Genie (feral child)
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, United States
|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 a victim of severe abuse, neglect and social isolation. Her circumstances are prominently recorded in the annals of abnormal child psychology. When Genie was a baby her father decided that she was severely mentally retarded, causing him to dislike her and withhold care and attention. At approximately the time she reached the age of 20 months Genie's father decided to keep her as socially isolated as possible, so from that time until she reached 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, forbade anyone from interacting with her, provided her with almost no stimulation of any kind, and left her severely malnourished. 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.
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 and psychological 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.
When authorities first found Genie they initially arranged for her admission to Children's Hospital Los Angeles, who assembled a team of doctors and psychologists to manage her care, 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. 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 very rapidly regressed.
In early January 1978 Genie's mother suddenly decided to forbid all of the scientists except for one from having any contact with Genie, and all testing and scientific observations of her immediately ceased. Most of the scientists and doctors 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." 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, a nineteenth-century French child who similarly became a classic case of late language acquisition and delayed psychological development.
- 1 Early history
- 2 Hospital stay
- 3 First foster home
- 4 Second foster home
- 5 Loss of funding and research interest
- 6 Early adulthood
- 7 Post-lawsuit
- 8 Current
- 9 Impact
- 10 Media
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 Citations
- 14 Sources and further reading
- 15 External links
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. 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. 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, and 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.
When Genie's father reached adulthood, he changed his name to one which was more 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. Despite the fact that she found him extremely strict and difficult to be around, and unrelentingly argued with him about her unsuccessful efforts to convince him to adopt a less rigid lifestyle, he remained almost singularly fixated on his mother. For the rest of her life he treated all other relationships, including those with his wife and subsequently his children, as ancillary at best.
From the start, the family and friends of Genie's mother had strongly opposed their marriage because her husband was around twenty years older than she. In the years immediately after getting married they seemed to be happy and living relatively well to most who knew them, but others thought he was very distant and isolated. 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.
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, but after about five years his wife became pregnant. Genie's father continued to beat her mother throughout her pregnancy, and she was in the hospital recovering from an attempt to beat and strangle her to death when she went into labor, but she 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] 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 was from complications of Rh incompatibility or from choking on his own mucus.
Another son was born three years later, and despite also having Rh incompatibility doctors described him as healthy. His father forced his wife to keep their son quiet as much as possible, and as a result he was slow to develop and late to walk and to talk. When he was four, his paternal grandmother 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 she eventually returned him to his parents.
Genie was born about five years after her brother, around the time that her father began to isolate himself and his family from those around them. 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. 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. As a result, he made a concerted effort not to talk to or pay attention to her and strongly discouraged his wife and son from doing so.
There is relatively little information about Genie's early life, as Genie's parents did not consistently take her to the doctor, but medical records indicate that for the first several months of her life she underwent relatively normal development. Genie's mother later recalled that Genie was not a cuddly baby, did not babble much, and resisted solid food. 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. Doctors and psychologists who later spoke with Genie never definitively determined which of her statements was accurate.
At the age of 11 months Genie was still in overall good health but had fallen to the 11th percentile for weight, which the people who later studied her believed was a sign that she was starting to suffer some degree of malnutrition.[B] When Genie was 14 months old, she came down with a fever and pneumonitis 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. Her father's reaction, which one of the scientists who studied Genie said had no foundation in reality, was to take this opinion to mean that Genie was severely retarded, using it as justification for isolating and abusing her.
Six months later, when Genie was 20 months old, a pickup truck hit and killed her paternal grandmother in a hit-and-run traffic accident. Her death deeply affected Genie's father far beyond a normal level of grief, and because she had been walking with her grandson Genie's father viewed him as responsible, which further heightened his anger. When the truck's driver subsequently received only a probationary sentence for both manslaughter and drunk driving, he became nearly delusional with rage and decided to further increase the family's isolation. 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 and 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. He 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.
Upon moving into the house of Genie's dead grandmother, Genie's father increasingly confined Genie to the second bedroom upstairs while the rest of the family lived downstairs and slept in the living room.[C] He still thought that Genie was severely retarded and needed additional protection from society, and believed that entirely hiding her existence was the best way to provide this for her. During the daytime, for approximately 13 hours a day Genie's father tied her to a child's toilet in a makeshift harness designed to function like a straitjacket which, according to her brother, their father forced his wife to make. While in the harness, Genie wore only diapers and could only move her extremities. At night, when her father remembered to, he tied her into a sleeping bag and placed her in a crib with a metal-screen cover, her arms and legs immobilized. Researchers believed that at times her father left her tied to the child's toilet overnight.[D]
Researchers concluded that if Genie vocalized or made any other noise, her father beat her with a large plank he kept in her room. To keep her quiet he bared his teeth and bark and growled 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.[E] This instilled an intense fear of cats and dogs in Genie that persisted long after she was freed. As a result, Genie learned to make as little sound as possible and to otherwise give no outward expressions. 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.
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. 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.
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.[F] 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. On rare occasions her father allowed her to play with plastic food containers, old spools of thread, TV Guides with many of the illustrations cut out, and the raincoats.
Genie's 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, the person feeding her would rub the food into her face.[G] The times Genie's father was feeding Genie were normally the only times he allowed his wife to be with her, but she could not feed Genie herself. 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 continued for several months even after she was freed.
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 frequently left the outside lights on to help prevent anyone else from approaching the property; in case someone did come, he always kept his gun nearby. 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. Throughout this time, Genie's father kept detailed notes chronicling his mistreatment of his family and his efforts to conceal it.[H]
Genie's mother was almost completely blind by this time, and was essentially passive by nature to begin with. 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.[I] 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. As Genie's brother got older, their father forced him to carry out progressively more of his abuse of Genie in the same manner. 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. On multiple occasions, he tried to run away from the house.
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. 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. 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.
On account of her near-blindness, instead of the disabilities benefits office Genie's mother accidentally entered the general social services office next door. The social worker who greeted them instantly sensed something was not right when she first saw Genie 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. Genie's parents were arrested and Genie became a ward of the court, whereupon a court order was immediately issued for Genie to be taken to Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Her physical condition and near-total unsocialized state provided the immediate impetus for her admission, but authorities also noted her complete lack of speech or expressiveness.
Upon Genie's admission to Children's Hospital David Rigler, a therapist and USC psychology professor who was the chief psychologist at the hospital, and Howard Hansen, then the head of the psychiatry division and an early expert on child abuse, took direct control of Genie's care. The day after Genie's admission they assigned physician James Kent, another early advocate for child abuse awareness, to conduct the first examinations of her. He later stated these early examinations revealed by far the most severe case of child abuse he ever encountered, and came away extremely pessimistic about Genie's prognosis. Rigler said the hospital could not procure Genie's developmental history, and largely had to rely on the police investigation to piece together Genie's childhood.
Shortly after the arrest of Genie's parents, the arresting officer questioned them with his partner. He found that Genie's mother would not speak about her family—and particularly not her children—and Genie's father never seemed to acknowledge anything said to him. Genie's brother did cooperate with investigators, and in a series of police interviews gave detectives further information about his parents. 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. Even after the conclusion of the police investigation, there were a large number of questions about Genie's early life left unresolved; in mid-1993, Rigler wrote that, "There were and there remain deep concerns about the exact nature of her abuse."
News of Genie's rescue reached major media outlets on November 17, 1970, receiving a great deal of local and national media attention. Authorities only released one photograph of Genie and this picture, which both local and national media used, significantly fueled public interest in her. After the story reached the media large crowds went to try to see Genie's father, which he reportedly found extremely difficult to handle, and acting at least partially on advice from his attorney he 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. 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. 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."
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; he only returned to visit his mother and sister once, in 1982. 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. She told the court that beatings at the hands of her husband and her near-total blindness had left her unable to intervene on behalf of her children. Charges against her were subsequently dropped, and over the next several years she received counseling at Children's Hospital; Hansen was her therapist's direct supervisor.
Characteristics and personality
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. 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. The restraining harness her father used had caused a thick callus and heavy black bruising on her buttocks, which took several weeks to heal. As she never ate solid food as a child she was completely unable to chew and had very severe dysphagia, totally incapable of swallowing any solid or even soft food and barely able to swallow liquids. Because of this she would hold anything which she could not swallow in her mouth until her saliva broke it down, and if this took too long she would spit it out and mash it with her fingers. She was also completely incontinent, and gave no response whatsoever to extreme temperatures.
Despite tests conducted shortly after Genie's admission which determined she 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 her father kept her in. Her gross motor skills were extremely weak; she could not stand up straight nor fully straighten any of her limbs. 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. She had very little endurance, only able to engage in any physical activity for brief periods of time. Kent was somewhat surprised to find her fine motor skills were significantly better, noticing the day after being admitted to the hospital that she did not seem to have any difficulty with using only her fingers to flip through pages of a magazine, and determined they were at approximately a two-year-old level.
Genie's behavior was typically highly anti-social, and proved extremely difficult for others to control. Regardless of where she was she constantly salivated and spat, and continually sniffed and blew her nose on anything that happened to be nearby. She had no sense of personal property, frequently pointing to or taking something she wanted from someone else, and did not have any situational awareness whatsoever, acting on any of her impulses irrespective of the setting. To the surprise of the doctors working with her Genie appeared very interested in exploring environmental stimuli and did so with extreme intensity, although objects still seemed to intrigue her much more than people. 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. 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.
After moving into Children's Hospital Genie showed interest in many hospital staff members, often approaching complete strangers and walking with them. At first, she seemed more eager to interact with hospital staff than anyone else. However, she showed no signs of attachment to anybody in particular, giving no response to anyone coming or going. Kent said she did not seem to distinguish between people, and thought she was more interested in the room itself than the people in it with her. 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. At first Genie would not allow anyone to touch her, quickly shying away from any physical contact.[J]
Doctors found it extremely difficult to test or estimate Genie's mental age, but on two attempts they found Genie scored at the level of a 13-month-old. Even when she was first admitted, doctors saw she was clearly picking up some non-verbal information from other people and showed a small amount of responsiveness to it. Kent said that from the very beginning of her stay she made reasonably good eye contact with other people. 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. 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. 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.
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. These tantrums were usually the only times Genie was at all demonstrative in her behavior. Even then her face stayed completely expressionless, and she never cried or vocalized. Some accounts said she could not cry at all. To make noise, she would push chairs or other similar objects. Her outbursts initially occurred very often without any obvious trigger, and 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.
Genie clearly distinguished speaking from other environmental sounds but remained almost completely silent and was almost entirely unresponsive to speech, and hospital staff later determined that what responses she did give were to nonverbal signals that accompanied their speaking. Linguists later discerned that in January 1971 Genie only showed understanding of a few names and about 15–20 words, and her active vocabulary at the time consisted of just two short phrases, "stop it" and "no more". They 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. From the very first time Kent met with Genie he was convinced that she had memories of her past, but concluded that her lack of language prevented her from referencing them. After observing Genie for some time they concluded that she was not selectively mute, and tests 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 uncovering no clear mental disabilities in her existing medical records researchers determined that, due to the extreme isolation and lack of exposure to language during her childhood, she had not acquired a first language.
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. In the year and a half after Genie came to scientists' attention, 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.
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.[K] Shurley found no signs of brain damage, and ruled it out as a cause of her lack of speech. Some aspects of her sleep were typical for someone her age, and others 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, but 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.[L]
In 1972 Shurley wrote that he could not definitely determine the cause of these abnormalities, and considered either functional or congenital retardation possible. 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. Scientists following the case remained divided on this issue. Much later, for example, Susan Curtiss emphatically argued that, though Genie clearly had serious emotional difficulties, she could not have been retarded. Curtiss pointed out that for every calendar year after her rescue, Genie had made a year's developmental progress, which would not be expected if her condition was congenital. She also argued that some of the aspects of language Genie acquired were uncharacteristic of retarded people. 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.
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. As they played with the puppet she said the word "back" several times, and when Kent said, "The puppet will fall" she repeated "fall". Playing with this and similar puppets quickly became her favorite activity, and during the early part of her stay these were, apart from her tantrums, one of the few times when she expressed any emotions.
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. 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. She quickly began growing and putting on weight, and although her manner of walking remained very distinctive she steadily became more confident in her movements. After two weeks at the hospital, in an effort to give her a sense of freedom Kent took her out to the hospital's play area for the first time. Four weeks after her admission she had good eye–hand coordination, and her ability to focus on objects with her eyes had noticeably improved.
Kent 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. After a month Genie started becoming sociable with familiar adults, first with Kent and soon with other familiar hospital staff. 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. Once she began to distinguish between people she would sometimes work very hard to get a person to stay with her, and expressed disappointment if she failed. At almost the same time 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.
Doctors observed that Genie rapidly developed a sense of possession, hoarding objects to which she took a liking. The scientists did not know what caused her to do this, although it is a common trait of children from abusive homes. Although she took ordinary items, such as paper cups or books, 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. Kent noted that Genie became extremely upset if someone touched or moved anything she had collected. During the first few months of her stay, hospital staff could give Genie one of these objects to bring her out of a tantrum.
After a few weeks at Children's Hospital Genie became much more responsive to nonverbal stimuli, although at first her demeanor remained almost entirely devoid of nonverbal signals. She also became more responsive to other people talking, although doctors were unsure whether she was responding more to verbal or nonverbal stimuli. After a fairly short time at the hospital Genie rapidly began to give clear responses to nonverbal signals, and her nonverbal communication skills quickly became exceptional. Everyone who met her said she had an indescribable way of capturing and eliciting emotions, and she seemed able to communicate her desires to people without talking. Upon seeing Genie for the first time Shurley recalled that she instantly reached out to him in a way which he could not explain, and several people who worked with Genie recalled having similar feelings towards her.
In December Kent decided to move her to the hospital's rehabilitation center, giving her access to more activities and opportunities to socialize. Around this time, Kent and the other hospital staff assigned to Genie began to see her as a potential case study. That month, David Rigler obtained a small grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to do preliminary studies on her. He then began organizing a research team and planning to submit a larger grant request in May 1971.
In January 1971 doctors administered a Gesell Developmental Evaluation, and found Genie to be at the developmental level of a 1- to 3-year-old. At that time, they noted she was already showing substantial disparities in different areas of her development. 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. At that time doctors saw she showed considerable interest in people speaking, and attempted to mimic some speech sounds.
Early during her stay Genie showed deep fascination with classical piano music played in front of her, which researchers speculated was because she had been able to hear some piano music during her childhood. She did not have the same reaction to musical recordings, and if someone was playing anything other than classical music she would walk up and change the sheet music to a book which she knew had pieces she liked. Early during her stay doctors saw that she enjoyed intentionally dropping or destroying small objects, or watching someone else do the same with something she had been playing with. When she first started to do this and saw that no one would punish her for it she would give an extremely tentative laugh, and as she engaged in this play more often her laughter became more free and intense. Beginning in early 1971, doctors tried using this to get her to outwardly express her anger. Because she did the same series of actions several times over, and because doctors thought it eased some internal tension for her, Kent wrote that she did this to gain control of traumatic experiences from her childhood.
After the state dropped charges against Genie's mother, she began visiting Genie at the hospital twice a week. As Genie got better at forming relationships with the hospital staff she grew more comfortable with her mother, and her mother also grew better at interacting with her. After a few months, doctors saw Genie begin to exude happiness when she knew her mother was coming. Although Genie never displayed any emotion when separated from her mother or as her mother left, Kent observed that as her mother kept visiting Genie would have a tantrum after her second visit in the week and never after the first. At first they thought Genie was angry because her mother reminded her of her past, but by 1972 Kent said they began to think that Genie felt abandoned because she knew she would not see her mother again until the following week.
In the later months of Genie's stay at Children's Hospital, her progress with language began to accelerate at a more rapid pace. Doctors observing her noticed that 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.
By April and May 1971, Genie's scores on the Leiter International Performance Scale tests had dramatically increased. Overall her mental age was at the level of a typical 4-year-9-month-old, but on individual components she still showed a very high level of scatter. 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. 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.
During the later part of Genie's stay at the hospital she also started engaging in physical play with adults, and eventually began to enjoy giving and receiving hugs. She 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. In April 1971 she began attacking another girl, and Kent determined that Genie felt she owned the hospital dress the other girl had on. This was both her first exhibition of a sense of possession over items that she thought were hers but was otherwise impartial towards and the first time she directed her anger outwards, which the doctors saw as substantial progress, but she did not entirely stop harming herself when angry.
Soon after Genie's admission to Children's Hospital, authorities had begun searching for a foster home capable of providing the level of care Genie required. Although there were many disagreements between the people working with Genie during her stay at the hospital, there was unanimous consensus that she could not indefinitely live there. Rigler later wrote that, even after having been at the hospital for months, Genie was not well-suited for a typical foster care arrangement and that they had encountered extreme difficulty with finding someplace willing and able to take her. As she was at the hospital longer, hospital authorities increasingly escalated their efforts to locate adequate care for 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. Genie's brain was physically entirely intact and 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. Over the following years multiple tests of Genie bolstered this conclusion, as did observations of her in everyday situations. Based on their early tests, doctors suspected Genie was extremely right-hemisphere dominant.
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. Among the tests Bellugi and Klima administered were a series of dichotic listening tests. Genie underwent audiometry tests which confirmed that she had regular hearing in both ears, but Bellugi and Klima found that she identified language sounds with 100% accuracy in her left ear while correctly answering at only a chance level when tested on her right ear. Such a level of asymmetry had previously only been documented in patients with either split-brain or who had undergone a hemispherectomy. 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 for language.
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, and although this input had been extremely minimal it was sufficient to cause their lateralization to the right hemisphere. They therefore believed that because Genie had no linguistic input during her childhood to stimulate lateralization in the left hemisphere, it underwent no specialization whatsoever and her language functions therefore never lateralized to it. Since Genie was distinguished speech sounds with her right hemisphere, they thought her language had lateralized there instead.
Interest as a case study
At the time of Genie's admission to Children's Hospital there was wide discussion in both lay and academic circles about the hypotheses of Noam Chomsky, who had first suggested that language was innate to humans and distinguished humans from all other animals, and Eric Lenneberg, who hypothesized that humans have a critical period for language acquisition and defined the end of this period as the onset of puberty. 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. Coincidentally the François Truffaut film The Wild Child, which 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 teach him language and integrate him into society, also premiered in the United States only a week after Genie's rescue. The movie was a major success, and further heightened public interest in cases of children subjected to extreme abuse or isolation.
Prompted by this coincidence of timing, David Rigler led a team of Children's Hospital doctors and outside scientists who sought a three-year grant from the NIMH to study Genie in May 1971. At the suggestion of Jean Butler, Genie's special education teacher at the hospital, they screened The Wild Child during their first meeting as an inspiration for ideas. The scientists later said they immediately saw the parallels between Victor and Genie, and that the film had a profound impact on them. 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 researchers 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.
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.[M] 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 no one voiced any outright objections. The research team also planned to continue periodic evaluations of Genie's psychological development in various aspects of her life. Soon after submitting their proposal, the team received approval from the NIMH and commenced their studies. From the time she had been admitted to Children's Hospital researchers had tried to keep her identity concealed, and it was around the time of the grant proposal that they adopted the pseudonym Genie for her. The name referenced parallels researchers saw between Genie's sudden emergence into society from captivity past childhood and a genie's sudden emergence from a bottle without having a human childhood.
Soon after the NIMH accepted the grant proposal, in late May, Susan Curtiss began her work on Genie's case as a graduate student in linguistics under Victoria Fromkin. Curtiss had previously heard of Genie's case from the media stories immediately after her rescue, and remembered being very surprised at the opportunity to work with her. She used the hospital's film and transcripts to piece together what she could of Genie's early progress. For the remainder of Genie's stay at Children's Hospital, Curtiss met with Genie almost every day and immediately began observing her speech.
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. 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. By the time Curtiss began working with her, she observed that Genie could discern the correct number of up to 7 objects with perfect accuracy using this method.
When Curtiss first saw Genie she found Genie's behavior bizarre and antisocial, and wrote that she looked extremely dirty and unkempt, but thought that Genie somehow still looked very pretty and remembered being immediately drawn to her. After meeting Genie, Curtiss quickly recognized her powerful nonverbal communication abilities. When Curtiss and Kent went to toy stores with Genie complete strangers would buy something for her because they sensed she wanted it, and both of them were amazed that these gifts were always the types of objects Genie most enjoyed. Curtiss saw that Genie had clearly learned a significant amount of language by this time, and was rapidly learning more, but soon realized that it was not yet at a usefully testable level.[N] She therefore decided to dedicate the next few months to getting to know Genie and gaining her friendship.
For the remaining time that Genie was at Children's Hospital Curtiss began to go along with Genie and Kent on trips into town, and she and Genie very quickly bonded with each other. Her physical health continued to improve, and by this time her endurance had increased to the point that, when doctors took Genie out for walks, she would want to keep going even after everyone else with her was exhausted. Curtiss noticed Genie often approached the front doors of random houses and seemingly hoped someone would invite her in. When they went 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.
Child psychologist David Elkind, who was involved in the research team's meetings, evaluated Genie in May 1971 and reported that she was in the concrete operational stage of development, especially noting that she understood object permanence. Elkind also noticed that a significant time after Genie heard a dog barking she later attempted to mimic the sounds it made, marking the first time anyone recorded her engaging in deferred imitation; he and the hospital psychologists saw both events as major cognitive gains. 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." Although Genie's behavior remained abnormal her doctors, at that time, expressed optimism at the pace of her progress to that point and predicted a completely successful rehabilitation could be possible.
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. Near the end of that month, after one of these trips Butler told the hospital that she (Butler) might have contracted rubella, to which Genie would have been exposed. Although the scientists and hospital staff had been looking to place Genie in a foster home for months, they were reluctant to give foster custody to Butler and were very skeptical of her story, strongly suspecting she had concocted it as part of a bid to take over as Genie's guardian and primary caretaker. Nonetheless, they decided that placing Genie in isolation at the hospital could potentially be highly damaging to her social and 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.
Butler kept a detailed journal of Genie's progress throughout her stay and extensively filmed her. Butler's records are the primary source of information available on Genie's speech from this period, and the only source containing any detailed accounts of her behavior during this time. She continued to observe Genie's hoarding, in particular noting that Genie collected and kept dozens of containers of liquid in her room. 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 retired professor who had taught 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. On several occasions Butler went to the beach with Genie, who Butler said seemed fascinated with the water and waded in up to her ankles.
Both Butler and the scientists 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. All of the scientists and especially Butler continued to work with Genie to learn to use the toilet, and during the course of her stay she gradually improved. By the time she moved out of Butler's home her incontinence, both daytime and nighttime, had almost entirely gone away.
Butler, the scientists, and the NIMH evaluating committee all noted a marked improvement in Genie's demeanor during her stay at Butler's house 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. In the same letter she said that the man she was dating had also noticed and commented on the improvement in Genie's language.
Around the time Genie moved in with Butler, the therapists for Genie's mother 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. Butler believed authorities would view her pending foster application more favorably if she offered a two-parent home, so during Genie's stay Butler had the man she was dating move in with her. She wrote he and Genie got along very well, which Shurley later corroborated, and Shurley said he was also very intent on gaining foster custody of Genie.
However, Butler began to strenuously resist visits from the researchers, whom she felt overtaxed Genie. 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.
Although the scientists on the research team believed that Butler was attempting to act in Genie's best interest, they criticized 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 Genie the best possible care. 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, and both Curtiss and Kent emphatically denied Butler's accusations towards them. 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. Several of the scientists, including Curtiss and Howard Hansen, recalled Butler openly stating that she hoped Genie would make her famous, and Curtiss especially remembered Butler repeatedly proclaiming her intent to be, "the next Anne Sullivan". While Genie was living with her she was being compensated by the grant money, and to Rigler's consternation she sought to increase this amount as a part of her bid for foster custody. She also demanded several times to be credited in the scientists' research publications; although Rigler initially acquiesced, the scientists eventually decided against it.
In mid-August, California authorities informed Butler they had rejected her application for foster custody. The extent, if any, to which Children's Hospital influenced the decision is unclear. Rigler maintained several times that despite the scientists' objections neither the hospital nor any of its staff had intervened, and said the decision surprised him. A few days before the decision came down he had written a letter to Butler in which he said that, despite his frustration with her, he thought her home was suitable and her application would likely be accepted. The Nova documentary on Genie states the rejection of Butler came partially on the hospital's recommendation; there is evidence many hospital authorities, including Hansen, felt Butler's ability to care for Genie was inadequate, and hospital policy forbade its staff members from becoming foster parents of its patients. Butler herself believed the hospital had opposed her application so Genie could be moved somewhere more conducive to research, and wrote that Genie, upon being told of the decision, was extremely upset and had said, "No, no, no."
Second foster home
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. 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. Jay Shurley said the Riglers also thought their experience with raising three children would give them an advantage over Butler.
After authorities removed Genie from Jean Butler's house they returned her to Children's Hospital, and because an alternate living arrangement for her had not yet been located the Riglers then decided to take control of Genie's care. Despite the hospital's policy Children's Hospital authorities, John Miner, and the state consented to making the Riglers Genie's temporary foster parents, and on the same day she went back to the hospital the Riglers had Genie transferred her to their home in Los Feliz. David Rigler said they initially intended the arrangement to last for a maximum of three months, but Genie ultimately stayed with them for almost four years. 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.
While living with the Riglers, Marilyn became Genie's new teacher. The Riglers allowed Susan Curtiss 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. Shortly after she moved in one of Riglers' children went away to college, enabling Genie to have her own room and bathroom in the house. Around the time she moved in David Rigler also decided to make himself Genie's primary therapist, taking over this role from James Kent. The Riglers and the rest of the research team documented much of Genie's development during this time in notes and film.
Despite the clear improvements in Genie's physical health, the Riglers saw that she was still extremely thin and undersized and her manner of walking was still very unusual. 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, writing that Genie very rarely spoke and that, for the first three months of her stay, when she did it was almost always in one-word utterances. 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 containers of liquid, set her off, which doctors attributed to her having been beaten for these actions as a child.
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, and if someone was talking to her she almost never responded and would usually walk away after a while. Both in the Riglers' house and in public Genie continued to have a very difficult time controlling her impulses, frequently engaging in highly anti-social behavior which demonstrated a total lack of situational awareness. The Riglers also found Genie frequently took things which belonged to their children and could be very destructive, requiring full-time supervision.
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 found that when Genie first moved in she was terrified of both animals; upon seeing their puppy for the first time she immediately ran into the next room and hid. The scientists still did not know the reason for her fear, but in the days immediately after she moved in both David and Marilyn used the puppy to gradually acclimate her. At first her fear was so intense that they had to put the dog behind a sliding glass door to get Genie to come near it, and even this proved extremely difficult for Genie. Over the next two weeks she slowly grew more comfortable with seeing the dog, and after around two weeks she managed to entirely overcome her fear of with both the Riglers' cat and dog. She eventually learned to walk the dog and to feed it by herself, but throughout her stay she remained extremely afraid of unfamiliar cats and dogs.
Shortly after Genie moved in, Marilyn began working to prevent Genie's self-harming tantrums. She first taught Genie to direct her frustrations outward by jumping, slamming doors, hitting objects, stomping her feet, and generally "having a fit." Marilyn soon noticed Genie wanted to be complimented on her appearance, and to further discourage her from attacking herself Marilyn began painting Genie's fingernails and telling her she did not look good when she scratched and cut her face, a tactic which proved very effective. When situations came up which especially upset Genie, Marilyn also tried to explain in words that these were not a big deal.
As Marilyn worked with Genie, she began to gain more control over her responses. In early 1972, after Marilyn spoke to Genie when she had a tantrum for inadvertently spilling a cup of water, when the same situation arose around a week later she remained calm. Later, when Marilyn could see Genie getting upset, Marilyn would say to her, "You are upset. You are having a rough time." Genie gradually began verbally communicating her frustration by responding, "rough time" when Marilyn said this, eventually only needing to hear, "You are upset" before saying, "rough time". Eventually, Genie could indicate her level of anger; depending on whether she was very angry or merely frustrated, she either vigorously shook one finger or loosely waved her hand. 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.
When she first moved in Marilyn saw that Genie still struggled 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. When Marilyn first noticed Genie's complete indifference to temperature she worked to help Genie become more attuned to her body's sensations, and in late 1973 Genie began to show some degree of sensitivity to temperature for the first time. Throughout the time Genie lived with the Riglers her physical health continued to improve, and 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—she made noticeable gains. During the later part of Genie's stay, her trouble with incontinence almost entirely disappeared. Her general health also improved to the point where she could engage in vigorous exercise and other physical play.
When Genie first moved in with the Riglers, Curtiss began reading children's stories to her; at first, even when she was willing to sit with Curtiss, she did not seem to be paying attention. After two months, in mid-October 1971, Curtiss saw that Genie was clearly listening and responding. After that point, she wrote that Genie began to pay attention to people even when they were not speaking directly to or about her. She became somewhat more sociable in her interactions with other people, and even spontaneously contributed to conversation. 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. 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.
The Riglers and the other scientists on the research team worked very hard to help Genie control herself in public. Over the course of the first several months of her stay, her behavior improved to the point that she started going to first a nursery school and then a public school for mentally retarded children her age. David Rigler wrote that eventually she rode the school bus with other people her age, and attended social functions at her school. Although it was very difficult for Genie to manage some of her urges, 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. 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.
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. She continued to take things from other people throughout her stay, but her responses clearly indicated that she knew she was not supposed to. 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. 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.
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. David Rigler wrote that the authorities' independent evaluations, which took place throughout her stay, of Genie concurred with their assessment. As late as June 1975, he wrote that Genie continued to make significant strides in every field which the scientists were testing, and Curtiss' writings from that time period also expressed some optimism about her potential for social development. Nonetheless, despite her 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. Even by mid-1975, most social interactions with her remained abnormal in quality.
Relationship with her mother
Genie's mother, who was still living alone in the same house but had either rearranged or destroyed most of the items associated with Genie's abuse, usually met with Genie once a week at a park or restaurant. The bond between Genie and her mother—as well as her maternal grandparents—continued to grow stronger, and David Rigler said Genie went on increasingly frequent overnight visits to her mother. James Kent and Howard Hansen also ensured that Genie's mother continued to receive therapy from Children's Hospital psychologists 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. The Riglers went to great lengths to be polite to her, but their efforts inadvertently came off to her as condescension. In addition to the Riglers she also had a difficult time getting along with most of the members of the research team, some of whom disliked her due to her inaction during Genie's childhood, 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 early childhood, 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.[O]
The scientists, in turn, later speculated Genie's mother gave them a mostly cool reception because they reminded her of her inaction during Genie's childhood, and years later David Rigler said that the scientists had not recognized how much their presence agitated her because they focused on the assistance they were giving her. They also thought she was in denial over both Genie's condition and the hand that she had in causing it.[P] Curtiss wrote that Genie's mother often gave conflicting statements about her married life, seemingly telling them what she thought they wanted to hear, and 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 for her account.
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. 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.[Q] 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.
Continued brain exams
The results of the dichotic listening tests that Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima conducted 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. 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.
Dichotic listening tests
The scientists continued to conduct both the verbal and nonverbal dichotic listening tests on Genie, which they administered throughout 1972 and 1973. Their results corroborated Bellugi and Klima's original findings. 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 in both ears, and she continued to answer at a chance level with language sounds in her right ear. This definitively ruled out the possibility that Genie's lateralization was only reversed, and helped the scientists develop the hypothesis that she was acquiring language in her right hemisphere.
The scientists 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. Because she could distinguish non-language sounds with some degree of accuracy in the ear which would normally be non-dominant for them, they thought that it was only language sounds which her left hemisphere obstructed. They also wrote their conclusion that Genie's left hemisphere had not lateralized while her right hemisphere had also supported a hypothesis, put forth in 1972, that the right hemisphere lateralized first because its functions are more directly involved with picking up on environmental stimuli.
Along with continuing the dichotic listening tests, Curtiss, Fromkin, and Krashen measured Genie's mental age through a variety of measures, 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. 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. 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.
On several right hemisphere tasks Genie's performance was at or higher than the level of typical adults, indicating that her brain had lateralized and that her right hemisphere had undergone specialization. For instance, on spatial awareness her scores were reportedly the highest ever recorded in the medical literature to that point.[R] Similarly, 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.[S] On a separate gestalt perception test Genie's extrapolated score was in the 95th percentile, which was superior to the score of most adults. Genie's ability to piece together objects solely from tactile information, another right hemisphere task, was also exceptionally good.
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 mental development. On different 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. 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.
In addition to her baseline performance on tests of right hemisphere tasks, Genie's improvement on them was also extraordinarily rapid. 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. As early as 1972, she scored between the level an 8-year-old and an adult on all of the right-hemisphere tasks scientists tested her on. 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.
Because Genie's performance was so high on such a wide variety of tasks predominantly utilizing the right hemisphere of her brain, the scientists concluded that her exceptional abilities extended to typical right-hemisphere functions in general and were not specific to any one task. They attributed her right hemisphere dominance to the fact that what very little cognitive stimulation she did receive was almost entirely visual and tactile. Although even this had been extremely minimal, the scientists wrote that it had been enough to commence lateralization in her right hemisphere. Because the stimuli Genie had access to as a child so exclusively involved the right hemisphere of her brain, they argued that this caused it to become extraordinarily developed.
By contrast, Genie performed significantly below average on all tests measuring predominantly left-hemisphere tasks. When they administered sequential order tests she consistently scored well below average for someone whose brain was fully intact, although Curtiss noted that Genie's performance was somewhat better on visual than on auditory tests. 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 to learn and master basic everyday tasks, such as tying her shoes. When attempting to perform these tasks her movements were remarkably slow, although it was impossible to tell whether the cause was the nature of the task or the general latency her actions and responses typically exhibited.[T]
In addition, Genie's progress on left hemisphere tasks was much slower. 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. In January 1972, about a year and three months after being rescued, the scientists tested her on the Raven's Progressive Matrices; although it was impossible to be completely certain about her scores because she was outside of the age range of the test's design, the scientists measured her to be in the 50th percentile for an 8 1/2- to 9-year-old. Curtiss noted that Genie had done very well on some individual parts of the test, and because results on previous subjects had shown indications of utilizing both hemispheres of the brain, Curtiss believed Genie could have been using her gestalt perception on the elements of the test she had done well on while having been forced to use her analytic skills on the sections on which she had encountered difficulty. 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.
There were a few primarily right hemisphere tasks Genie did not perform well on. On a memory for design test Genie scored at a "borderline" level in October 1975, despite showing an ability to complete similar tasks in other settings, 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.[U] In addition, on a Benton Visual Retention Test and an associated facial recognition test Genie's scores were far lower than any average scores for people without brain damage, at the very low end of average for people with left-hemisphere lesions, and in the low average range for people with right-hemisphere lesions. Although this sharply contrasted with Genie's facial recognition in multiple everyday situations, in which she had immediately recognized and put a name to faces she had not seen in years, researchers wrote that they had anticipated her results on this test. Curtiss' explanation for this discrepancy was that, although these tasks predominantly utilize right-hemisphere brain functions, they likely require use of both hemispheres.[V] Since Genie exclusively used her right hemisphere, these would therefore be very difficult for her.
When the scientists administered tests specifically geared at determining where Genie was processing language, they found more evidence that she was using her right hemisphere for language functions. On one evoked response test Genie had no difficulty with giving the correct meaning of sentences using familiar homophones, for instance the sentences "I sock Bobo" and "The sock is red". This demonstrated that her receptive language comprehension was significantly better than her expressive comprehension, which was similar to the results of split-brain and hemispherectomy patients. Similarly, on a tachistoscopic test in 1975 Genie had little difficulty when asked to point to words which rhyme, a task which split-brain and hemispherectomy patients were known to perform well on.
The scientists monitored 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. 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.
Curtiss began thorough, active testing of Genie's linguistic abilities in October 1971, when she and Fromkin decided that her linguistic abilities were sufficient to yield usable results. From the time Curtiss began her testing, she conducted the tests once a week for almost every week during Genie's stay with the Riglers. Linguists designed their tests to measure both Genie's vocabulary and her acquisition of various aspects of grammar, including syntax, phonology, and morphology. The scientists considered her language acquisition 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 learn on her own, out of a sense of obligation they sometimes stepped in to assist her. 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. As Curtiss continued Genie grew to largely enjoy being tested and became much more cooperative, although she usually gave less than her best effort, and sometimes even indicated that she wanted to take the tests.
Throughout testing, the size of Genie's vocabulary and the speed with which she expanded it continued to outstrip all anticipations. By mid-1975 she could accurately name most objects she encountered, and she clearly knew more words than she regularly used. 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, but the rate at which her grammar acquisition occurred was far slower than normal.
In many cases, the scientists used Genie's language development to help them gauge her overall psychological state.[W] In some instances, learning a new aspect of language played a direct role in helping to further her psychological and mental development.[X] The scientists especially noted that, even if she did not possess the grammar to express conceptual information, she could often understand it. To the scientists, this indicated that her cognitive abilities were greater than most children in congruous phases of language acquisition.
Papers contemporaneous with the case study indicated that she was still learning new aspects 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. Curtiss' accounts of Genie's case from after the conclusion of the study 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. An outside analysis noted that Curtiss had used the same pieces of data to prove both her earlier and later arguments, and did not explain the reason for her more negative evaluations of Genie's language in her later papers.
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. 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.
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. 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. Despite her progress, she frequently either outright deleted or substituted phonemes in her speech. 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 speech to understand her.[Y]
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. On a few occasions she delivered monologues of considerable length, but even these consisted of a series of short utterances which she said together. 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. 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.[Z] 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 knowing language.
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 as "Ball belong hospital". 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.
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. One author wrote that this disproved the proposition of 18th century philosopher Étienne Bonnot de Condillac that humans require language to form memories. She gradually began to speak about her father and could talk about his treatment of her, and what she said gave researchers new insights into her early life. During the rest of her stay with the Riglers she would constantly repeat "Father hit" to herself, and 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. The scientists tried to get Genie to talk about her childhood to them as much as possible, and Marilyn would sometimes coach Genie by role-playing as Genie's real mother. Genie did not speak about her childhood very often, but when she did she gave researchers valuable information.
"Father hit arm. Big wood. Genie cry...Not spit. Father. Hit face – spit. Father hit big stick. Father is angry. Father hit Genie big stick. Father take piece wood hit. Cry. Father make me cry. Father is dead."
In contrast to her linguistic abilities, Genie's nonverbal communication continued to excel. To improve her intelligibility she invented her own system of gestures, and frequently gestured as she was speaking in addition to using them by themselves, and pantomimed certain words as she said them. She also frequently acted out events, especially if she could not use language to communicate something, and persisted until she got her message across. 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.[AA]
In the time immediately after scientists began working with Genie 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. Her sophisticated sense of perspective rapidly became evident in many of her drawings; by November 1971 Curtiss noted that Genie could depict silhouettes and figures in profile, both of which require a relatively high degree of cognitive ability. In addition to her own drawings, she often used pictures from magazines to relate to daily experiences. She especially collected pictures of things that frightened her, a behavior for which the scientists never found an explanation; Curtiss recalled one incident when a helmeted diver scared Genie, after which she would not relax until she showed Curtiss a picture she had found of a similar looking diver in a magazine. Several months into Genie's stay with the Riglers, she found a picture of a wolf in a magazine which sent her into a terror. When the Riglers saw her reaction, they asked Genie's mother if she knew what might have caused it; this was when she told them 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.
Throughout Genie's stay, the Riglers and Curtiss saw how frequently and effectively she used her nonverbal skills. As she had during the latter part of her stay at Children's Hospital, she still seemed to be able to communicate with complete strangers without speaking. David Rigler vividly remembered an occasion when he and Genie passed a father and a young boy carrying a toy firetruck without speaking to each other, and said the boy suddenly turned around and gave the firetruck to Genie. Curtiss and Genie stopped once at a busy intersection and Curtiss heard the sound of a purse being spilled. As she looked, a woman stopped at the intersection rushed from her car and gave it to Genie. It was a plastic purse, Genie's favorite, but Genie hadn't spoken a word. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Loss of funding and research interest
Despite Genie's developmental progress during the case study, on several occasions the NIMH voiced concerns about its direction to Rigler that they were growing increasingly troubled with the lack of scientific data researchers 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. Even for those which had some utility the enormous volume of non-linguistics data proved to be a hindrance, as the scientists had generated far more than could have realistically been used, and it eventually became impossible for researchers to determine the importance of much of this information. The scientists were also storing their documentation in suboptimal condition, filing it with no discernible categorization system.
In 1973 David Rigler asked for and received a one-year extension on the grant, but the NIMH said it wanted the research team to produce more hard data and to give their work more coherent direction and organization. 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. 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. When the year-long extension neared its end and the scientists were preparing to request another extension, Jean Butler Ruch began vociferously arguing against it. She obtained David Rigler's proposal for an additional three-year extension—which, due to a processing mistake, she managed to do before he presented it to the NIMH—and began lobbying for its rejection, continuing to dispute the progress Genie had made.
When the NIMH's grants committee 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 the research team had not adequately addressed their concerns about the direction and organization of the project. They concluded that there had been minimal overall progress towards achieving the stated objectives of the case study and that, "the research goals projected probably will not be realized". In a unanimous decision the committee denied the extension request, cutting off funding for the study.
Despite the NIMH grant ending Curtiss continued her regular testing of Genie, and frequently went on outings with her. 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 of Genie's initial admission to Children's Hospital, the ultimate goal of the people working with her was to return her to her mother's custody, and when Genie turned 18 her mother stated that she wished to care for her. 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.
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 Genie moved out the Riglers offered to continue assisting her mother in any way they could, as they anticipated that she 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 Genie left the Riglers they signed her up for a summer school program, and intended to enroll her in a summer day camp when this ended. However, when the school program ended Genie expressed a desire to stay at home with her mother, to which they and her mother acquiesced.
When Genie began to live with her mother, she found some of Genie's behavior patterns greatly distressing. Genie still lacked a great deal of self-control, 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.
Without notifying any of the scientists, Genie's mother contacted the California Department of Health to find care for Genie. They then transferred Genie to the first of what would become a succession of foster homes, where she ended up staying for a year and a half. In this new foster home, Genie was living with two 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, but soon after she moved in they observed that the people running the house maintained 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.
Not long after Genie moved in her caretakers began subjecting her to extreme physical and emotional abuse, which deeply traumatized her. As a result, she again began to experience both incontinence and constipation, and reverted to her coping mechanism of silence. The incident with the most severe impact occurred when the people running the home severely beat Genie for vomiting, and told her 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. Even when Genie was hungry she could barely eat, only opening her mouth just long enough to put food in, and her physical health rapidly declined.
In addition to the physical impact of this abuse Genie's fear of opening her mouth also made her afraid to speak, rendering her almost completely silent. As she still wanted to communicate with people she knew, she began almost exclusively using the sign language she had learned while with the Riglers. Her mother, whom she desperately missed, was almost never permitted to visit, causing Genie to become extremely withdrawn. At one point while living there, she refused to talk for five months.[AB]
Rigler saw Genie on a few outpatient evaluations, and went to her foster home, "from time to time". He did not witness any of her abuse firsthand, but thought the woman in charge of the home was strikingly odd and severe. Curtiss 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 and expressed her desire to see her mother and the Riglers; 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.
Curtiss quickly started petitioning to have Genie removed from the home, but she said that because she was still only a graduate student it took a long time to get authorities to take her seriously. She also told the Riglers what was happening but, according to her, while they did not actively undermine her efforts they took no immediate action. When Curtiss got social services involved, it then 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.
When Genie left in late April 1977, because of her previous treatment Miner and Rigler arranged for her to temporarily move into Children's Hospital. Her hospital stay ultimately lasted for two weeks and both her physical and mental condition moderately improved, although she continued to use sign language for most communication. While there, she was able to see both her mother and the Riglers. At around the same time, Curtiss and Fromkin obtained a year-long grant from the National Science Foundation to continue their work with Genie.
After her hospital stay Genie was moved to another foster home until December of that year, when the arrangement collapsed. Through the end of that month into early January Genie was placed in a temporary setting, and subsequently moved into another foster home. During this time Genie's 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.
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.
In 1976, Curtiss finished and presented her dissertation, Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day "Wild Child". The following year, Academic Press published it as a hardcover. Upon publication, it received reviews from several prominent scientists. Its speech analysis covered Genie's utterances from admission to Children's Hospital until the early summer of 1975, and contained some of Genie's drawings and excerpts of Curtiss' non-language observations from the same time frame.
Genie's mother had 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. Although she privately disputed some specific details of Curtiss' account of the family's treatment during Genie's childhood, her official complaint did not and instead argued that Curtiss could only have obtained these details from her therapists or their supervisors in violation of patient confidentiality. Genie's mother then decided to sue Children's Hospital, her therapists, their supervisors, and several of the researchers, including Curtiss, Kent, Hansen, and Rigler, over both the information in 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. The lawyers who worked with Genie's mother alleged that the scientists' research methods had been fundamentally flawed, that they sometimes tested Genie between 60 and 70 hours per week, and that they administered many of their tests so often that they only indicated Genie's familiarity with them, negating any scientific value they might have had.
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. They 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, which according to him was when the scientists first realized the extent to which Ruch affected Genie's mother's perception of them, and later wrote that Ruch had hired and paid for the lawyers representing Genie's mother. 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]."
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; in particular, Curtiss emphatically stated she never conducted testing sessions for more than 45 minutes and noted that sometimes Genie initiated the tests. After finishing, Curtiss said they would spend the rest of their time together, "just being friends." 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. Both Curtiss and Fromkin categorically denied any breach of confidentiality, asserting that the details they included on Genie's family were already publicly available and had previously been referenced without incident, and Curtiss pointed out that researchers had gone to considerable lengths to keep their identities concealed. When the pending legal proceedings reached the news, Curtiss said she and all of the other scientists were extremely upset that several stories used the real names of both Genie and her mother.
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, 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. According to Russ Rymer, the suit was settled in 1984. However, in a 1993 letter to The New York Times responding to a review of Rymer's book, David Rigler wrote, "[T]he case never came to trial. It was dismissed by the Superior Court of the State of California 'with prejudice,' meaning that because it was without substance it can never again be refiled."
Susan Curtiss said that in late December 1977 she had been asked if she could be Genie's legal guardian but that, after a meeting with Genie a week later on January 3, 1978, Genie's mother suddenly prevented Curtiss from seeing Genie again. In early 1978, authorities discovered that Miner had failed to update his status as Genie's legal guardian as a child to being her legal guardian as an adult incapable of caring for herself. Because of this, and without seeking any input from him, they officially turned guardianship of Genie over to her mother on March 30, 1978. Genie's mother then forbade all of the other scientists except for Jay Shurley from seeing her or Genie. When David Rigler wrote to her in an effort to reestablish contact after the conclusion of legal proceedings she initially did not respond, and after he made several more attempts she wrote back requesting that he cease all communication. Genie's mother moved in 1987 without leaving a forwarding address, although she stayed in the Los Angeles area.
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. Genie's published utterances from after mid-1975 first appeared in papers Curtiss wrote and co-wrote in 1979. After this, despite the lack of new data Curtiss published several papers discussing Genie's utterances and the results of her brain exams. 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.
Starting in early 1978, Genie's mother began taking Genie with her on her visits to Ruch's house. Ruch continued to spread negative rumors about Genie's condition and especially targeted Curtiss, frequently calling her at her house and attending her lectures to ask hostile questions, hoping to convince people that scientists' work with Genie was so flawed as to have been completely useless and that Curtiss largely based her dissertation on fabrications.[AC] During the lawsuit filed 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, and with encouragement from at least one other person with firsthand knowledge of the case they co-authored one paper in 1985 as a prelude to a larger work. 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. His decision earned the enmity of Ruch, who continued her campaign against the scientists until 1986, when a stroke left her with aphasia and prevented her from completing her work. She died in 1988 following another stroke.
From January 1978 until 1993 Genie moved through a series of at least four additional foster homes and institutions. In some of these locations she was further physically abused and harassed to extreme degrees, and her development continued to regress. Shurley saw Genie at least twice after early 1978, at her 27th birthday party in 1984 and again two years later. In an interview years later he said that both times she was very stooped over, gave off almost no non-verbal signals or facial expressions, made very little eye contact, and looked very depressed and almost demented.[AD] He also said that Genie's mother 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. In 1992 Curtiss said that since she last saw Genie she had only heard two updates on Genie's condition, both of which indicated she barely spoke and was depressed and withdrawn.
When Russ Rymer published his magazine articles on Genie in April 1992 he wrote she was living in a large state institution for mentally retarded adults and only saw her mother one weekend every month. His book on Genie, published early the following year, contained a similar summary of her living arrangements. In the afterword of the 1994 edition of his book, written in November 1993, he detailed conversations with Genie's mother both just before and after the publication of his magazine articles, and according to her mother—who had since gone blind again, due to glaucoma—Genie had recently moved into a more supportive foster home which permitted Genie to visit her on a far more regular basis. She told Rymer that Genie was happy and, although hard to understand, was significantly more verbal.
Upon the initial publication of Russ Rymer's book it received several prominent reviews, including an overall positive reception 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. 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." According to him Genie was doing well living in a small, private facility and that her mother regularly visited. 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.
Genie is a ward of the state of California, and is living in an undisclosed location in Los Angeles. 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 simple lifestyle in a small private facility for mentally underdeveloped adults, and appeared to be happy. Although she spoke only a few words, she could still communicate fairly well in sign language.
In 2003, Genie's mother died of unspecified natural causes at the age of 87. Jay Shurley died at the age of 86 in 2004, and David Rigler died days before turning 93 in early April 2014. In 2002 Susan Curtiss said that she still wanted to see Genie again, primarily to meet with her as a friend but also expressing interest in assessing her language abilities and comparing them to her earlier results. As of May 2008, despite saying that they badly missed Genie and despite repeatedly attempting to find her, Curtiss and James Kent told reporters that neither of them had seen her since January 1978.
For their news stories on Genie ABC reporters spoke with Genie's brother, who was 56 at the time, which was the first time he had publicly discussed his or Genie's life. He told reporters that he had not seen Genie since visiting her in 1982, and said that he wished he had been more involved in his sister's life. During the interview he said that he tried to keep their upbringing out of his thoughts as much as possible, though he kept and shared a small collection of family photographs from his childhood and a few letters and pictures of Genie and his mother he received from correspondence, and that he had only recently heard any updates on Genie. He said he was glad she had gotten so much attention and that he was happy to hear she was reportedly doing well where she was living.
Genie's is one of the best-known case studies of language acquisition in a child with delayed development. Susan Curtiss argued that, even if humans possess the innate ability to acquire language, Genie demonstrated the necessity of early language stimulation in the left hemisphere of the brain to start. Since Genie never fully acquired grammar, Curtiss submitted that Genie provided evidence for a weaker variation of the critical period hypothesis. Genie's nonverbal skills were exceptionally good, which demonstrated that even nonverbal communication was fundamentally different from language. Because Genie's language acquisition occurred in the right hemisphere of her brain, its course also aided linguists in refining existing hypotheses on the capacity for right-hemisphere language acquisition in people after the critical period.
Since the publication of Curtiss' findings, her arguments have become widely accepted in the field of linguistics. 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, and her work with Genie provided the impetus for several additional studies. 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. To date, no one directly involved in Genie's case has responded to this controversy.
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. 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. 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.
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 and testing they conducted on Genie. 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. The Nova documentary on Genie states that the research team decided to teach Genie sign language because they knew that historians and scientists 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. In addition to the effect Victor's case had on linguists who worked with Genie, at least one psychologist who evaluated her 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 accounts of Victor's relationship with Itard's housekeeper.
Russ Rymer and historian Harlan Lane noted the similarities of Victor's and Genie's anti-social behaviors and the difficulties scientists had faced in their attempts to control them in both cases. Rymer and Lane also noted that scientists had been unable to reintegrate either one into society, and wrote that the outcomes of their cases were strikingly similar. Leiber wrote that Victor likely presented a more difficult case from which to extrapolate useful scientific information because, unlike Victor, Genie had demonstrated significant cognitive abilities and mental development in several areas despite her lack of language. Genie's development has also influenced perceptions of Victor and scientists' unsuccessful attempts to teach him language and integrate him into society.
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. 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. Scientists also contrasted Genie with a case in the 1950s of a girl, known by the name Isabella, who had been isolated from all speech until the age of 6 and whose only human contact was with her deaf mother. Whereas Genie did not fully acquire language, and her behavior continued to resemble an unsocialized person, only a year after teachers began working with Isabella she successfully acquired language and developed fully normal social skills.[AE]
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. There has also been a dispute over the extent to which Genie's emotional state impacted her mental processes, especially her language. 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, but 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. They also argued that, since Genie clearly expanded her vocabulary, they thought it was extremely implausible that her emotional difficulties could only impact her grammar acquisition.
Some linguists, such as Steven Pinker and Derek Bickerton, accepted Curtiss and Fromkin's assessment and cited Genie's case as evidence that the ability to acquire language is innate to humans. 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. Others, including Geoffrey Sampson, have argued that it was extremely implausible that Genie's emotional difficulties had not impacted her language and therefore negated much of the value other linguists had ascribed to her case. To this point, neither Curtiss nor anyone else directly associated with Genie's case has responded to Sampson's arguments.
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. Kent, Howard Hansen, the Riglers, and Curtiss readily acknowledged researchers at the original grant meeting had numerous views on the ideal direction for their research, but both unequivocally stated that they always viewed Genie as a person and never considered her welfare to be anything but their first priority. All of them said the disagreements were completely typical of scientific discourse and never involved animosity, and that the difficulty with coming to a decision about the course of research was due to the exceptional nature of the case.
David Elkind said that he felt the research team was chiefly focused on how to study Genie and pursued research at the expense of her well-being, and that despite expressing this on several occasions did not feel that other researchers adequately addressed his concerns. Jay Shurley started his work with Genie highly optimistic, but 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, including Butler and the hospital cooks. In a 1997 review of Genie's case, Justin Leiber also noted that the scientists decided to monitor Genie's ability to learn language primarily through passive exposure. Leiber speculated that the relative lack of structure this entailed could have made it more difficult for her to succeed.
After May 1971, despite having known and worked with both the Riglers for several years Elkind declined to participate. When asked about his decision years later he cited a desire not to be involved in a case which, in his view, prioritized scientific study over her care. While Shurley acknowledged that the scientists at the center of the case study had been in a completely unprecedented situation, his observations left him very cynical about their work 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.
Although the research team acknowledged their failure to successfully rehabilitate Genie, all of them said that they did the best they could and that they never lost sight of this goal as their primary objective at any point. Everyone on the research team said their love and attention for Genie was entirely unconditional. The Riglers and Curtiss separately said that they always rewarded Genie for her participation in testing, regardless of her performance. Both of the Riglers said they gave Genie as much support as possible and always did what they thought was best for her, especially arguing that their willingness to take her into their house, and subsequently acting as her foster parents for four years, demonstrated their commitment to her well-being. David Rigler said that Shurley had offered several suggestions about how to work with Genie during the early part of the research on her and 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. While David 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.
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. He also maintained, as he had during the lawsuit, that the amount of testing they had done was essential to measuring Genie's development in addition to satisfying research objectives. The topic has since become a significant debate within the larger scientific community, and has been discussed in several books and academic papers.
The lack of distinction between Genie's caretakers and therapists has also come under scrutiny. 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. 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.
Russ Rymer contended that the roles of everyone involved in Genie's life 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; 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 wrote that there were no discernible lines between the two roles. Rymer argued that this ambiguity prevented the people working with Genie from providing the best possible care for Genie and compromised the research team's objectivity, which in turn contributed to the case study's lack of coherence. Rymer and others, including Harlan Lane, argued that making David Rigler a foster parent and Genie's primary therapist while simultaneously managing the case study accelerated the breakdown of roles for those involved in Genie's life. Several independent reviews of Genie's case also accused the Riglers and the other scientists of abandoning Genie after the case study concluded, arguing that they should have done more to remain involved in her life and treatment.
The Riglers agreed that the arrangement was extremely atypical, but on several occasions maintained that this was done out of an urgent need to place Genie in a stable environment capable of meeting her needs. They argued that because no one else had found a suitable living arrangement for Genie, their home had been the best available option. They both said that they genuinely loved Genie, and made sure to provide her with a home where she could always feel love and compassion. David and Marilyn Rigler's perception was that she had made substantial progress while living with them, and appeared to be happy. David Rigler further wrote that several independent evaluations of Genie's condition throughout her stay concurred with their assessment. They and Curtiss also maintained that they had wanted to continue working with Genie, and that her mother prevented them from seeing her through legal means.
While representing the Riglers in court in 1977 and 1978, John Miner went out of his way to give them credit for acting as foster parents to Genie for four years 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. Lane and several authors after him argued 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. Justin Leiber wrote that he did not hold the scientists primarily responsible for losing contact with Genie after early 1978, instead arguing that the legal and institutional processes surrounding Genie's placement had dominated the case and were the driving force which prevented the scientists from doing more for Genie.
After the Fritzl case came to the public's attention in late April 2008, ABC News ran two stories, almost two weeks apart in 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 at that time 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.
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. Author Russ Rymer wrote a two-part magazine article in The New Yorker entitled Genie: A Silent Childhood which ran in mid-April 1992. The following year, he published a book—his first—called Genie: A Scientific Tragedy.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. Author Russ Rymer wrote a two-part magazine article in The New Yorker entitled Genie: A Silent Childhood which ran in mid-April 1992. The following year, he published a book—his first—called Genie: A Scientific Tragedy.[AF] The works cover Genie's life up until the time of publication, analyzing the work of the doctors and scientists who worked with her and discussing the influence Genie's case study had on the fields of linguistics and psychology, and compares the lives and cases of Genie and Victor of Aveyron and the impact they had on their respective societies. He chiefly documented the case from the perspectives of the scientists, but spoke to Genie's mother shortly before the publication of the magazine articles and obtained several documents from her; he wrote that he did not attempt to meet Genie, as he felt it would have been an undue intrusion into her life and would have negatively impacted his ability to write about her case from an entirely outside perspective.
Rymer's magazine articles received some media attention upon publication. Upon the book's publication it received critical acclaim, winning a Whiting Writer's Award and finishing as one of ten finalists for the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Awards, and garnered several positive reviews. Among the reviews was Natalie Angier's, and in response to it several people involved in Genie's case, including James Kent and Susan Curtiss, harshly criticized both her review and Rymer's book. 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.[AG]
Film and television
In 1994, Nova made a critically acclaimed and multiple Emmy Award-winning documentary based on Rymer's book titled Secret of the Wild Child.[AH] 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. The archived film Nova used from the UCLA library had significantly deteriorated, and required restoration for use in the documentary. In 2002, an episode of the television series Body Shock on feral children entitled Wild Child included a segment on Genie.[AI] It discussed Genie's life until the time that Curtiss lost contact with her.
The award-winning independent film Mockingbird Don't Sing, released in 2001, is based on Genie's case. Written by Daryl Haney and directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, the film is primarily from the perspective of Susan Curtiss, the only person who worked with Genie to be involved in its making. Bromley Davenport said he was very sentimental about the movie and spent two years researching Genie's case for it, in the process recording around 40 hours of interviews with Curtiss. For legal reasons, all of the names in the film were changed.
- A Man Without Words
- Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja
- Marie-Angélique Memmie Le Blanc
- Oxana Malaya
- Blanche Monnier
- Her mother later claimed they put her in the garage to shield her from noise while they redid their kitchen floor, and that while there 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.
- Shortly following this visit a doctor removed the Frejka splint, but while the doctor who removed it suggested to her parents that she would benefit from additional physical therapy her father refused to allow access to any further treatment.
- Her mother said that at first she 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 in it by herself for extended periods of time. After a short period of time, her father decided not to allow her outside her room at all.
- Her mother claimed that they sometimes dressed 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. She also denied that her husband ever left Genie tied to the child's toilet overnight.
- The people who worked with Genie and her mother never definitively discerned the exact reason for his dog-like behavior, but at least one scientist speculated he may have viewed himself as a guard dog and was acting out the role.
- Her mother claimed that Genie could also hear people entering and leaving nearby houses.
- 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.
- In her dissertation on Genie Susan Curtiss alluded to knowledge of additional details regarding Genie's childhood, which she did not discuss.
- In 1977 Genie's mother 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 and had only attempted to kill her on a single occasion.
- 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.
- Psychologist and autism specialist Mitzi Waltz noted in 2013 that, although psychologist Ole Ivar Lovaas was conducting autism research at UCLA during the time of Genie's case, 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 had ended, when somebody asked Susan Curtiss why they had not done so, 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.
- 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.
- Lenneberg declined to participate and 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.
- 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.
- Shurley also contended that the wide class difference between Genie's mother and the scientists played a substantial role in increasing the tension between them on both sides, but several others 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.
- 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?"
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- During Genie's stay with the Riglers the scientists spent a great deal of time attempting to teach her to count in sequential order, and noted that Genie had a great deal of difficulty learning to do so. She did not start to count 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. When she did start to learn to count, the scientists wrote that it came at the expense of her gestalt perception skills, writing that she ceased to be able to discern numbers through gestalt perception after gaining the ability to count to seven in sequential order and became entirely reliant on counting.
- This test consisted of 15 different meaningless shapes made from straight lines, which they showed to Genie one at a time, and after looking at a shape for five seconds Genie had to recreate it. 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.
- 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. 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.
- For instance, her beginning to form imperative sentences in 1973 suggested not only progress in her language comprehension but an increasing level of self-confidence and self-concept. Researchers noted that she began using them much later in the language-learning process than normal, and that she remained almost entirely unable to use them in everyday situations. The scientists believed that Genie did not feel able to do so because her level of self-concept was still lower than most people, as imperatives require the speaker to have a sufficient amount to feel a right to place demands. Curtiss also said Genie consistently confused the pronouns you and me, often saying, "Mama love you" while pointing to herself, attributing this to a manifestation of Genie's inability to distinguish who she was from who someone else was.
- 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.
- The scientists believed Genie was often unaware of her pronunciation, but on other occasions her haplologies were clearly intentional and she would only speak more clearly if firmly, explicitly requested to; Curtiss attributed the latter 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. 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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, and Curtiss had to review the cards with Genie at the start of every session.
- In an interview Curtiss alluded to knowledge of additional abuse that occurred in this foster home, which she did not discuss.
- Ruch's husband died of bone cancer in 1982.
- 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."
- 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 Hauser's case and that of Amala and Kamala is now almost universally regarded as a hoax.
- Also published as Genie: An Abused Child's Flight From Silence and Genie: Escape From A Silent Childhood.
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Sources and further reading
- Bickerton, Derek (1990), "The Fossils of Language", Language and Species, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-22-604610-5, OCLC 802686883.
- Curtiss, Susan (1977), Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day "Wild Child", Perspectives in Neurolinguistics and Psycholinguistics, Boston, MA: Academic Press, ISBN 978-0-12-196350-7, OCLC 3073433.
- Curtiss, Susan; Fromkin, Victoria A.; Rigler, David; Rigler, Marilyn; Krashen, Stephen D. (1975), "An update on the linguistic development of Genie" (PDF), in Dato, Daniel P., Developmental Psycholinguistics: Theory and Applications, Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics, Washington, D. C.: Georgetown University Press, pp. 145–153, ISBN 978-0-87-840110-9, OCLC 2114555, archived (PDF) from the original on August 6, 2015, retrieved April 29, 2013.
- Newton, Michael (2002), "Where is Tomorrow, Mrs L.?", Savage Girls and Wild Boys, New York, NY: Macmillan, pp. 208–247, ISBN 978-0-31-242335-3, OCLC 54696995.
- Pinker, Steven (2007), "Baby Born Talking—Describes Heaven", The Language Instinct: How The Mind Creates Language (3 ed.), New York, NY: HarperCollins, pp. 296–302, ISBN 978-0-06-095833-6, OCLC 263595357.
- Reynolds, Cecil R.; Fletcher-Janzen, Elaine, eds. (2004), Concise Encyclopedia of Special Education: A Reference for the Education of the Handicapped and Other Exceptional Children and Adults (2 ed.), Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 428–429, ISBN 978-0-471-65251-9, OCLC 46975017.
- Rymer, Russ (1994), Genie: A Scientific Tragedy (2 ed.), New York, NY: Harper Perennial, ISBN 978-0-06-016910-7.
- Sampson, Geoffrey (1997), "The original arguments for a language instinct", Educating Eve: The 'Language Instinct' Debate, London, UK: Continuum Publishing, pp. 23–64, ISBN 978-0-30-433908-2, OCLC 490496141.
- Sampson, Geoffrey (2005), "The Original Arguments for a Language Instinct", The 'Language Instinct' Debate: Revised Edition, London, UK: Continuum Publishing, ISBN 978-1-441-10764-0, OCLC 745866730.
- Collection of documents and film footage pertaining to Genie's case – UCLA Library Special Collections Department