father mostly grew up in various orphanages around the American Pacific Northwest, as his father had died of a lightning strike while he was a child and his mother had only limited contact with him while she ran a brothel. Additionally, his mother had given him a feminine first name which made him the target of constant derision. Because of this, as a child 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.[14][16][17]

When Genie's father reached adulthood, he changed his first name to one which was more typically masculine. His mother began to spend as much time with him as she could, which later accounts of his life speculated may have been compensation for her lack of involvement in his childhood, but found him extremely strict and difficult to be around.[14][18] 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.[13][19][16]

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 she. 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.[20][12] He quickly began preventing his wife from leaving their home, and beat her with increasing frequency and severity. After she married, her eyesight in both eyes started more rapidly deteriorating due to lingering effects from the preexisting neurological damage, the onset of severe cataracts, and a detached retina in one eye, forcing her to become increasingly dependent on her husband.[21][12]

From the outset of their relationship Genie's father made it very clear that he neither liked children nor ever wanted to have any, especially citing a dislike for all of the noises associated with them. 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.[22][15] 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, and as a result she died of pneumonia at 10 weeks old.[A][22][13] Their second child, born a year later, was a boy diagnosed with Rh incompatibility who died at two days of age. Accounts vary as to whether his death resulted from complications of Rh incompatibility or from choking on his own mucus.[22][23]

Another son was born three years later, and survived despite also having 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.[23][24] When he was four, his paternal grandmother grew 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.[13][14][24] Genie was born around five years after her brother, around the time that her father began to isolate himself and his family from those around them.[25][26]

Genie's delivery was a standard Caesarean section without any noted complications, and at birth she was in the 50th percentile for weight. The next day she showed signs of Rh incompatibility and required a blood transfusion, but did not appear to have any sequela from it and was otherwise healthy.[27][28] A medical appointment at three months showed that she was gaining weight normally, but found a congenital hip dislocation which required her to wear a highly restrictive Frejka splint from the age of 4 1/2 to 11 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 a concerted effort not to talk to or pay attention to her and strongly discouraged his wife and son from doing so.[27][29] Genie's mother later recalled that Genie was not a cuddly baby, did not babble much, and resisted solid food.[27][29] At times she further claimed that at an undetermined point Genie began to say some individual words, although she could not recall what they were, but on other occasions said that Genie had never produced speech of any kind.[27][30]

Records indicate that Genie could move her head at 4 months, and was sitting up on her own at 5 months. At 6 months she was reportedly in overall good condition, alert, making motions from her hand to her mouth, and "taking food well". The doctor said she would need another checkup in a month, but her parents did not take her for another visit until she was 11 months old. At that appointment she could sit up by herself and had normal dentition for someone her age, but had fallen to the 11th percentile for weight.[29][31] The people who later studied her believed this was a sign that she was starting to suffer some degree of malnutrition. The doctor who removed Genie's Frejka splint told her parents that she would need additional physical therapy, but her father refused to allow access to any further treatment.[29]

When Genie was 14 months old, she came down with a fever and pneumonitis. She was lethargic and unresponsive, and her parents took her to a pediatrician who had not previously seen her. The pediatrician said that although her illness prevented a definitive diagnosis, there was a possibility that she was mentally retarded and that the brain dysfunction kernicterus might be present.[29][8][32] Her father took this opinion to mean that Genie was severely retarded, using it as justification for isolating and abusing her.[29][8][33]

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, and his emotions went far beyond a normal level of grief.[26][34] Because she had been walking with her grandson Genie's father viewed him as responsible for her death, which further heightened his anger.[13] When the truck's driver subsequently received only a probationary sentence for both manslaughter and drunk driving, he became nearly delusional with rage.[26][35][36]

One of the scientists who later worked with Genie and her mother believed that these events made Genie's father feel as if society had failed him. He therefore decided that he would need to protect his family from the outside world, and in doing so he lacked the self-awareness to recognize the destruction his own actions caused.[37][36][28] 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.[37][36] Genie's father immediately quit his job and moved his family into the two-bedroom house his mother had been living in, and insisted on leaving his mother's car, which sat in the garage, and bedroom completely untouched as shrines to her.[14][26][38]


Upon moving into the house of Genie's grandmother, Genie's father increasingly confined her to the second bedroom upstairs while the rest of the family lived and slept downstairs in the living room.[14][26][39] During the daytime, for approximately 13 hours a day he tied her to a child's toilet in a makeshift harness which, according to her brother, their father forced his wife to make. The harness prevented her from moving her arms and legs, and while in it Genie wore only diapers and could only move her extremities.[14][28] At night, when her father remembered to, he tied her into a sleeping bag designed to function like a straitjacket and placed her in a crib with a metal-screen cover.[B][28][40] Researchers believed that at times she was simply left tied to the child's toilet overnight, although years later her mother later denied this.[28][40][41] At first her mother could sometimes take her either to the back steps or out to the back yard and stay with her while she was in a small playpen, but Genie reportedly angered her father because she frequently took it apart. Psychologists believed this was a sign that her parents often left her there by herself for extended periods of time.[26] After a short period of time, her father decided not to allow her outside her room at all.[42][26]

Researchers concluded that if Genie vocalized or made any other noise, her father beat her with a large plank he kept in her room.[8][43] To keep her quiet he would bare his teeth and bark and growl at her like a wild dog, 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.[43][44] 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.[45] This instilled an intense fear of cats and dogs in Genie that persisted long after she was freed.[46][47] As a result, Genie learned to make as little sound as possible and to otherwise give no outward expressions.[43][44] As Genie's brother got older, their father forced him to carry out progressively more of his abuse in the same manner.[3][13][48] Doctors also seriously considered 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.[49][50][51]

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. Due to this, the only sounds Genie ever heard from her parents or brother on a regular basis were noises when they used the bathroom.[8][43] Although Genie's mother claimed that Genie had been able to hear other people talking in the house, her father almost never allowed his wife or son to speak and viciously beat them if he heard them talking without permission. They were particularly forbidden to speak to or around Genie, so what conversations they had were therefore always very quiet and out of Genie's earshot, preventing her from being exposed to any meaningful language besides her father's occasional swearing.[3][13][43]

Genie's father fed Genie as little as possible and refused to give her solid food, only feeding her baby food, cereal, Pablum, an occasional soft-boiled egg, and liquids. 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.[13][52][51] Although Genie's mother told the psychologists who worked with her that her husband always fed Genie 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.[27][52] The times her husband was feeding Genie were normally the only times he allowed his wife to be with her, but she could not feed Genie herself.[27][52] In a conversation during early 1972 Genie's mother said 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; this pattern would continue for several months even after she was freed.[41]

The only sensory stimulation Genie experienced from outside her home came by way of two windows, one of which her father left slightly open. Through them she could see both the side of a neighboring house and a few inches of sky, could hear some traffic noises, and could occasionally hear birds and airplanes flying over the house or a neighboring child practicing the piano.[27][43][53] Her mother claimed that Genie could also hear people entering and leaving nearby houses.[40] The only visual stimuli Genie had access to in the room were the crib, the chair, curtains on each of the windows, three pieces of furniture, and two plastic rain jackets hanging on the wall. 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.[43][20][54] 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.[48]

Genie's 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.[13][36] Throughout this time, Genie's father kept detailed notes chronicling his mistreatment of his family and his efforts to conceal it.[C][13][20]

Genie's mother was almost completely blind by this time, and was essentially passive by nature to begin with.[27][56][57] Her husband continued to beat her and threatened to kill her if she attempted to contact her parents, close friends who lived nearby, or the police.[D][52] 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 increasing frequency and severity using many of the same implements he used on Genie.[3][13][48] He felt completely powerless to do anything to stop it, 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.[3][13][14] 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.[20] 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. He reneged when Genie turned 12, and Genie's mother took no action for another year and a half.[36][56]


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 later that day 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 and was living with friends. She and Genie went to live with her parents in Monterey Park.[13][20][56] Around three weeks later, on November 4, after being told to seek disability benefits for the blind, Genie's mother decided to do so in nearby Temple City, California and brought Genie along with her.[3][56]

On account of her near-blindness, Genie's mother accidentally entered the general social services office next door.[3][56] The social worker who greeted them instantly sensed something was not right when she first saw Genie and 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.[56][58] 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.[59] Her physical condition and near-total unsocialized state provided the immediate impetus for her admission, but authorities also noted her complete lack of speech or expressiveness.[56][60][61]

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.[62][63] 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 these early examinations revealed by far the most severe case of child abuse he would ever encounter, and came away extremely pessimistic about Genie's prognosis.[63] 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.[64][65]

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.[20] Genie's brother did cooperate with investigators, and in a series of police interviews gave detectives further information about his parents.[13][66] The police also conducted an extensive search of the house the family had been living in, which yielded additional details about the abuse Genie's father carried out.[13] Even after the conclusion of the police investigation, there were a large number of questions left unresolved; in mid-1993, Rigler wrote that, "There were and there remain deep concerns about the exact nature of her abuse."[65][67][68]

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.[4][69] 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.[70][69] 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, making it very difficult to maintain her anonymity.[4][65][71] 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 talked to reporters in the weeks immediately afterwards.[13][20][72]

After the story reached the media large crowds went to try to see Genie's father, which he reportedly found extremely difficult to handle.[20][73] On November 20, while at his house on the morning before a scheduled court appearance on charges of child abuse, Genie's father committed suicide by gunshot.[69][13][74] 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."[13][75] His suicide further heightened media interest in the other members of Genie's family.[75]

After the initial police investigation and the suicide of Genie's father, law enforcement and hospital staff exclusively focused on Genie and her mother; they almost immediately decided to leave Genie's brother 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.[13][14] 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 earlier that year had stepped down as a deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County, and asked him to represent her in court. Miner, who had already taken considerable interest in the case from the media coverage, readily agreed.[76] 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.[77][78] 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.[79]

Characteristics and personality

A slightly grainy color picture of Genie, facing slightly right of the camera, walking by herself outside in the Children's Hospital recreation yard. She is wearing a plaid-patterned dress and thin sweater and looks extremely pale, emaciated, and expressionless. Her limbs are exposed and look extremely thin. Both of her knees are very bent, and her arms are bent forward with both hands hanging down as she holds them out in front of her.
Genie in the Children's Hospital yard a few weeks after her admission, displaying her characteristic "bunny walk".

Upon admission to Children's Hospital, Genie was extremely pale and grossly malnourished. She was severely undersized and underweight for her age, standing 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m) and weighing only 59 pounds (27 kg), and had two nearly full sets of teeth in her mouth and a distended abdomen.[27][80][81] A series of X-rays taken soon after her admission found she had moderate coxa valga in both hips and an undersized ribcage, and doctors determined her bone age to be that of an 11 year old.[27] The restraining harness her father used had caused a thick callus and heavy black bruising on her buttocks, which took several weeks to heal.[82]

Genie's gross motor skills were extremely weak; she could not stand up straight nor fully straighten any of her limbs.[83][84] 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 that she did not seem to have any difficulty with using only her fingers to flip through pages of a magazine.[84] She had very little endurance, only able to engage in any physical activity for brief periods of time.[85] As Genie never ate solid food as a child she was completely unable to chew and had very severe dysphagia, completely unable to swallow any solid or even soft food and barely able to swallow liquids.[80][86] 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.[51] She constantly salivated and spat, and continually sniffed and blew her nose on anything that happened to be nearby.[83][84]

Despite tests conducted shortly after her admission 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 movements were very hesitant and unsteady, and her characteristic "bunny walk", in which she held her hands in front of her like claws, suggested extreme difficulty with sensory processing and an inability to integrate visual and tactile information.[62][87] She was also completely incontinent, and gave no response whatsoever to extreme temperatures. Doctors noticed her extreme fear of cats and dogs very early during her stay, but initially attributed it to an inability to think rationally; they did not discern its actual origin until years later.[49][88]

After moving into Children's Hospital Genie showed interest in many hospital staff members, often approaching complete strangers and walking with them.[51] At first, she seemed more eager to interact with hospital staff than anyone else.[89] 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.[89][90] Initially, 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 both 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.[91] At first Genie would not allow anyone to touch her, quickly shying away from any physical contact.[E][80][93]

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.[94] 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. Kent said that from the very beginning of her stay she made reasonably good eye contact with other people.[95] During his first sessions with Genie, Kent saw that she demonstrated some ability to nonverbally communicate but could only get across a few very basic needs.[96][97][62] Although she was somewhat responsive to the gestures and facial expressions of other people, she did not make any of her own and her movements typically contained no discernible body language.[63][98] Hospital staff knew her father's abuse played some role in her unwillingness to express her emotions outward, although it took them years to determine the extent to which he forced her to repress all expressions.[99]

When upset Genie would wildly spit, blow her nose into her clothing, rub mucus all over her body, frequently urinate, and scratch and strike herself.[100][101] 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.[100][101] Her outbursts initially occurred very often without any obvious trigger, and she never attempted to indicate the source of her anger. They would continue until she either had her attention diverted or had physically tired herself out, at which point Genie would again become silent and give off no nonverbal signals.[102]

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. Hospital staff initially thought that her responsiveness meant she understood what they were saying, but later determined that she was instead responding to their nonverbal signals.[27][97] Kent's documentation of his visits with Genie in the first two months after her admission to Children's Hospital only rarely contained linguistic information, which later scientists wrote had demonstrated the extent of Genie's lack of responsiveness to language during this time. Linguists later determined that in January 1971, two months after her admission, Genie only showed understanding of a few names and about 15–20 words. Upon hearing any of these, she invariably responded to them as if they had been spoken in isolation. Hospital staff concluded that her active vocabulary at that time consisted of just two short phrases, "stop it" and "no more".[27][86][97] Beyond negative commands and possibly intonation indicating a question, she showed no understanding of any grammar whatsoever. Without nonverbal information, she could not respond to very simple sentences.[27][103][97] Linguists could not determine the extent of her expressive or receptive vocabulary at any point before January 1971, and therefore did not know whether she had acquired any or all of these words during the preceding two months at the hospital.[104]

The extensive tests doctors conducted on Genie did not find 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 observing Genie for some time, they concluded that she was not simply selectively mute.[27][103] After checking her existing medical records, which also uncovered no clear mental disabilities, researchers determined she had not acquired a first language.[27][95] 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 concluded that she never referenced them because she did not have the means to do so.[105][63]

To the surprise of the doctors working with her, 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.[51][106][107] She 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.[67][68] She also had no sense of personal property, frequently pointing to or simply taking something she wanted from someone else.[51] Nonetheless, hospital staff hoped to nurture her closer to normality.[99]

Preliminary assessment

Within a month 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. Shurley 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.[41][62][108] In the year and a half after Genie was rescued, Shurley came on three three-day visits 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. He hoped to determine if Genie was autistic and whether or not she was born mentally retarded, had sustained irreversible brain damage due to her severe malnutrition which left her retarded, or had merely been rendered functionally retarded by her isolation and abuse.[27][41][109]

Shurley's daytime observations of Genie led him to believe she was not autistic, with which later researchers concurred. Although her behavior showed a high level of emotional disturbance, he wrote that by the time he began observing her she showed a great desire to find new sources of stimulation and did not exhibit behavioral defense mechanisms characteristic of autism.[F][27][41] For his sleep studies Shurley found Genie cooperative, and although he did not learn the cause of her atypical sleep pattern until after their conclusion he had no significant difficulties gathering data. These 11 PM awakenings occurred every single night during his first session, were less frequent during his second session, and by the time of the last one in January 1972, when Genie no longer lived at Children's Hospital, they had entirely ceased. When analyzing the data from his first test, he noted that Genie's almost total lack of language at that time could potentially have impacted his results.[41]

Shurley found no signs of brain damage, and ruled it out as a cause of her lack of speech.[27][41] Some aspects of her sleep were typical for someone her age, and others which had initially been highly unusual 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 unusually high number of sleep spindles.[41]

In 1972 Shurley wrote that he could not definitely determine the cause of these abnormalities, and considered either functional or congenital retardation possible.[41] Eventually he concluded Genie had been retarded from birth and specifically cited her significantly elevated number of sleep spindles as evidence, as these are characteristic of people born severely retarded.[4][110][111] 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.[4][20][112] She also argued that some of the aspects of language Genie acquired were uncharacteristic of retarded people.[112] They instead believed that Genie was born with at least average intelligence, and that the abuse and isolation she endured had left her functionally retarded.[4][112]

Hospital stay

In his first meeting with Genie, James Kent 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.[27][113] As they played with the puppet she repeated "back" several times, and when Kent said, "The puppet will fall" she repeated "fall".[27] 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.[27][113] He quickly realized there would be a large number of people working with Genie, and was concerned that she would not learn to form a normal relationship unless somebody served as a steady presence in her life. He therefore decided to accompany her on walks and to all of her appointments.[4][114]

Within a few days of arriving at Children's Hospital Genie started learning to dress herself and began voluntarily using the toilet, but she continued to have nightly episodes of nocturnal enuresis and daytime incontinence remained an ongoing problem for her.[41][115] Both of these slowly improved during her stay at the hospital but persisted even years later, tending to resurface during times when she felt under duress.[115] Within weeks she became much more responsive to nonverbal stimuli, although at first her demeanor remained almost entirely devoid of nonverbal signals.[116] She also gradually became more responsive to other people talking, although doctors were unsure whether she was responding more to verbal or nonverbal stimuli.[27]

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, in an effort to give Genie a sense of freedom Kent took her out to the hospital's play area for the first time.[4][117] In December Kent decided to move her to the hospital's rehabilitation center, giving her access to more activities and opportunities to socialize.[118] After four weeks she had good eye–hand coordination, and her ability to focus on objects with her eyes had noticeably improved.[27] 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 began organizing a research team and planning to submit a larger grant request in May 1971.[119]

In January 1971 doctors administered a Gesell Developmental Evaluation, and found Genie to be at the developmental level of a 1–3 year old. At that time, they noted she was already showing substantial disparities in different areas of her development.[27] The following month psychologist Jack Block evaluated her with his wife, Jeanne, and found that she had an extremely high level of scatter on her performance. They placed her below a 2 to 3 year old level for some tasks, including the ability to chew food. On other tasks she was at a 5 year old level, on some at an 8 to 9 year old level, and in some cases performed at the level of a normal 12 to 13 year old.[120]

Doctors observed that she quickly developed a sense of possession, hoarding objects to which she took a liking.[121] 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 and look at as a child. She did not seem to care whether they were toys or ordinary containers, although she especially sought out beach pails.[56][122] During the first few months of her stay, hospital staff could simply give Genie one of these objects to bring her out of a tantrum.[102] Later, when she went on trips to toy stores, if someone looked interesting to her or was holding something she liked she would attach herself to who or what had caught her attention, requiring adult intervention to separate her.[123] 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.[124][125]

Everybody who worked with Genie noticed how intensely she explored her surroundings, although objects still seemed to intrigue her much more than other children.[27][126] Doctors saw that she enjoyed intentionally dropping or destroying small objects, and tried using this to get her to outwardly express her anger. She also showed deep fascination with classical piano music played in front of her, which researchers speculated may have been the result of having been able to hear some piano music as a child. Years later, Susan Curtiss described Genie as acting like she was either in a trance or hallucinating when she heard music she enjoyed.[127] 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.[128][53]

After a month Genie started becoming sociable with familiar adults, first with Kent and soon with other familiar hospital staff.[53][129] 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.[92] 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. After a few months she started engaging in physical play with adults, eventually beginning to enjoy giving and receiving hugs.[130] Despite this, scientists were concerned that she almost never interacted with people her age—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."[131]

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.[132][116] After a few months, doctors saw Genie begin to exude happiness when she knew her mother was coming.[132] 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.[116]

Genie rapidly began to give clear responses to nonverbal signals, and gradually began to express more of her emotions outwards. 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.[4][103][133] Upon seeing Genie for the first time, Shurley recalled that she instantly reached out to him in a way which he could not explain.[4][134] 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. Both of them were amazed that these gifts were always the types of objects Genie most enjoyed.[4][133]

Children's Hospital hospital staff did not track Genie's early linguistic progress, but did record a few of her early developments. Genie's vocabulary slowly increased at first, but began to accelerate at a progressively faster rate.[135][136] 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. Around 5 months into her stay she began spontaneously producing one-word answers to questions, and showed comprehension of many words which she did not use herself.[27][137][138] 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.[139]

Later analysis from linguists showed that Genie did not use several sentence structures characteristic of early speech, and neither then nor at any later time experimented with different components of her vocabulary or grammar.[140] Conversely, the words she used indicated a fairly advanced ability to mentally categorize objects and situations. Her ability to name a wide variety of colors especially intrigued doctors as it demonstrated that, even in the absence of language and with a minimum of external stimuli, she had undergone some mental development during her childhood. Her utterances also indicated a focus on objective properties to a degree not normally found in children, who are typically better at describing relationships.[103][141][142] This suggested to the doctors that, prior to her being discovered, she had already developed mental mechanisms for categorization.[143][141] Although atypical, her acquisition to this point was far more rapid than what the hospital's doctors had anticipated and led to an increased sense of optimism for her overall development.[144][145]

When doctors had first examined Genie at Children's Hospital, her voice was very soft completely monotonic. Similar to earlier cases of feral children it was extremely high-pitched, far above even the normal range of children who are first learning to speak.[146][147][148] Doctors attributed this to physical difficulties with speech production resulting from her father forcing her to repress all vocalization during childhood. This had resulted in her larynx and vocal tract being extremely underused and the muscles used for speech production became severely atrophied, which made it difficult for her to control both air flow and her vocal chords.[103] Throughout her stay, doctors worked to increase the volume and decrease the pitch of her voice. Although it would remained highly unusual even years later, by the end of her stay she had made noticeable progress.[4][149][150]

By April and May 1971, Genie's scores on the Leiter International Performance Scale tests had dramatically increased.[103][151] Overall her mental age was at the level of a typical 4 year 9 month old, but on individual components she still showed a very high level of scatter.[151][152] Around that time, when a minor earthquake struck Los Angeles, she ran frightened into the kitchen and rapidly verbalized to some of the hospital cooks she had befriended, which was the first time she sought out comfort from another person and the first time she was so readily verbal.[53][153] However, even after months at the hospital she still had a hard time being with large crowds of people. At her birthday party, she became so anxious at all the guests present that she had to go outside with Rigler to calm down.[132]

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 earlier in her stay, she could continue to sulk for a considerable period of time despite being given an object she liked.[116] 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.[154][130]

Brain testing

Refer to caption
The Salk Institute, where researchers analyzed the data from the first of several brain exams on Genie.

Beginning in January 1971 scientists conducted a series of neurolinguistic tests on Genie to determine the course and extent of her mental development, making her the first language-deprived child to undergo any detailed study of her brain.[27][103][155] Shurley's sleep-studies had found that Genie's sleep patterns were typical of a left-hemisphere dominant person, leading scientists to believe she was most likely right-handed.[8][41] Over the next few years multiple tests of Genie confirmed this, as did observations of her in everyday situations.[156][155] Based on their early tests, doctors suspected Genie was extremely right-hemisphere dominant.[103][156][155]

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 on Genie.[27][155][156] Among the tests Bellugi and Klima administered were a series of dichotic listening tests.[103][156] 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. Such a level of asymmetry had previously only been documented in patients with either split-brain or who had undergone a hemispherectomy.[103][156][155] 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.[27][156][157]

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 to the right hemisphere.[8][27] They therefore believed that because Genie had no linguistic input to stimulate lateralization in the left hemisphere, her left hemisphere had not undergone any specialization whatsoever and her language functions therefore never lateralized to her left hemisphere.[27] Since Genie was able to distinguish speech sounds with her right hemisphere, they thought that Genie's language had lateralized there instead.[158]

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.[103] 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 possible 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.[103][6]

Interest as a case study

A black and white print of Victor of Aveyron as a teenager from the chest up, with his body facing forward and his face slightly turned to the left.
Victor of Aveyron c. 1800.

At the time Genie was admitted to Children's Hospital, there was wide discussion in both lay and academic circles about the hypotheses of Noam Chomsky and Eric Lenneberg about the innateness and acquisition of language.[4][159] 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. After this period, a person would be unable to successfully learn a language. Despite the interest in these hypotheses, prior to Genie's discovery there had been no way to test them. 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.[103][160][161]

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 what is today known as the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris.[4][162][161] In particular, the film focused on Itard's efforts to teach Victor to use and understand language.[162][161] The movie was a major success, and further heightened public interest in cases of children subjected to extreme abuse or isolation.[4][162][161]

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 they immediately saw the parallels between Victor and Genie, and that the film had a profound impact on them.[4][163][164] The grant meetings lasted for a week, and there were a wide variety of suggestions as to what aspect of Genie's mental development the case study should center on. Years later the scientists all recalled that pinning its direction down was very difficult, and even scientists who had disagreements with Rigler sympathized with how difficult it had been to give the research team a coherent direction.[4][165]

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.[G][4][166][147] 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 received no outright objections.[165][147] The research team also planned to continue periodic evaluations of Genie's psychological development in various aspects of her life.[103][165] Soon after submitting their proposal, the team received approval from the NIMH and commenced their studies.[165]

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 for her.[65][167] 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.[4][168][62]

Soon after the NIMH accepted the grant proposal, in late May, Susan Curtiss began her work on Genie's case as a graduate student in linguistics under Victoria Fromkin.[169][170][171] She used the hospital's film and transcripts to piece together what she could of Genie's early progress.[172] For the remainder of Genie's stay at Children's Hospital, Curtiss met with Genie almost every day and immediately began observing her speech.[173] 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.[173][174] 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.[173] Despite this, Curtiss thought Genie somehow still looked very pretty and remembered being immediately drawn to her.[173][174]

After meeting Genie, Curtiss quickly recognized her powerful nonverbal communication abilities.[4] 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 and the other linguists working on Genie's case used videos and transcripts Children's Hospital staff had taken to piece together what they could of Genie's early linguistic development, but the relative lack of information from her first 6 months at the hospital left some ambiguities regarding the exact rate and trajectory of her early vocabulary and grammar acquisition. She therefore decided to dedicate the next few months to simply getting to know Genie and gaining her friendship.[175][176] 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.[177]

At around the same time Curtiss began her work, doctors reevaluated Genie on the Leiter scale and measured on a Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale. Based on these, doctors put her estimated mental age between a 5 and 8 year old.[27] 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 engaged in deferred imitation; he and the hospital psychologists saw both events as major cognitive gains.[178]

On trips outside the hospital, Curtiss noticed Genie often approached the front doors of random houses and seemingly hoped someone would invite her in.[179] 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.[118][180] 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.[27][103] Her doctors, at that time, predicted a completely successful rehabilitation could be possible.[4][103]

First foster home

In June 1971, Jean Butler obtained permission to take Genie on day trips to her home in Country Club Park, Los Angeles.[181] 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.[4][181][182] 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 guardian and primary caretaker.[4][182][183] Nonetheless, they decided that placing Genie in isolation at the hospital could potentially be highly damaging to her psychological development, so as an alternative they decided to temporarily quarantine her in Butler's home. Butler, who was childless, unmarried, and at the time living alone, subsequently petitioned for foster custody of Genie, and despite the hospital's objections authorities extended Genie's stay while they considered the matter.[49][184][182]

Butler's observations

Butler kept a detailed journal of Genie's progress throughout her stay, and extensively filmed Genie. Her records are the primary source of information available on Genie's speech, and the only source containing data on her behavior during this time.[4][185] 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.[4] 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.[186] Although Butler could not discern the reason for Genie's intense fear of cats and dogs, after witnessing it firsthand Butler and the man she was dating—who was himself a former professor at the University of Southern California and a well-known, respected psychologist—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.[4][187]

Butler, the scientists, and the NIMH evaluating committee all noted a marked improvement in Genie's demeanor and agreed that she seemed more relaxed. Butler claimed that she had made additional progress with Genie's behavior, writing that she had gotten Genie to stop attacking herself when angry and that she had taught Genie to express anger through words or by hitting objects. Butler also said that Genie had become noticeably more talkative; in early August she wrote to Shurley that Genie's utterances were significantly longer and more grammatically complex, and said this demonstrated Genie was continuing to acquire language.[188] In the same letter she said that the man she was dating had also noticed and commented on the improvement in Genie's language.[189] 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, although David Rigler noted that the onset of menstruation complicated efforts to deal with her incontinence.[103][190]


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.[191] During Genie's stay Butler had the man she was dating 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.[192]

However, Butler began to strenuously resist visits from the researchers, whom she felt overtaxed Genie. In her journal, she wrote that Genie's case handler shared her concerns.[4][182][193] She began disparagingly referring to them as the "Genie Team", a name which stuck. Butler particularly seemed to dislike James Kent and Susan Curtiss. She felt Kent was too permissive towards Genie, 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.[182][194] She frequently argued with other researchers about Genie's handling as well, especially with Rigler, although he maintained that these disputes were never as heated or personalized as Butler portrayed them.[195]

Although the scientists on the research team believed that Butler was genuinely doing what she believed was in Genie's best interest, they found her extremely difficult to work with and thought she was interfering with their efforts to give Genie the level of support they felt she required. They 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.[4][65][196] Both Kent and Curtiss emphatically denied Butler's accusations towards 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 both the case study and their ability to give her the best possible care.[197]

Members of the research team viewed Butler as personally troubled, noting her longstanding and widely known reputation for combativeness among coworkers and superiors even before Genie's case study began.[198] 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".[4][199] 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, the scientists eventually decided against it.[200]

In mid-August, California authorities informed Butler they had rejected her application for foster custody.[4][185] 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.[65][201] A few days before the decision came down he had written a letter to Butler in which he said that, despite his frustration with her, he thought her home was suitable and her application would likely be accepted.[202] 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.[4][203] 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."[203]

Second foster home

In early August, Hansen suggested to Rigler that he take custody of Genie if authorities rejected Butler. Rigler initially balked at the idea but 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.[65][204] All of the scientists knew it would be extremely unusual to make David Rigler Genie's foster parent while still one of her therapists and the head of the research team, and Rigler acknowledged that this arrangement would clearly put him in a dual relationship with both her and her mother. Nonetheless, they agreed that they needed to get Genie into an adequate home as soon as possible and that the Riglers' home offered the type of environment they wanted for her, and decided that in the absence of any other options they would support her living with the Riglers.[4][65][204] Jay Shurley said the Riglers also thought their experience with raising three children would give them an advantage over Butler.[205]

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.[4][65][204] 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.[4][204][206] 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.[65][49]

While living with the Riglers, Marilyn became Genie's new teacher. Susan Curtiss was allowed to visit almost every day, both to conduct her tests and to go on outings with Genie, and linguists immediately resumed conducting detailed observations. 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.[49][207][208] Around the time she moved in David Rigler also decided to make himself Genie's primary therapist, taking over this role from James Kent.[4][209] During 1972, although the Riglers remained her primary caretakers, with the consent of Genie's mother and her psychologists authorities designated John Miner as Genie's legal guardian.[79] Much of Genie's development during this time was either tracked in notes or captured on film.[4][20]

Behavioral progress

Immediately upon moving in with the Riglers, without any obvious cause Genie's incontinence resurfaced. In the first weeks of Genie's stay it was especially severe, but although she made significant improvements after a fairly short period of time it persisted at a lower level for several months. The Riglers and Curtiss also 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.[210] Despite the clear improvements in her physical health she was still extremely thin and undersized, and her manner of walking was still very unusual.[211][212] 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.[213][211]

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.[214] The scientists still did not know the reason for her fear, but both David and Marilyn used the puppy to gradually acclimate her. 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 throughout her stay she remained extremely afraid of unfamiliar cats and dogs.[49][215]

Furthermore, unless Genie saw something which frightened her, both her speech and behavior exhibited a great deal of latency. For no discernible reason, most of the time her responses to speech or environmental stimuli 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.[216][217] 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.[65][218][219]

A black and white frame taken from a video of Genie, who is enthusiastically smiling. It shows her from the chest up, taken while Genie is facing slightly to the right of the camera.
Genie shortly after moving in with the Riglers, during a session working with Marilyn Rigler.

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.[220][4][221] 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."[4][222] 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.[222] When situations came up which especially upset Genie, Marilyn also tried to explain in words that these were not a big deal.[223]

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.[223] 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".[4][222] 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.[4][222]

During the time Genie lived with the Riglers, everyone who worked with her reported that her mood significantly improved and she was clearly content with her life.[4][65][224] She had progressively fewer tantrums during the course of her stay, although she never entirely ceased to have them. In February 1975, Curtiss wrote that for the first time she had been able to talk Genie down from one of her outbursts as well.[225] David Rigler wrote that the authorities' independent evaluations, which took place throughout her stay, of Genie concurred with their assessment.[65]

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.[226][221] After noticing Genie's complete indifference to temperature, Marilyn worked to help Genie become more attuned to her body's sensations.[4][221] 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.[227]

After a few months, as Genie grew more settled into her living arrangements, her incontinence mostly disappeared and her physical health stabilized.[228] 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.[226][229] By the end of her stay, she could engage in vigorous exercise and other physical play.[20][230]

When Genie first moved in with the Riglers Curtiss began reading her children's stories and at first, even when she was willing to sit with Curtiss, she did not seem to be paying attention.[231][232] 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. She became somewhat more sociable in her interactions with the members of her foster family and other people, and would sometimes even spontaneously contribute to an ongoing conversation.[103][231][232] Her reactions 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.[233][213] 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.[234]

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.[65][67][235] Although it was very difficult for Genie to manage some of her urges, and even by the end of her stay had not completely eliminated them, she made substantial progress with controlling herself both at home and in public.[236][237] The Riglers taught her how to do some simple work around the house, such as ironing and using a sewing machine, and Genie's self-help skills noticeably increased. By the end of her stay, she had also learned to make simple meals for herself.[238][239][240]

Although Genie never developed fully normal social skills, papers from the time indicated that Genie's development progressed throughout the entire course of her stay.[27][103][240] She gradually 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.[228] 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 Genie developed 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 then a patient, Curtiss believed Genie's motivation was her ongoing crush on her dentist.[241]

As late as June 1975, David Rigler wrote that Genie continued to make significant strides in every field which the scientists were testing.[171][225][237] Nonetheless, despite Genie's marked progress she continued to exhibit many anti-social behaviors. The scientists wrote that while her overall demeanor had significantly improved, many aspects remained characteristic of an unsocialized person.[4][225] For instance, although she clearly knew she was not supposed to take things from other people, she continued to do so throughout her stay. Even by mid-1975, most social interactions with her remained abnormal in quality.[242][217]

Relationship with her mother

While Genie was living with the Riglers her mother, who was still living alone in the same house but had rearranged or destroyed most of the items associated with Genie's abuse, usually visited Genie once a week. James Kent and Howard Hansen also ensured that she continued to receive therapy from Children's Hospital psychologists, and Hansen remained involved in these therapy sessions. The bond between Genie and her mother continued to grow stronger, and David Rigler said Genie went on increasingly frequent overnight visits to her mother.[65][243] 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 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.[244]

Genie's mother had a difficult time getting along with most of the members of the research team, as well as her psychologists and the Children's Hospital staff. She was much more able to relate to Jay Shurley, who came from a Texas ranch family similar to hers during her childhood before she moved to California, and often confided her concerns in him. Although he acknowledged the amount of help many of the hospital staff—especially Kent and Hansen—had given her, Shurley found it troubling that, in his mind, they did not treat her as an equal. Genie's mother had run into serious financial difficulties, and also feared stigma for her appearance. Her conversations with Shurley on these matters convinced him that she was acutely aware of and felt very self-conscious due to the wide class difference between herself and the researchers.[H][245] Several of the people on the research team, including the Riglers, denied that they ever viewed Genie's mother as an inferior person. Some of scientists on the research team stated that they did not welcome her presence, citing a strong dislike for her passivity during Genie's early life.[246]

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. Years later, David Rigler stated that the scientists had not recognized how much their presence agitated her because they focused on the assistance they were giving her. 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?"[247] Rigler said he regarded both as positive steps for Genie's mother, seeing it as evidence that she was coming to terms with her earlier life.[247] Curtiss wrote 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, the scientists only relied on her statements when no other potential source of information existed or when there was corroborating evidence.[248]

Jean Butler—who married shortly after Genie was removed from her house and began 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.[249] While Genie was living with the Riglers Ruch persistently accused researchers of conducting tests which actively harmed Genie, deliberately forcing her mother out of her life, and misusing the available grant money.[I][250] She never stated any motive for her actions, but the research team believed it was due to her anger over the rejection of her application for foster custody and her perception that Children's Hospital staff had influenced the decision. Genie's mother steadily began listening more to Ruch, and came to feel the scientists were marginalizing her. Both of the Riglers and the other researchers were aware of Ruch's denunciations of their work and consistently denied the accusations she made, and thought that her actions were strikingly peculiar. However, none of them except for Shurley recognized her influence over Genie's mother.[65][251]

Continued brain exams

The findings of Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima on their dichotic listening tests had raised a large number of questions about whether Genie would remain so right hemisphere dominant as she was exposed to more verbal and nonverbal stimuli. Researchers speculated it could be possible that Genie's lateralization had not yet finished, or 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.[8][252] In the fall of 1971 the research team 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. Their testing continued throughout the remainder of Genie's stay with the Riglers.[8][156][252]

Dichotic listening tests

The scientists continued both the verbal and nonverbal dichotic listening tests, which were administered throughout 1972 and 1973. Their results corroborated Bellugi and Klima's original findings.[156][253][254] They found Genie remained extremely left-ear dominant for language sounds, correctly responding at or near 100% on all tests, 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.[103][255] 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.[103][156][256]

The scientists conducted several additional tests to determine whether Genie had any brain damage, and found no physiological problems with Genie's left hemisphere explaining its extreme disuse for identifying language. 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.[8][257] 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.[255] 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.[27]

Additional tests

Along with continuing the dichotic listening tests, Curtiss, Fromkin, and Krashen measued her mental age, which showed a very high degree of scatter. She consistently 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.[138] To test Genie's brain functions, they administered several tachistoscopic tests. These were designed to measure her ability on a variety of tasks involving either or both the left and right hemisphere of her brain. During 1974 and 1975 they also gave her a series of evoked response tests, consisting of a language test and a facial recognition test.[156][258][259] Although they had some difficulty with administrating a few of the tests, and had to discount some of their results, they gained considerable insight into the functioning of Genie's brain.[260][261]

During the time Genie was living at Children's Hospital the scientists believed that Genie had learned to use her gestalt perception to determine the number of objects in a group up to the number 7, and by the time Curtiss began working with her Genie could discern the correct number of up to 7 objects with perfect accuracy using this method.[262] On multiple gestalt perception tests she consistently performed significantly above average. The scientists administered one such test on two occasions and Genie's scores were 7 and 9 out of 12, respectively at and above the level of an average adult, and they wrote that some of the test items Genie had to recognize were unfamiliar to her and likely negatively affected her score.[8][27] 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, to gauge her gestalt perception. Genie correctly identified all of the real faces and only missed 6 false ones, which was the highest score in medical literature at that time.[J][263][261]

Genie's ability to piece together objects solely from 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.[264] On several other tests involving 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.[143]

Genie's improvement on right hemisphere functions was also extraordinarily rapid, and far outstripped her ability to learn left hemisphere tasks. For instance, approximately a year after her initial admission to Children's Hospital, her performance on the French Pictorial test placed her mental age in the 4 1/2 to 9 year old range. Similarly, 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, several years above her estimated mental age at the time.[27][265] 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.[K][266][257]

As early as 1972, only two and a half years she scored between the level an 8 year old and an adult on all of the right-hemisphere tasks scientists tested her on.[156] The scientists also noted in 1974 that Genie seemed to be able to recognize where she was and was good at getting from one place to another, an ability which primarily involves the right hemisphere.[27] 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.[8] They believed that because she had received enough stimulation to commence lateralization in her right hemisphere, and because this was the only stimulation she experienced, her right hemisphere had become extraordinarily developed.[8][260][261]

By contrast, Genie performed significantly below average on all tests measuring predominantly left-hemisphere tasks. When they administered sequential order tests, she scored well below average for someone whose brain was fully intact.[253][267] In addition to low test scores, her difficulty with mastering sequential order manifested itself in her daily life. Curtiss wrote that it significantly impaired Genie's ability learn and master basic everyday tasks, such as tying her shoes.[267] 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.[268][259]

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 when she did her efforts were extremely deliberate and laborious. By 1975 she could only count up to 7, which even then remained very difficult for her.[103][267] When she did start to learn to count, the scientists wrote that it came at the expense of her gestalt perception skills. After gaining the ability to count to seven in sequential order, she ceased to be able to discern numbers through gestalt perception and became entirely reliant on counting.[269][267]

In addition, Genie's progress on left hemisphere tasks was much slower.[266][270] Stephen Krashen wrote that by 2 years after the first examinations on her mental age Genie's scores on left-hemisphere tasks consistently fell into the 2 1/2 to 3 year old range, meaning that during this time span she only improved 1 1/2 years on these tasks.[156] Even on tests which she did better on, her improvement was similarly slow. 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.[271]

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. Despite showing an ability to complete similar tasks in other settings Genie scored at a "borderline" level on this test, although she did not make the mistakes typical of patients with any kind of brain damage; this test is extremely adept at picking up brain damage, and helped to further rule out the possibility of brain damage.[L][273][272][8] 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.[273][8][253] 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.[8][267]

Curtiss' explanation for this discrepancy was that, although these tasks predominantly utilize right-hemisphere brain functions, they likely require use of both hemispheres.[8][253][267] 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.[8] Curtiss speculated that although facial recognition had previously been recognized as predominantly utilizing the right of the brain, Genie's results were indicative of previously unknown left-hemisphere involvement. Since Genie exclusively used her right hemisphere, these would therefore be very difficult for her.[8][267]

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".[8][274] 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.[275][274] 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.[276][277]

The scientists monitored Genie's responses on their language tests with an EEG, and consistently 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.[278] 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. Her lack of improvement on both left hemisphere tasks and right-ear language identification bolstered their conclusions.[8][278][259]


Thorough, active testing of Genie's linguistic abilities began in October 1971, when Curtiss and Fromkin decided that her linguistic abilities were sufficient to yield usable results. Linguists designed their tests to measure both Genie's vocabulary and her acquisition of various aspects of grammar, including syntax, phonology, and morphology. Curtiss conducted the tests herself once a week almost every week, and conducted the primary analysis of the results.[27][103][279] To ensure their results reflected long-term progress, Curtiss conducted each of the individual tests at approximately one month intervals.[280]

Most of Curtiss and Fromkin's tests involved Genie pointing to or arranging either pictures or words and letters written on cards.[280][281] Besides using the tests Curtiss and Fromkin designed linguists incorporated a few existing tests, including the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, into their exams.[27][103][279] To keep Genie from gaming the tests and to ensure that Genie was not simply memorizing responses to certain words, they would not use the same word in two sentences to test any one aspect of her language. 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 sometimes stepped in to assist her.[27][103]

As with other aspects of her life, Curtiss found that except for a few specific tests Genie did not actively resist but clearly did as little as possible. This made it especially difficult to draw definitive conclusions from their earliest tests, as her performance masked her true abilities to a very large degree.[282][283] As Curtiss continued Genie grew to largely enjoy being tested and became much more cooperative, although it was clear that she usually gave less than a maximum effort and that her results did not always reflect her true potential, and Curtiss wrote that she was typically able to anticipate what Genie's level of engagement would be on a given day. On other occasions, Genie would even indicate that she wanted to take the tests.[103][284][285] Most of the time she continued to do less than she was capable of, preventing the scientists from being completely certain about her results, but in later sessions she put in more effort.[226] Both Curtiss and David Rigler said Genie wanted to do well to make the scientists happy, and exuded self-confidence and pleasure when finished.[65][286]

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.[1][7] 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.[103][287] By the end of her stay she could accurately name most objects she encountered, and she clearly knew more words than she regularly used.[8][288][279]

By contrast, Genie had far more difficulty with learning and using basic grammar. She clearly learned and could utilize certain principles of grammar, and her receptive comprehension consistently remained significantly ahead of her production.[103][253][289] However, the rate at which her grammar acquisition occurred was far slower than normal.[103][1][290] Genie did not make some of the grammatical mistakes which characterize the speech of young children, but she remained completely unable to learn some grammar characteristic of early speech.[103][253][290] She could often understand conceptual information but did not possess the grammar to express it, indicating to the scientists her cognitive abilities were greater than most children in congruous phases of language acquisition.[290]

Papers contemporaneous with the case study indicated that she was still learning new pieces grammar, and were optimistic about her potential to varying degrees. In addition to detailing the extant deficits in her language, all pointed to specific areas of progress.[27][171][138] Curtiss' later accounts of Genie's case all acknowledged that Genie learned vocabulary, and indicated that she had clearly acquired some basic grammar. But in contrast to her earlier writings, Curtiss argued that Genie had only developed very limited grammatical abilities, had only truly been expanding them for a relatively short period of time, and that they had plateaued soon after linguists began testing her.[143][171]

Because the scientists found that Genie was processing language in her right hemisphere, they compared her language acquisition with split-brain and hemispherectomy patients who also used their right hemispheres for language acquisition. They noted these patients had a developmental advantage over Genie because, unlike her, their right hemispheres had already acquired at least a small amount of basic language.[8][27][103] Genie's acquisition of vocabulary, and her ability to use it, was congruous with these patients. Although there were a few marked differences her receptive and expressive grammatical deficits were generally similar to this population, as were most of the aspects of grammar that she was able to learn and use.[8]

When Genie moved in with the Riglers her voice was still extremely high-pitched and soft, which the scientists believed accounted for some of her abnormal expressive language, and the scientists worked very hard to improve it.[291][138] She gradually began to talk in a moderately lower and louder voice, and in addition to better articulating words she began to pronounce more individual sounds; by at least mid-1973, Genie could pronounce all of the individual phonemes found in General American English.[149] However, there were a few sounds and combinations that she would not use in spontaneous speech, and with many others she would frequently either outright delete them or substitute them with other phonemes. Although linguists determined there were definite patterns to these she would apply many of her pronunciation rules seemingly at random, making it extremely difficult for people unfamiliar with her manner of speaking to understand her.[103][138][291] Similar to young children, her enunciation remained far better in imitation than in her own utterances.[103][138]

The scientists believed Genie was often unaware of her pronunciation, as she would correct it if someone imitated her. On other occasions her haplologies were clearly intentional, and she would only speak more clearly if firmly, explicitly requested to, which Curtiss attributed this to Genie trying to say as little as possible and still be understood. At times she attempted to condense entire three to four-word utterances into single syllables, which the scientists had to actively discourage her from doing.[292] Eventually Curtiss and Marilyn convinced Genie to stop her most extreme haplologies, but she continued to delete sounds when possible, causing linguists following the case to refer to Genie as the Great Abbreviator.[293][232]

Besides measuring Genie's vocabulary and grammar on tests, the research team attempted to gauge what pragmatics of language she acquired. In everyday conversations Genie inconsistently utilized what linguistic abilities she possessed, although her use of grammar remained better in imitation than in her own spontaneous speech.[27][103][294] On a few occasions she delivered monologues of considerable length, but even these consisted of a series of short utterances which she said together.[171][288] Genie could generally stay on topic in a discussion, regardless of whether she or another person had initially raised the topic, but she frequently did not acknowledge common pieces of conversation and her responses were often repetitions of an earlier comment.[295][296] Her conversational competence markedly improved during her stay, but the scientists wrote that it remained very low. Linguists found this unsurprising, and suggested this provided evidence that the ability to engage in conversation was a separate skill from simply knowing language.[297]

To supplement Genie's language acquisition, once Genie started to combine words the scientists worked to teach Genie some ritual speech for common everyday situations. Their efforts worked in some instances, but at times were completely unsuccessful.[103][298][296] The scientists especially noted that she never learned to use or give a natural response to any automatic speech, and that she never learned any profanity or used other substitute swear words. These two aspects of speech are typically either bilateral or originate in the right hemisphere, and split-brain and adult hemispherectomy patients normally learn and use them with no difficulty, but this did not affect the scientists' assessment of Genie as extremely right-hemisphere dominant.[299][300] Curtiss believed that Genie's childhood environment impeded her subsequent ability to learn conversational operators, as she never had the opportunity to observe conversation while growing up.[297]

In many cases, scientists used Genie's language development to help gauge her overall psychological state. For instance, her beginning to form imperative sentences 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. They 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.[103][301][302] Similarly, starting in December 1972 Genie 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.[303]

In some instances, learning a new aspect of language played a direct role in helping to further her psychological and mental development.[238][304] At the time Genie gained use of 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 Curtiss was playing the piano Marilyn began setting the table—a task for which Genie was often paid—Genie took the unprecedented action of leaving Curtiss and actively interrupting Marilyn so she could be rewarded.[238] In the last two years of her stay Genie also began using language to talk about events that had not actually occurred, attempting on at least two occasions to lie to Curtiss and the Riglers. Soon after the first of these lies, in July 1974, she began to describe some of her fantasies to the scientists in language, which researchers considered a very substantial cognitive and linguistic gain.[305][304]

By the end of Genie's stay with the Riglers her vocabulary was continuing to grow, and her grammar had clearly expanded. Nonetheless, even by mid-1975 there were still many pieces of grammar which she had not acquired. Furthermore, although she could understand and produce longer utterances, she still primarily spoke in short phrases such "Ball belong hospital".[143][171][225] Despite the clear increase in Genie's conversational competence, the scientists wrote that it remained very low compared to normal people. Curtiss and Fromkin ultimately concluded that because Genie had not learned a first language before the critical period had ended, she was unable to fully acquire a language.[306][143]

Recalling past events

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.[253][307][308] During the rest of her stay with the Riglers, she would constantly repeat "Father hit" to herself.[309] Eventually, Genie could provide longer and more detailed memories of her childhood.[310][308] On the few occasions when she spoke in long monologues, at different points during them she would reference her childhood.[311]

The Riglers tried to get Genie to talk about her childhood as much as possible, and Marilyn would sometimes coach Genie by role-playing as Genie's real mother.[4][253][308] She did not speak about it very often, but gave researchers valuable information when she did.[310] 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.[4][308] She gradually began to speak about her father, and could talk about his treatment of her.[4][103][304]

"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."[307]


In contrast to her linguistic abilities, Genie's ability to nonverbally communicate continued to excel.[103][312][313] She would frequently pantomime certain words as she said them; for instance, the scientists noted she would crouch into a seated position when she said the words "sit" or "sick". To improve her intelligibility she also invented her own system of gestures, and in addition to using them by themselves she frequently gestured as she was speaking.[103][314] Curtiss said Genie would also act out events, especially if she could not use language to communicate something, and persisted until she got her message across.[312][303]

The scientists made multiple efforts to teach Genie to read and write, and by the time Curtiss completed and published her dissertation Genie could read around five to ten names and words and write individual letters in print.[M][253][315] 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.[312][253][316] 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.[N][253][317]

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.[318] 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 for the first time.[49][319]

Throughout Genie's stay, the Riglers and Curtiss saw how frequently and effectively she used her nonverbal skills.[313] 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.[4][313] Other people who worked with Genie during this time reported witnessing similar interactions between Genie and other people, and never determined exactly what she had done to elicit such strong reactions.[320]

Although the scientists tried to get Genie to talk as much as possible, they also wanted 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.[4][321][322] Even while learning sign language Genie continued to use and create her own gestures, although she changed the way she created them; she had previously used gestures to indicate specific phonemes or homonyms, and she continued to use these, but began inventing new ones based on semantic meaning.[323] The scientists did not track her progress with sign language to the same degree as her verbal language, and Curtiss did not observe Genie's sign language sessions, but did record a few aspects of it.[171][324]

Loss of funding and research interest

Despite Genie's developmental progress, after three years the NIMH grew increasingly troubled with the lack of scientific data being generated and the disorganized state of project records. Outside of Curtiss and Fromkin's work and their linguistics data, David Rigler did not define parameters for the scope of the research team and much of their testing and the information they collected was of very limited value.[4][325] Even for those which had some utility, the enormous volume of non-linguistics data proved to be a hindrance as there was far more than could have realistically been used. Eventually, it became impossible for researchers to determine the importance of much of this information.[325] Researchers were also storing their documentation in suboptimal condition, filed with no discernible categorization system.[4][325]

On several occasions during the course of the grant, the NIMH voiced their concerns about the case study to Rigler.[4][325] In 1973 he 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.[326] While acknowledging that their research methods were less than ideal for producing typically scientific results, he said that he and the rest of the scientists studying Genie were doing the best they could.[4][326]

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.[327] When the NIMH's grants committee considered Rigler's proposal, they acknowledged the research was considerably and demonstrably beneficial to Genie and would not cause her active harm. Nonetheless, they felt he had not adequately addressed their concerns about the direction and organization of the project, concluding that there had been minimal overall progress and, "the research goals projected probably will not be realized".[328] In a unanimous decision the committee denied the extension request, cutting off funding for the study.[4][329]

Early adulthood

Despite the NIMH grant ending, Curtiss continued to both test and go on outings with Genie.[8][171][328] In 1975, the Riglers—who had received a portion of the grant money while caring for Genie and indicated in the extension request that they would require continued compensation to continue doing so—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.[65][330] Although John Miner remained Genie's legal guardian, in the early summer of 1975 he and the Riglers agreed to let Genie move back in with her mother at her childhood home.[4][330][331]

To prepare both Genie and her mother for living together full-time, during the last six months of her stay with the Riglers Genie spent every weekend at her mother's house. When she moved the Riglers offered to continue assisting her 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. 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.[65][332]

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, which her mother found especially difficult to handle, and she often did not respond to statements or commands from her mother. Despite Riglers' offers for continued assistance, the task of caring for Genie by herself 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.[333][334] 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.[65][335][334]

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, however, 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. From the outset, Curtiss was concerned that Genie would have a difficult time adjusting to living without these.[336] 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 again began experiencing both incontinence and constipation, and quickly returned to her coping mechanism of silence.[4][337]

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. By this time she had already shown significant signs of regression, and this rapidly accelerated its pace by making her extremely frightened of opening her mouth for fear of vomiting and facing more punishment.[4][334][338] 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.[338] 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.[4][338] Her mother, whom she desperately missed, was almost never permitted to visit, causing Genie to become extremely withdrawn.[335] At one point while living there, she refused to talk for five months.[O][171][335]

"I want live back Marilyn house."

—Genie speaking to Susan Curtiss, November 1975

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.[339] Curtiss was the only person who had regular contact with Genie, continuing 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.[20][340] On several occasions, she told Curtiss she wanted to see her mother and to return to the Riglers.[338] 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.[20][338] She also told the Riglers what was happening but, according to her, while they did not actively undermine her efforts they took no immediate action.[338]

Eventually Curtiss got social services involved, at which point it took repeated attempts over several months to contact John Miner. Upon getting his attention Curtiss 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.[341] 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.[4][342] At around the same time, Curtiss and Fromkin obtained year-long grants from the National Science Foundation to continue their work with Genie.[8][171][328]

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.[171] During this time Genie's physical and mental condition 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 change her living arrangements, as she did not understand the reasons she was moving and believed that it was her fault for not being a good enough person. According to Curtiss, the frequency of these moves further traumatized Genie and caused continued regression.[171][343]


After mid-1975 several of the doctors and psychologists who had worked with Genie and her mother, including David Rigler, had sought payment from Genie's mother for their services. Although there had never been any formal agreement about rates, John Miner had convinced Rigler to request several thousand dollars from the portion of Genie's father's estate given to his wife. There was not enough money to cover these costs, so Miner persuaded Rigler to ask for the remainder of it, which totaled approximately 4500 dollars. Although the court sided with them, Rigler said that this likely impacted the subsequent actions of Genie's mother towards himself and the other members of the research team. When asked about their court actions in the early 1990s both Rigler and Miner had unclear recollections, and Miner claimed to have lost the relevant documents.[344]

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.[6] 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.[6][253]

Genie's mother reportedly thought of Genie and Curtiss as friends, but when she saw a copy of Curtiss' dissertation after its publication she was reportedly very offended at the title and some of the contents. Privately she disputed some specific details of Curtiss' account of the family's treatment during Genie's childhood, but 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.[345] Genie's mother then decided to sue Children's Hospital, her therapists, their supervisors, and several of the researchers over both Curtiss' dissertation and allegations of excessive and outrageous testing. The suit accused the researchers of giving testing priority over Genie's welfare, invading 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.[4][346]

The lawyers who worked with Genie's mother said that although the scientists' work with Genie almost certainly started out of goodwill, they thought the publicity surrounding the case caused the scientists to lose sight of their stated goal of rehabilitating her.[4][347] They agreed that the scientists' research methods had serious problems which they never corrected. In particular, 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.[4] They also agreed with Genie's mother that the scientists conducted far more testing than was necessary, and based on the case notes they alleged that the scientists sometimes tested Genie between 60 and 70 hours per week. Furthermore, the lawyers for Genie's mother concluded that the scientists administered many of their tests so often that they only indicated Genie's familiarity with them, negating any scientific value they might have had.[4][347]

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.[4][348] Curtiss, James Kent, Howard Hansen, and David Rigler were among the doctors and researchers specifically named in the lawsuit. David Rigler initially thought the focus of the suit would be Shurley's sleep-studies, as these were the most invasive tests conducted on Genie, but quickly found out Shurley supported Genie's mother and had offered to testify against several of the other scientists.[349]

The scientists being sued thought the suit 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.[350] He later wrote that Ruch had hired and paid for the lawyers representing Genie's mother.[65] According to him, this was when the scientists first realized the extent to which Ruch affected Genie's mother's perception of them. The lawyers confirmed the extent of Ruch's involvement, and one of them later said that throughout the course of the lawsuit Ruch "was a sort of Svengali for [Genie's mother]."[351]

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.[4][349][352] Rigler also wrote that although their tests had scientific value, they were also intended to give the scientists 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.[4][65][353] In publications on Genie, linguists had discussed several measures they took to test Genie in such a way that she would not be able to game the tests.[6][27]

All of the scientists were adamant that they never coerced Genie, and said Genie's mother and her lawyers grossly exaggerated the amount of time they tested Genie.[4][65][354] 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."[348] Rigler also wrote that forcing Genie to participate in tests would have given them useless results, which would in turn have hampered both their research and their efforts to give her proper treatment.[65]

In addition, the scientists maintained that they did everything possible to ensure the privacy of Genie and her family. David Rigler repeatedly maintained that she had never made any indications that she did not want to be filmed, and that they would have immediately stopped filming Genie if she had.[65][349] Both Curtiss and Fromkin categorically denied any breach of confidentiality, asserting that the details on Genie's family were already publicly available and had previously been referenced without incident. Curtiss pointed out that in their publications, researchers had gone to considerable lengths to keep their identities concealed.[6][355] 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.[351]

At the outset, the lawyers for Genie's mother were confident that they would be able to win a substantial judgment against Children's Hospital and the research team. As the lawsuit went forward, however, they 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.[347] According to Russ Rymer, the suit was settled in 1984.[3][356] 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."[65]


Susan Curtiss said that in late December 1977 she had been asked if she could be Genie's legal guardian.[20] According to her, after a meeting with Genie a week later in early January 1978, Genie's mother suddenly prevented Curtiss from seeing Genie. Although Curtiss maintained contact with John Miner for some time afterward, Genie's mother never contacted Curtiss again. Curtiss said that she never got to explain to Genie why she could no longer meet with her.[20][357]

In early 1978, authorities discovered that Miner had failed to update his status as Genie's legal guardian as a child to Genie's legal guardian as an adult incapable of caring for herself. Based on this, they officially turned guardianship of Genie over to her mother on March 30, 1978. Even after this transfer Miner still controlled Genie's portion of her father's estate, and it took approximately a year and a half for Genie's mother to persuade the court to give her control over it. Upon receiving it the amount of money that Rigler and Miner had requested had been withdrawn, but Rigler and Miner said that Rigler ultimately never received it and in the early 1990s separately claimed they could not account for it.[358]

After becoming Genie's legal guardian, Genie's mother forbade all of the other scientists except for Jay Shurley from seeing her or Genie.[171] After the conclusion of the legal proceedings, David Rigler wrote several letters to Genie's mother seeking permission for he and his wife to visit her and Genie. Genie's mother refused to allow him or other members of the research team to visit, and after initially giving no response to Rigler responded with a request to cease all contact.[3][357] In an effort to prevent further contact with the scientists, Genie's mother moved in 1987 without leaving a forwarding address, although she stayed in the Los Angeles area.[359]

Despite losing contact with Genie, Curtiss and the other linguists who had worked on Genie's case continued to analyze data from her case and release data from their tests. In early 1978, they published one additional paper on Genie's brain lateralization.[8][171] Genie's published utterances from after mid-1975 first appeared in papers Curtiss wrote and co-wrote in 1979.[171] After this, despite the lack of new data Curtiss published several papers discussing Genie's utterances and the results of her brain exams.[143][171] Outside analyses of these later papers concluded that all of Curtiss' assessments of Genie's language from after her dissertation were markedly more negative than those from before 1977.[171][360]

Starting in early 1978, Genie's mother began taking Genie with her on her visits to Ruch's house.[361] Ruch continued to spread 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.[65][362] 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][362]

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".[Q][363] With encouragement from at least one other 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.[364] 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.[4][365]

From January 1978 until 1993, Genie moved through a series of at least four additional foster homes and institutions. In some of these locations she was further physically abused and harassed to extreme degrees, and her development continued to regress.[4][334][205] Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Genie's brother sporadically communicated with their mother before losing all contact. He visited Genie on one occasion in 1982, which was the first time he had seen her since leaving the Los Angeles area; he did not discuss any details of his visit. In 1989, his mother also sent him a single photograph of herself and Genie.[13][14] Shurley saw Genie at least twice during this time, at her 27th birthday party in 1984 and again 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.[R][205] He also visited with Genie's mother on several occasions and said that she was almost completely destitute, but had refused at least one offer from a major television network to give them an account of her and Genie's life.[366]

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.[367] 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. His book on Genie, published early the following year, contained a similar summary of her living arrangements.[368][369][370] In the afterword of the 1994 edition of his book, written in November 1993, 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 more supportive foster home which permitted Genie to visit her on a far more regular basis. According to her mother—who had since gone blind again, due to glaucoma—Genie was happy and, although hard to understand, was significantly more verbal.[371]

Upon its initial publication Russ Rymer's book received several prominent reviews, including an overall positive review from scientific reporter Natalie Angier. In a review published in late April of that year she repeated what Rymer had originally said about Genie's living arrangements, and further alleged Genie was being inadequately cared for and isolated.[372][373] Angier's review prompted David Rigler to make his first public statement on Genie's case. In letter to the New York Times published in mid-June of that year David Rigler wrote that he and Marilyn had recently reestablished contact with Genie's mother and had seen Genie for the first time in 15 years, and stated that, "my wife and I have resumed our (now infrequent) visits with Genie and her mother."[65] According to him Genie was doing well living in a small, private facility and that her mother regularly visited.[65][372] Rymer wrote in the afterword to his book that he had a role in reopening communication between the Riglers and Genie's mother, which Rigler did not confirm or deny. 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.[65][374]


Genie is a ward of the state of California, and is living in an undisclosed location in the Los Angeles area.[3][20] In May 2008, ABC News reported that someone who spoke under condition of anonymity had hired a private investigator who located Genie in 2000. 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.[3]

In 2003, Genie's mother died of unspecified natural causes at the age of 87.[13] Jay Shurley died at the age of 86 in 2004, and David Rigler died days before turning 93 in early April 2014.[375][376] 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 and comparing them to her earlier results.[20] As of May 2008, despite badly missing Genie and repeatedly attempting to find her, Curtiss and James Kent said they still had not seen her since January 1978.[3]

For their news stories on Genie ABC reporters spoke with Genie's brother, who was 56 at the time and had become a house painter in a small town in Ohio, which was the first time he publicly discussed his or Genie's life. Because he was still struggling to cope with the trauma of his and Genie's upbringing he said that he tried to keep it out of his memory as much as possible, though he kept a small collection of family photographs from his childhood and a few letters and pictures from his mother which he shared with reporters, and described himself as, "a living dead man". He said that he had not seen Genie since visiting her in 1982, and that he wished he had been more involved in his sister's 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.[3][13][14]

In addition to speaking about his parents and his and Genie's childhood, Genie's brother talked about his adult life. He said he spent several years drifting around the United States working various jobs, was arrested for several misdemeanors, and combated alcohol abuse for much of his adult life. 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. According to him he rarely spoke with them even though they lived near him, and he said his daughter had also struggled with substance abuse. In an interview for the same story, the police officer who arrested Genie's parents said that he had come to regret their inaction on his behalf.[13][14]


Genie's is one of the best-known cases of language acquisition in a child with delayed development.[2][10][11] 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.[377][378] 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.[S][27][379][143] Since Genie never fully acquired grammar, Curtiss submitted that Genie provided evidence for a weaker variation of the critical period hypothesis.[253][380] Curtiss's arguments have become widely accepted in the field of linguistics, and were the impetus for several additional studies.[381][378][382] In addition, the disparity between Curtiss' pre and post-1977 analyses of Genie's language has sparked debate among other linguists regarding how much grammar Genie acquired and learned and whether or not she had truly reached the limit of what grammar she could acquire. Several To date, no one directly involved in Genie's case has responded to this controversy.[171][383][384]

The study of Genie's brain aided scientists in refining 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 strongly suggested there was a separation of cognition and language acquisition, a new concept at the time.[6][143][378] Genie's nonverbal skills were exceptionally good, which demonstrated that even nonverbal communication was fundamentally different from language.[1][378] The unevenness of her ability to learn 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.[8][156][267] Genie's difficulty with certain tasks which had been described as predominantly controlled in the right hemisphere also gave neuroscientists more insight into the processes controlling these functions.[267][8][253] Because Genie's language acquisition occurred in her right hemisphere, its course also aided linguists in refining existing hypotheses on the capacity for right-hemisphere language acquisition in people after the critical period.[143][265][378]

Comparisons to earlier cases

In several of their publications, the scientists acknowledged the influence that Jean Marc Gaspard Itard's work with Victor of Aveyron had on the research they conducted on Genie.[27][385] Later accounts of Genie's case noted that many of the tests that linguists used, such as the word cards Curtiss and Fromkin designed, had their origins in Itard's work with Victor of Aveyron.[280][281][4][386] The Nova documentary on Genie also states that the research team decided to teach Genie sign language because they knew that historians and scientists who had studied Victor thought one of the major flaws with Itard's work was his insistence that Victor learn one method of communication—in his case writing—to the exclusion of others.[4][321][322] In addition to the effect Victor's case had on linguists, at least one psychologist who evaluated Genie in May 1971 suggested that doctors encourage her to form a particularly close relationship with one person. In an analysis of both Genie and Victor author Justin Leiber wrote that although this was a very common position in psychology at the time, he thought it was likely that this idea had some basis in Victor's relationship with Itard's housekeeper.[11][131]

Several people analyzing Genie's case have directly compared the case studies of Victor and Genie as well.[11][387][388] Leiber wrote that Victor likely presented a more difficult case to extrapolate information from because, unlike Victor, Genie had demonstrated significant cognitive abilities and mental development in several areas despite her lack of language.[11] Russ Rymer and historian Harlan Lane noted that Victor and Genie had many of the same anti-social behaviors, and the scientists in both cases had struggled to help control them.[4][389] 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.[4][11][388] Genie's development has also influenced perceptions of Victor and scientists' unsuccessful attempts to teach him language and integrate him into society.[11][390][387]

In addition to comparisons with Victor of Aveyron, many of the papers the scientists wrote about Genie refer to earlier language deprivation experiments which Psamtik I, King James IV of Scotland, and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II purportedly carried or attempted to carry out.[27][103] Russ Rymer's book on Genie contains a detailed account of Psamtik I's experiment and explains its influence on studies of later language-deprived children.[160] Scientists also contrasted Genie with a case in the 1950s of a girl, known by the name Isabella, who had successfully acquired language after having been isolated from all speech until the age of 6.[27][384] Some of the scientists' papers and later accounts of Genie's case mentioned Kaspar Hauser and Amala and Kamala, although there is now significant doubt about the authenticity of both of these cases.[103][391]

Scientific value

The dispute over whether or not Genie was born mentally retarded remained unresolved among the members of the research team. Others analyzing Genie's case, including linguist Steven Pinker, concurred with Curtiss and Fromkin's assessment and discounted congenital retardation as a possibility.[4][392] There has also been a dispute over the extent to which Genie's emotional state impacted her mental processes, especially her language.[393][392][394] The scientists wrote that Genie's childhood had left her with immense emotional difficulties which had clearly impacted her social and emotional development, and affected her ability to interact with other people and to conduct herself in a socially appropriate manner.[395][396] When considering its effect on her language, Curtiss and Fromkin repeatedly maintained that her emotional profile could not have significantly impeded her language acquisition; they pointed out that she had clearly progressed in other aspects of her psychological development, and throughout most of the time they were testing her she seemed to be happy with life in general. Curtiss and Fromkin also noted that Genie had demonstrated no difficulty with expanding her vocabulary, and thought it was extremely implausible that her emotional difficulties could selectively impair only the grammatical component of language acquisition.[8][397][393]

Some linguists, such as Steven Pinker and Derek Bickerton, accepted Curtiss and Fromkin's assessment. Pinker's 1994 book The Language Instinct, which argues in support of Chomsky's hypothesis, cited Genie's case as evidence that the ability to acquire language is innate to humans.[393][392] Some, including language psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow and linguist Stephen Laurence, used Genie's case to argue in favor of innate language acquisition but expressed doubts over whether her emotional difficulties had not affected her linguistic development due to the severity of the abuse she endured.[398][399] Others, including Geoffrey Sampson, have argued that this was extremely implausible and therefore negated much of the value other linguists had ascribed to her case.[394] In 1997 Sampson broadly attacked Chomsky's hypothesis and directly disputed Pinker's analysis of Genie in his book, Educating Eve: The 'Language Instinct' Debate. He specifically criticized Chomsky's supporters in general, and especially Derek Bickerton, for inadequately considering the potential impact of Genie's emotional profile.[394] 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. To this point, neither Pinker nor Curtiss has responded to either of Sampson's books.[394][400]

Ethical dispute

During the initial grant meetings in May 1971, several researchers said that there was strong disagreement about how to work with Genie and that this caused the atmosphere to grow increasingly tense and bitter. Although no one objected to studying her linguistic development, they believed that the methods prevailing in their discussions could cause love and attention to be contingent on her ability to learn language.[401][53] In a 1997 review of Genie's case, Justin Leiber also noted that the scientists decided to monitor Genie's ability to learn language through passive exposure. In doing so they had given her relatively little structure, and he speculated that this could have made it more difficult for her to succeed.[11]

David Elkind said that he felt the research team was chiefly focused on how to study Genie, and that the other scientists were pursuing their research at the expense of her well-being. He said that he expressed this on several occasions, and did not feel that other researchers adequately addressed his concerns.[402] Similarly, Jay Shurley started his work with Genie highly optimistic about the potential for research, believing that the unique circumstances of Genie's childhood would make for an excellent case study on many fronts.[4][403] Like Elkind, 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.[53][404]

After May 1971, despite having known and worked with both the Riglers for several years Elkind declined further involvement with studying Genie. 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 the care of an individual.[401] While Shurley 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 in their research. 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.[405][406]

Kent, Howard Hansen, the Riglers, and Curtiss all unequivocally stated that they always viewed Genie as a person, and never considered her welfare to be anything but 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.[65][407][408] They all said their love and attention for Genie was entirely unconditional. 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.[4][65][409] They and Curtiss separately said that they always rewarded Genie for her participation in testing, regardless of her performance.[65][409] While Rigler acknowledged requesting money from Genie's mother for his services, and that he felt entitled to some compensation for his work, he emphasized that financial gain had never been his motivation for working with Genie and that it was only at John Miner's urging that he did so.[410]

Shurley had offered several suggestions about how to work with Genie during the early part of the research on her, and 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.[62][108] He and 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 with coming to a decision was simply due to the exceptional nature of the case.[4][65] Both also said that everybody involved in the case always saw successfully rehabilitating Genie as their primary objective, and that no one had lost sight of this at any point during the study.[4][65][411]

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. In interviews years later, they independently denied that divisions among the scientists caused the disintegration of the case study. David Rigler agreed the scientists had taken many unusual actions during the study, but said this was because the case had no good precedent.[65][412] The topic has since become a significant debate within the larger scientific community, and has been discussed in several books and academic papers.[1][11][413]

The lack of distinction between Genie's caretakers and therapists has also come under scrutiny. Russ 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 to appoint John Miner as legal counsel for Genie's mother as the point at which this began, as Hansen was both Miner's acquaintance and directly involved in providing therapy for Genie and subsequently her mother.[414] In Rymer's analysis, although this had not been problematic in and of itself, it ultimately led to both the scientists heading the research team and all of the primary therapists for Genie's mother gradually becoming involved in dual relationships with Genie and her mother. 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.[415]

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 Butler/Ruch had been the person who showed Genie the most love and expressed the view that, despite how difficult she had been to work with, 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.[416][53] 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.[417] He and others, including Harlan Lane, argued that this accelerated the breakdown of roles for those involved in Genie's life.[4][415][418] In the 1994 Nova documentary on Genie Lane suggested that the scientists found it difficult for them to attain the ideal balance between research and rehabilitation, and that the instability regarding her living arrangements affected her emotional state led to her plateauing and subsequently regressing in her behavior and language.[11][419][420] 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.[3][53]

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.[4][65][415] 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.[4][65] 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.[3][11][357]

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 and defended them from accusations that a desire for money influenced their handling of Genie. 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. Although Rymer was highly critical of the scientists, he also argued that the number of linguists and psychologists who cited Genie's case since its conclusion demonstrated that Curtiss' work was useful and had proven highly valuable to scientists in multiple fields.[421] Justin Lieber 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.[11]


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. Reporters also interviewed Genie's brother for both stories, and published some photographs and correspondence he shared with them.[3][13][14]


Several books about feral and/or abused children contain chapters on Genie, and many books on linguistics and psychology also discuss Genie's case at length.[422][413][423] Author Russ Rymer wrote a two-part magazine article in The New Yorker entitled Genie: A Silent Childhood which ran in mid-April 1992.[368][369] The following year he published a book—his first—called Genie: A Scientific Tragedy.[T][10] The works cover Genie's life up until the time of publication, analyze the work of the doctors and scientists who worked with her, and discuss the influence Genie's case study had on the fields of linguistics and psychology. In addition, the book summarizes the life of Victor of Aveyron and scientists' work with him, particularly that of Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, and compares Victor and Genie's lives and the impact they had on their respective societies. Rymer especially discussed the movie The Wild Child, and explored its effect on the public's view of Genie and of feral children in general. He chiefly documented the case from the perspectives of the doctors and scientists who worked with Genie, but shortly before the publication of the magazine articles—approximately three years into his research—was able to speak to Genie's mother and obtained several documents and pieces of correspondence from her.[U][10][368][369]

In November 1993, Rymer published an afterword to his book which he included in the 1994 edition. In it he stated his initial intention was 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.[368][369][425] 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 and all gave vastly different accounts from each other. Rymer also wrote that, due to his book's attempts to reconcile the scientists' frequently disparate accounts, prior to its publication he had anticipated at least some of them would have a strong negative reaction to it.[425] In a 2008 interview he said that he still felt a strong impact from covering the case, and that the divisiveness he encountered made the book extremely difficult to write.[3]

Rymer's magazine articles met with some media attention.[372][426] Upon the book's publication it received critical acclaim and garnered several positive reviews, including Natalie Angier's. As a result of her review several people involved in Genie's case, including James Kent and Susan Curtiss, harshly criticized both the review and Rymer's book.[3][372][373] In addition to giving his own account of Genie's case, David Rigler's response to Angier pointed to several parts of her review which he said contained substantial omissions and factual inaccuracies regarding both the book and the entire case.[V][65][372]

Film and television

In 1994, Nova made a multiple Emmy Award-winning documentary based on Rymer's book titled Secret of the Wild Child.[W][4][427] 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.[4] The archived film Nova used from the UCLA library had significantly deteriorated, and required restoration for use in the documentary.[171] In 2002, an episode of the television series Body Shock on feral children entitled Wild Child included a segment on Genie.[X][20] It discussed Genie's life until the time that Curtiss lost contact with her.[20]

The award-winning independent film Mockingbird Don't Sing, released in 2001, is based on Genie's case.[428][429] Written by Daryl Haney and directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, the film is primarily from the perspective of Susan Curtiss, the only person who worked with Genie to be involved in its making.[3][428][430] Bromley Davenport said he was very sentimental about the movie and spent two years researching Genie's case for it, in the process recording around 40 hours of interviews with Curtiss.[3] For legal reasons, all of the names in the film were changed.[428][430]

See also


  1. ^ Her mother later claimed they had put her in the garage to keep her away from noise while they redid their kitchen floor, and it was during this time that her daughter caught what she termed a "quick pneumonia", but the people who spoke with her believed this was an attempt to obfuscate her husband's true reasoning for his actions.[15]
  2. ^ Her mother claimed that they would sometimes dress Genie while on the child's toilet, that Genie could move her arms while in the sleeping bag, and that they never used the cover for the crib.
  3. ^ In her dissertation on Genie Susan Curtiss alluded to knowledge of additional details regarding Genie's childhood, which she did not discuss.[55]
  4. ^ In 1977 Genie's mother told lawyers who worked with her that 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 and had only attempted to kill her on a single occasion.[40]
  5. ^ 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 that her mother, who was still almost blind, 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.[92][91]
  6. ^ Psychologist and autism specialist Mitzi Waltz noted in 2013 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, when asked about this 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 a nurturing environment.[2]
  7. ^ Lenneberg stated that he did not have any desire to study Genie, saying no definite conclusions could be drawn because the level of trauma associated with Genie's childhood would be impossible to discern. He died in 1975, before Susan Curtiss completed her dissertation on Genie.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Among Ruch's accusations was that Rigler intentionally added more people to the initial grant request than were ever involved in the case. When Rigler reviewed his request he reportedly found one psychologist whose name he did not remember, but said this had merely been an unintentional oversight.
  10. ^ Curtiss thought Genie's score had the potential to have been even higher because all of her incorrect answers were pictures of 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.
  11. ^ Curtiss wrote that Genie's spatial awareness tests gave indications of left-hemisphere dominance for these functions, but found more activity in her right hemisphere for this as well.
  12. ^ By contrast, Curtiss remembered one instance when in an informal setting she and Fromkin tested Genie's memory for design by forming a shape with colored sticks and having Genie replicate it from memory. They were surprised when Genie not only reconstructed the design but exactly copied the colors as well, even though they had only asked Genie to recreate the shape.[272]
  13. ^ Prior to this time, even though she could not read she could remember the definition of a word card for the duration of a test session. She could not carry this memory over to future tests, however, and Curtiss had to review the cards with Genie at the start of every session.
  14. ^ However, early on she did not demonstrate these capacities in all of her drawings. For instance, in November 1971, when asked to draw a cat and a dog eating she drew both figures in profile; they each contained a detailed head and body, as well as depicting both with one eye, four legs, and a side-on view of a tongue and nose. Conversely, when asked a month later to draw a person she produced a straight-on view of a face with two ambiguous lines below it.
  15. ^ In an interview Curtiss alluded to knowledge of additional abuse that occurred in this foster home, which she did not discuss.
  16. ^ Ruch's husband died of bone cancer in 1982.
  17. ^ Ruch's husband died of bone cancer in 1982.
  18. ^ Russ Rymer wrote that when Shurley showed him two photographs from these visits it took him several seconds to realize the pictures were of Genie, and that he 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."
  19. ^ Curtiss noted that the critical period for language did not, as Lenneberg suggested in 1967, have any connection to the initial lateralization of brain functions. In 1967 scientists believed this process finalized at approximately the onset of puberty, but research from Stephen Krashen and Richard Harshman in the early 1970s found that it occurs around the age of five.
  20. ^ Also published as Genie: An Abused Child's Flight From Silence and Genie: Escape From A Silent Childhood.
  21. ^ Rymer wrote that when he first contacted Genie's mother she did not want to speak to him, and that this had been a major setback for his work. When he tried contacting her again around a year and a half later he had initially intended to tell her that the magazine articles were close to publication, but was surprised when she asked him to visit. Upon commencing his work on the case Rymer said he had initially wanted to see Genie in person, and that when he met Genie's mother he had had considered asking to go with her on a visit to Genie, but decided against doing so. He felt this would have intruded too much into her life, and while he acknowledged that meeting her would have been personally satisfying was concerned that readers would want to know the details of their meeting; he said this would have kept him from writing an entirely third-person account of the case, which he thought would have negatively impacted his book.[424]
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Broadcast as Genie: A Deprived Child in the United Kingdom.
  24. ^ Broadcast as Wild Child: The Story of Feral Children in the United States.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Reynolds & Fletcher-Janzen 2004, p. 428.
  2. ^ a b c Waltz, Mitzi (2013). "Bedlam, Behaviouralism, and Beyond". Autism: A Social and Medical History. Basingstoke, Hampshire, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-230-52750-8. OCLC 821693777. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x James, Susan Donaldson (May 7, 2008). "Wild Child 'Genie': A Tortured Life". ABC News. Archived from the original on April 23, 2013. Retrieved March 4, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv bw bx by bz ca cb cc cd ce cf cg ch "Secret of the Wild Child". NOVA. Season 22. Episode 2. PBS. October 18, 1994. OCLC 57894649. PBS (United States), BBC (United Kingdom). Archived from the original on November 9, 2012. Retrieved February 12, 2009. 
  5. ^ Curtiss 1977, pp. 1–6.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Curtiss 1977.
  7. ^ a b Curtiss et al. 1975.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Curtiss, Susan; Fromkin, Victoria A.; Krashen, Stephen D. (1978). "Language development in the mature (minor) right hemisphere". Journal of Applied Linguistics. 39–40 (1): 23–27. Archived from the original on May 29, 2013. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  9. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 151–155.
  10. ^ a b c d Rymer 1993.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Leiber, Justin (June–September 1977). "Nature's Experiments, Society's Closures". Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 27 (2–3): 325–343. doi:10.1111/1468-5914.00041. ISSN 0021-8308. OCLC 5152679776. Archived from the original on March 23, 2010. Retrieved September 1, 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c Rymer 1993, pp. 11–14.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x James, Susan Donaldson (May 19, 2008). "Raised by a Tyrant, Suffering a Sibling's Abuse". ABC News. Archived from the original on September 14, 2011. Retrieved February 12, 2009. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m James, Susan Donaldson (May 19, 2008). "Family's Past". ABC News. Archived from the original on October 13, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c Rymer 1993, p. 13.
  16. ^ a b Rymer 1993, pp. 11–16.
  17. ^ Newton 2002, p. 305.
  18. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 11–15.
  19. ^ Curtiss 1977, pp. 2–4.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Weston, Jonah (director/producer) (July 2002 (U. K.), December 15, 2003 (US)). "Wild Child". Body Shock. Season 1. Episode 2. OCLC 437863794. Channel 4. 
  21. ^ Curtiss 1977, pp. 3–7.
  22. ^ a b c Curtiss 1977, p. 3.
  23. ^ a b Rymer 1993, pp. 13–14.
  24. ^ a b Curtiss 1977, pp. 3–4.
  25. ^ Rymer 1993, p. 14.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g Curtiss 1977, p. 5.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw Curtiss, Susan; Fromkin, Victoria A.; Krashen, Stephen D.; Rigler, David; Rigler, Marilyn (1974). "The development of language in Genie: a case of language acquisition beyond the 'critical period'". Brain and Language (Los Angeles, CA) 1 (1): 81–107. doi:10.1016/0093-934X(74)90027-3. ISSN 0093-934X. OCLC 4652742368. Archived from the original on October 22, 2013. Retrieved June 6, 2013. 
  28. ^ a b c d e Curtiss 1977, pp. 4–5.
  29. ^ a b c d e f Curtiss 1977, p. 4.
  30. ^ Curtiss 1977, pp. 4–5, 11.
  31. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 14–16.
  32. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 14–17.
  33. ^ Newton 2002, p. 209.
  34. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 12–16.
  35. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 15–16.
  36. ^ a b c d e Newton 2002, p. 211.
  37. ^ a b Rymer 1993, pp. 16–17.
  38. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 14–15, 208.
  39. ^ Rymer 1993, p. 208.
  40. ^ a b c d Rymer 1993, pp. 185–186.
  41. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Shurley, Jay T.; Natani, Kirmach (September 1973). "Sleep EEG Patterns in a Fourteen-Year-Old Girl with Severe Developmental Retardation" (Conference presentation). Academic Press. Archived from the original on October 15, 2010. Retrieved June 20, 2013. 
  42. ^ Newton 2002, pp. 211–213.
  43. ^ a b c d e f g Curtiss 1977, pp. 5–6.
  44. ^ a b Newton 2002, pp. 209–210.
  45. ^ Rymer 1993, p. 130.
  46. ^ Curtiss 1977, pp. 5–6, 25.
  47. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 96–97, 130.
  48. ^ a b c Curtiss 1977, p. 6.
  49. ^ a b c d e f g Curtiss 1977, p. 25.
  50. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 95–98, 101–103.
  51. ^ a b c d e f Newton 2002, p. 215.
  52. ^ a b c d Curtiss 1977, pp. 6–7.
  53. ^ a b c d e f g h Newton 2002, p. 225.
  54. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 91, 185–186, 209–210.
  55. ^ Curtiss 1977, pp. 6–8.
  56. ^ a b c d e f g h Curtiss 1977, p. 7.
  57. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 11–12.
  58. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 9, 20.
  59. ^ Rymer 1993, p. 15.
  60. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 8–10.
  61. ^ Newton 2002, pp. 212–215.
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  63. ^ a b c d Rymer 1993, pp. 39–41.
  64. ^ Rymer 1993, p. 10.
  65. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am Rigler, David (June 13, 1993). "Rigler, Letter to the Editor". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 7, 2012. Retrieved December 21, 2009. 
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  70. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 7–9, 21.
  71. ^ Rymer 1993, pp. 7–9, 21, 38.
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  73. ^ Rymer 1993, p. 21.
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Sources and further reading

External links