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 58–59)
Arcadia, California, United States
|Known for||Victim of severe child abuse and research subject in language acquisition|
Genie (born 1957) is the pseudonym for 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 concluded that she was severely mentally retarded, a view which intensified as she got older, 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 the age of 13 years and 7 months he kept her locked alone in a room. During this time he almost always kept her strapped 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, which 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 location authorities placed her with the family of the scientist heading the research team, where she stayed for the next four years. 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 worked with and 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 one has conducted any scientific analysis of Genie 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. 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 first name to one which was more masculine, and his mother began to spend as much time with him as she could. He became almost singularly fixated on his mother, despite the fact that she unrelentingly argued with him about her unsuccessful efforts to convince him to adopt a less rigid lifestyle, and for the rest of her life he treated all other relationships as ancillary at most. From the start of the relationship between Genie's parents the family and friends of Genie's mother had strongly opposed their marriage because her husband was around twenty years older than she. 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. During the early years of their marriage 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 described as 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 4½ 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. Against the doctor's recommendation that she receive physical therapy after removal of the Frejka splint, her father refused to allow access to any further treatment. 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, and used this to rationalize his subsequent treatment of 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. Upon learning of the court's sentencing 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 her 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.[b] He still thought that Genie was severely mentally retarded, and therefore 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 move her, 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.[c]
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 barked 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; this instilled an intense fear of cats and dogs in Genie that persisted long after she was freed.[d] As a result, Genie learned to make as little sound as possible and to otherwise give no outward expressions. Genie developed a tendency to masturbate in socially inappropriate contexts, which led doctors to seriously consider 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.[e] 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.[f] 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 6½ 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.[g]
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.[h] 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 who interacted with her 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. Most of the early information on Genie came from the police investigation, as Rigler said the hospital could not procure Genie's developmental history. Shortly after the arrest of Genie's parents the arresting officer questioned them with his partner, and 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 cooperated with investigators, and police also conducted an extensive search of the house which yielded additional details, but even after the conclusion of the investigation there were a large number of questions about Genie's early life left unresolved.; in mid-1993, 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 significantly fueled public interest in her. Large crowds subsequently 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 which in part said "Be a good boy, I love you," and one directed at the police; one of the notes—sources conflict as to which—contained the declaration, "The world will never understand."
After the suicide of Genie's father, law enforcement and hospital staff exclusively focused on Genie and her mother, and almost immediately decided to leave Genie's brother on his own. 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. At the request of Howard Hansen attorney John Miner, who was an acquaintance of Hansen and had already taken interest in the case from the media coverage, represented her in court. 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
The day after Genie's admission to Children's Hospital Rigler and Hansen 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. 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.
Genie's gross motor skills were extremely weak, and she could neither stand up straight nor fully straighten any of her limbs. Her movements were very hesitant and unsteady, and she had very little endurance. 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. 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 the level of a two-year-old.
Despite early tests which determined Genie had normal vision in both eyes, she could not focus them on anything more than 10 feet (3 m) away, which corresponded to the dimensions of the room her father kept her in. 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.
Doctors found it extremely difficult to test or estimate Genie's mental age or any of her cognitive abilities, but on two attempts they found Genie scored at the level of a 13-month-old. From the very first time Kent met with Genie he was convinced that she had memories of her past. To the surprise of the doctors working with her she appeared very interested in exploring environmental stimuli, although objects seemed to intrigue her much more than people. They especially noted the extreme intensity with which she looked for new sources of stimulation. 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.
Genie's behavior was typically highly antisocial, 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. In addition, she did not have any situational awareness whatsoever. Doctors wrote that she acted on any of her impulses irrespective of the setting, especially noting that she frequently engaged in open masturbation and would sometimes attempt to involve older men.
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.[i]
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. She 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.
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. Hospital staff knew her father's abuse played some role in her unwillingness to express her emotions outwardly, although it took them years to determine the extent to which he forced her to repress all expressions.
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. After observing Genie for some time they concluded that she was not selectively mute, 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 permanently impacted her intelligence, 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.[j] Although he did not know the cause of Genie's unusual sleep pattern until after the completion of his testing, he wrote this did not significantly impact his results and noted that her awakenings decreased each session before entirely ceasing by the end. He 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.[k]
In 1972 Shurley wrote that he could not definitely determine the cause of these abnormalities, and considered either functional or congenital mental disabilities as possibilities. Eventually he concluded Genie had been mentally retarded from birth and specifically cited her significantly elevated number of sleep spindles as evidence, as these are characteristic of people born with severe retardation. The other 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, and noted that some of the aspects of language Genie acquired were uncharacteristic of mentally 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, doctors noted that she had good eye–hand coordination and that she had made noticeable improvement with her ability to focus on objects with her eyes. Around that time Kent decided to move her to the hospital's rehabilitation center, giving her access to more activities and opportunities to socialize.
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, so he 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 after with other familiar hospital staff. She got along with both men and women, but people who worked with her 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 these having been 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.
By December 1970, Kent and the other hospital staff working with Genie saw 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, and began organizing a research team 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, noting that 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, at a 5-year-old level for others, on some at an 8- to 9-year-old level, and in some cases found she performed at the level of a normal 12- to 13-year-old. At that time, doctors noted that she showed considerable interest in people speaking and that she 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. Doctors also saw that she took pleasure in intentionally dropping or destroying small objects, and enjoyed watching someone else do the same to 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, with her overall 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 was angry because she 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 somewhere 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's brain 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. Genie underwent audiometry tests which confirmed that she had regular hearing in both ears, but on dichotic listening tests 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, stimulating 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 distinguishing speech sounds with her right hemisphere, they thought her language functions had lateralized there instead.
Interest as a case study and grant funding
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 in 1967 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 and obtained 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 an immediate and 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 substantial 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.[l] 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. From the time of her admission 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 the sudden emergence of a genie 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. Curtiss immediately began observing Genie's speech, and for the remainder of Genie's stay at Children's Hospital Curtiss met with Genie almost every day. To piece together what she could of Genie's early progress, Curtiss used the hospital's film and transcripts and spoke with the doctors who had worked with Genie.
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. 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 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.
At around the same time Curtiss began her work doctors reevaluated Genie on the Leiter scale and measured on a Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale, which placed her estimated mental age between a 5- and 8-year-old with a very high degree of scatter. While living at Children's Hospital doctors believed Genie had learned to use her gestalt perception to determine the number of objects in a group, and when Curtiss began working with her she could discern the correct number of up to 7 objects with perfect accuracy using this method. 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, demonstrating to him that she could engage in deferred imitation; he saw both as major cognitive gains. Genie's behavior was still abnormal and the scientists were especially 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"—but at the time expressed some optimism about their ability to rehabilitate her.
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 an isolation ward 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. Her 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 health and 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 she noted 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.
Soon after moving in Genie started showing the first signs of reaching puberty, marking dramatic improvement in her overall health and definitively putting 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 on Genie's incontinence, which gradually improved until, by the end of her stay, both her daytime and nighttime incontinence had almost entirely gone away. 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 claimed that the man she was dating had also noticed and commented on the improvement in Genie's language and her increased willingness to speak.
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, who was still living alone in the same house but had either rearranged or destroyed most of the items associated with Genie's abuse, 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 that he and Genie got along very well, which Shurley later corroborated, and Shurley said he was also very intent on Butler 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 in her writings 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 in her journal 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. She also had several disagreements with Rigler, although he said their disputes were never as personal or as heated as she portrayed them.
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 receiving compensation from 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 and the research team's frustration with her, he thought her home was suitable and her application would likely be accepted. The Nova documentary on Genie, however, states the rejection of Butler came partially on the hospital's recommendation; there is evidence many hospital authorities, including Hansen, felt Butler's ability to care for Genie was inadequate, and hospital policy forbade its staff members from becoming foster parents of its patients. Butler herself believed the hospital had opposed her application so Genie could be moved somewhere more conducive to research, and wrote that Genie, upon being told of the decision, was extremely upset and had said, "No, no, no."
Second foster home
In early August Hansen suggested to Rigler that he take custody of Genie if authorities rejected Butler's application, and 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. The Riglers had three adolescent children of their own, one of whom was leaving to attend college. They ultimately decided that, if no one else would, they were willing to temporarily care for Genie until a new foster home became available. 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 they would take control of Genie's care.
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, hospital staff 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. Despite the hospital's policy Children's Hospital authorities 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 to their home in Los Feliz. David Rigler said that he and Marilyn initially intended the arrangement to last for a maximum of three months, but Genie ultimately stayed with them for almost four years.
When Genie moved in with the Riglers, Marilyn became her new teacher. They 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. Soon after she moved in David Rigler also decided to make himself Genie's primary therapist, taking over this role from James Kent. Although the Riglers remained her primary caretakers throughout this time, with the consent of Genie's mother and her psychologists authorities designated John Miner as Genie's uncompensated legal guardian during 1972.
Relationship with her mother
James Kent and Howard Hansen ensured that Genie's mother continued to receive therapy from Children's Hospital psychologists, and she 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. 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. She also had a difficult time getting along with most of the other people involved in her and Genie's life, some of whom disliked her due to her inaction during Genie's childhood. She was much more able to relate to Jay Shurley, who came from a fairly similar background, 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.[m]
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 had all been 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.[n] 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 authorities removed Genie 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 during this time 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.[o] 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 that 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.
Research team testing and observations
Immediately upon moving in with the Riglers, without any obvious cause Genie's incontinence resurfaced. In the first weeks of her 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. Despite the clear improvements in Genie's physical health she was still extremely thin and undersized, and her manner of walking was still very unusual. 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, sent her into tantrum behavior, 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 if Curtiss was playing classical music on the piano, and if someone was talking to her she almost never gave any kind of response 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 in any context, and found that she was terrified of both their cat and their Labrador retriever puppy; upon seeing the puppy for the first time she immediately ran into the next room and hid. Although the scientists did not yet know the reason for her fear, in the days immediately after she moved in both David and Marilyn used the puppy to gradually acclimate her. At first she was so intensely frightened that she would only come near the dog if it was behind a closed sliding glass door, and even this proved extremely difficult for her. Over the next several days she slowly grew more comfortable with seeing the dog, and after around two weeks she managed to entirely overcome her fear of both the Riglers' pets. 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.
In an effort to prevent Genie's self-harming behaviors, shortly after she moved in Marilyn taught her 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. When situations came up which especially upset Genie Marilyn also tried to explain in words that these were not a big deal. Later during her stay, when Marilyn could see Genie getting upset, Marilyn would say to her, "You are upset. You are having a rough time." Genie gradually began to respond, "rough time" when Marilyn said this, eventually only needing to hear, "You are upset" before saying, "rough time", and could eventually 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 gained more control over her responses and had progressively fewer tantrums during the course of her stay, although she never entirely ceased to have them, and in February 1975 Curtiss wrote that for the first time she had been able to talk Genie down from one of her outbursts.
To help overcome Genie's ongoing difficulty with chewing and swallowing Marilyn gave her progressively tougher foods and physically raising and lowering her jaw, and after approximately four months Genie could eat 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. By the end of her stay she could engage in vigorous exercise and other physical play, and her trouble with incontinence almost entirely disappeared.
When Genie first moved in with the Riglers, in an effort to get her to listen to other people 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 to the story she was hearing. After that point, she wrote that Genie began to pay attention to people even when they were not speaking directly to or about her. Genie became somewhat more sociable in her interactions with other people, and on some occasions spontaneously contributed to an ongoing 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.
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. The Riglers and the other scientists on the research team worked very hard to help Genie control some of her urges, which proved very difficult, but after several months her behavior improved to the point that she started going to first a nursery school and then a public school for mentally delayed 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 she never completely stopped acting out some of her urges she made substantial progress with controlling herself both at home and in public, almost entirely ceasing her socially inappropriate masturbation by the time Curtiss presented her dissertation, and while Genie continued to take things from other people her responses clearly indicated that she knew she was not supposed to. Genie also 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.
During Genie's stay the Riglers taught her some self-help skills, including simple chores such as ironing and using a sewing machine, and by the end of her stay she had also learned to make simple meals for herself. 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.
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 of Genie, which took place throughout her stay, 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 continuing 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.
Curtiss began thorough, active testing of Genie's language use and acquisition 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. In addition to their tests, the research team also attempted to gauge what pragmatics of language she acquired. They 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 testing continued she grew to largely enjoy being tested and became much more cooperative, although Curtiss wrote that Genie 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.[p] In some instances, learning a new aspect of language played a direct role in helping to further her psychological and mental development.[q] 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.
In everyday conversations Genie typically spoke only in short utterances and inconsistently used what pieces of grammar 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. After Genie began to combine words the scientists attempted to teach her some ritual speech for use in everyday situations, which worked in some instances but at other times was completely unsuccessful. Her conversational competence markedly improved during her stay but remained very low, which the scientists found unsurprising and suggested this provided evidence that the ability to engage in conversation was a separate skill from knowing language.
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 they worked very hard to improve it. She gradually began to talk in a moderately lower and louder voice, better articulated words, and pronounced more individual sounds, but 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. 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. 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.
By the end of Genie's stay with the Riglers her vocabulary was continuing to grow, and her grammar had clearly expanded. Papers contemporaneous with the case study indicated that she was still learning new aspects of grammar, and were optimistic about her potential to varying degrees. 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". Curtiss' papers on Genie from after the conclusion of the study all acknowledged that Genie learned vocabulary and that she had clearly acquired some basic grammar, but 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. 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.[r] Although she did not discuss her childhood very often 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. 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, so in 1974, the Riglers arranged for her to learn a blend of American Sign Language and signed English. 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 they did record a few aspects of it. 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 could write individual letters in print.[s]
In the time immediately after scientists began working with Genie she would only draw pictures if someone asked her 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; in two pictures from November 1971 Curtiss noted that Genie had depicted 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 that 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.
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 Genie's extreme right hemisphere dominance. 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 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 language tests, and maintained her left-ear preference within normal range for non-language sounds. In addition, she consistently performed at a 100% accuracy rate in both ears on monaural language tests and 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 come to their conclusion that she was acquiring language in her right hemisphere.
The scientists conducted several additional tests to be completely certain as to 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 discerning and processing on environmental stimuli.
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 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", demonstrating that, similar to the results of adult split-brain and left hemispherectomy patients, her receptive comprehension was significantly better than her expressive language. 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. During these tests the EEG consistently picked up more activity from the two electrodes over the right hemisphere of her brain than those over the normal locations of the Broca's area and Wernicke's area in the left hemisphere, and they found an especially high level of involvement from her right anterior cerebral cortex. Taken with Genie's results on the dichotic listening tests, these tests lent further support to the researchers' belief that Genie was using her right hemisphere for language.
Linguists compared Genie's language to that of split-brain and hemispherectomy patients, noting that 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. One discrepancy the scientists especially noted was that, while automatic speech and profanity typically originate in the right hemisphere and both split-brain and hemispherectomy patients typically learn and use them without difficulty, Genie never used or gave a natural response to either. This did not affect the scientists' assessment of her as extremely right-hemisphere dominant, as Curtiss argued that Genie's childhood environment, which had prevented her from observing any conversation, was her main impediment to learning conversational operators.
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 measured significantly higher on tests which did not require language, such as the Leiter Scale, than on tests with a vocabulary component such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children. To test Genie's brain functions, they administered several tachistoscopic tests 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. For instance, on spatial awareness her scores were reportedly the highest ever recorded in the medical literature to that point.[t] Similarly, when the scientists administered a Mooney Face Test in May 1975 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.[u] On a separate gestalt perception test, Genie's extrapolated score was in the 95th percentile for adults. Her 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. 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. 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. On the French Pictorial test, which the scientists administered approximately a year after her initial admission to Children's Hospital, her performance placed her mental age in the 4½- to 9-year-old range. On one gestalt perception test the scientists administered twice Genie's score improved from 7 to 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. 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.
Genie's performance on these tests led the scientists to believe that that her brain had lateralized, and that her right hemisphere had undergone specialization. Because Genie's performance was so high on such a wide variety of tasks predominantly utilizing the right hemisphere of her brain, they concluded her exceptional abilities extended to typical right-hemisphere functions in general and were not specific to any individual 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.[v]
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 2½- to 3-year-old range, meaning that during this time span she only improved 1½ 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 8½- 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 7½-year-old, and although this was 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. One memory for design 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; despite showing an ability to complete similar tasks in other settings she scored at a "borderline" level in October 1975, although she did not make the mistakes typical of patients with any kind of brain damage. 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.[w] Since Genie exclusively used her right hemisphere, these would therefore be very difficult for her.
Loss of funding and research interest
Despite Genie's developmental progress, on several occasions the NIMH voiced concerns about the lack of scientific data researchers generated from the case study and the disorganized state of project records. Outside of Curtiss and Fromkin's work and their linguistics data David Rigler did not clearly define parameters for the scope of the research team, and generated far more data than could have realistically been used. Many of their test results and observations had little or no discernible value, and the enormous volume of data eventually made it impossible for researchers to determine the importance of much of their information. The scientists were also storing their documentation in suboptimal condition, filing it with no discernible categorization system.
In 1974 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 their best 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, and while acknowledging that their research methods were less than ideal for producing typically scientific results he maintained much of their work necessarily relied on unquantifiable observations. When the extension neared its end and David Rigler began the process of proposing an additional three-year extension, Jean Butler Ruch began vociferously arguing against it. She obtained Rigler's proposal—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 further funding for the study. NIMH support for the study officially ended in June 1975.
In 1975, when Genie turned 18, her mother stated that she wished to care for her. 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. 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 and along John Miner, who remained Genie's legal guardian and still controlled her assets, 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.
After 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. Curtiss also continued to conduct regular testing and observations of Genie, despite the NIMH grant ending, and frequently went on outings with her. 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. The task of caring for Genie by herself quickly overwhelmed her mother, and 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 delayed 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, resulting in both incontinence and constipation and causing her to fall back on 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, rapidly accelerating the pace of her regression 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, and when she did she would only open her mouth just long enough to put food in. This fear also made her afraid to speak, rendering her almost completely silent and causing her to begin almost exclusively using the sign language she had learned while with the Riglers. The people running the house almost never permitted her mother, whom she desperately missed, to visit, causing Genie to become extremely withdrawn. At one point while living there, she refused to talk for five months.[x]
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 reported that 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 them and Curtiss 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 for two weeks. While there she was able to see both her mother and the Riglers, and both her physical and mental condition moderately improved, although she continued to use sign language for most communication. At around the same time, Curtiss and Fromkin obtained a year-long grant from the National Science Foundation to continue their work with Genie. After her hospital stay authorities placed Genie in another foster home, where she stayed until December 1977. In this location she was doing fairly well, but in mid-December the arrangement very suddenly collapsed. Through the end of that month into early January Genie lived in a temporary setting, and around the beginning of 1978 she moved into another foster home.
During this time Genie's physical and mental condition continued to deteriorate. None of the scientists besides Curtiss regularly saw her, and on several occasions Genie voiced a desire to see her mother. 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 in all aspects of her life.
Starting in late 1975 several of the doctors and psychologists who had worked with Genie and her mother, including David Rigler, had sought payment for their services, and around the same time the Social Security Administration demanded over a thousand dollars of Genie's assets in repayment. When the social worker assigned to Genie attempted to access a trust fund in her name, they discovered that Miner intended to use all of this money to pay David Rigler. Although Miner managed to get a court ruling to prevent the SSA from taking control of the trust fund, he and Genie's social worker continued to dispute the management of this trust fund. This dispute and Miner's lack of responsiveness during Genie's foster home stays caused the social services office to begin seeking a way to remove him as Genie's legal guardian, which Miner contended was purely retaliatory and motivated by self-interest on their part.
In 1976 Curtiss finished and presented her dissertation, entitled Genie: A Psycholinguistic Study of a Modern-Day "Wild Child", and Academic Press published it the following year. Genie's mother had reportedly thought of Genie and Curtiss as friends, but when she saw a copy of Curtiss' dissertation sometime in early 1978 she wrote that she was very offended at the title and some of the contents. She privately disputed some specific details of Curtiss' account of the family's treatment during Genie's childhood, but her official complaint did not; instead she asserted a violation of patient confidentiality, arguing that Curtiss could only have obtained these details from her therapists or their supervisors, and accused the research team 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. She decided to sue Children's Hospital, her therapists, their supervisors, and several of the researchers, including Curtiss, Kent, Hansen, and Rigler. The lawyers who worked with Genie's mother argued that although the scientists had good intentions their research methods had been fundamentally flawed, alleging that researchers sometimes tested Genie between 60 and 70 hours per week and 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 that Genie's mother was suing them. They thought the lawsuit 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. In interviews years later the lawyers confirmed the extent of Ruch's involvement, and one 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. 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.
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, but as the legal proceedings 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 lawsuit. 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 on Genie, 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 she met with Genie a week later on January 3, 1978, Genie's mother suddenly decided to prevent Curtiss from seeing Genie again. Starting in early 1978, Genie's mother began taking Genie with her on her visits to Ruch's house. Over the subsequent two years, linguists released new information on Genie from the period of mid-1975 to the end of 1977. After this, despite the lack of new information they continued to analyze their data throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.
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, 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 scientists except for Jay Shurley from seeing her or Genie. In 1979 Miner unsuccessfully petitioned to remove Genie from her mother's guardianship and have himself reinstated as her guardian, arguing that she could not provide adequate care for Genie. Miner also persuaded David Rigler to request Genie's portion of her father's estate as payment for his services, and although this amount, around 4500 dollars, was significantly less than Rugler's full request, he said he was willing to take anything her estate permitted. When Genie's mother sued to reclaim it a judge decided to give Rigler most of what he had requested, but although authorities had disbursed the money from Genie's estate by at least mid-1981 Rigler and Miner both said he never received any of it.[y]
After the conclusion of the legal proceedings, David Rigler wrote to Genie's mother in an effort to reestablish contact. She initially did not respond, and after he made several more attempts she wrote back requesting that he cease all attempts at communication. She moved in 1987 without leaving a forwarding address, although she stayed in the Los Angeles area. In the early 1990s Rigler said he thought his and Miner's court actions had likely impacted the subsequent actions of Genie's mother towards himself and the other members of the research team. Jay Shurley said that after the conclusion of the lawsuit 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.
From 1978 into the 1980s 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.[z] During the course of the lawsuit 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 of the project, saying he was shocked at how vicious and personal her attacks on the research team had been. 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. Some of these locations subjected her to extreme degrees of physical abuse and harassment, 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.[aa]
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 delayed adults and only saw her mother one weekend every month, and 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.
Rymer's magazine articles gained some media attention and his book received critical acclaim, including an overall positive reception from scientific reporter Natalie Angier. In a review published in late April 1993 she repeated what Rymer had originally said about Genie's living arrangements, further alleging that Genie was being inadequately cared for and isolated, and was strongly critical of all of the scientists involved in Genie's case. Several people who worked with Genie, including Curtiss and James Kent, harshly criticized Rymer's book, and Angier's review prompted David Rigler to make his first public statement on the case study. In letter to the New York Times, published in mid-June 1993, David Rigler gave his own account of Genie's case and pointed to several parts of her review which he said contained substantial omissions and factual inaccuracies regarding both the book and the entire case.[ab] According to him, Genie was living in a small, private facility where her mother regularly visited her. Rigler also stated that he and Marilyn had recently reestablished contact with Genie's mother and had seen Genie for the first time in 15 years, writing that Genie seemed happy and had immediately recognized and greeted him and Marilyn by name, and said that, "my wife and I have resumed our (now infrequent) visits with Genie and her mother."[ac]
Genie is a ward of the state of California, and is living in an undisclosed location in Los Angeles. In May 2008 ABC News published two stories on Genie, and the first of these reported that someone who spoke to them 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 2002 Susan Curtiss said that she still wanted to see Genie again, saying she primarily wanted to reestablish contact as a friend but also expressing interest in assessing her language abilities and comparing them to her earlier results, but in interviews for the first ABC news story on Genie both Curtiss and James Kent told reporters that neither of them had seen her since January 1978 despite Curtiss' repeated efforts to find her.
For both of their stories, ABC reporters also spoke with Genie's brother, who was 56 at the time. He indicated that this was the first time he had agreed to an interview about either his or Genie's life. He said that after his father's suicide he briefly stayed with his mother, but that he decided to leave the area because she began dedicating all of her love and attention to Genie. According to him, he had only returned to the area once to visit Genie and his mother in 1982. Although he maintained sporadic contact with his mother throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he never saw his mother again and had not seen Genie since that time.[ad] 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 had received. He had only recently heard any updates on Genie. He said he wished he had been more involved in his sister's life, and was glad she had gotten so much attention and that she was reportedly doing well where she was living.
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. The first ABC News story on Genie noted they had been unable to contact David Rigler, who was 87 years old at the time, as he was in declining health. Rigler died days before turning 93 in early April 2014.
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 other cases
In several of their publications, the scientists involved in Genie's case acknowledged the influence that Jean Marc Gaspard Itard's study of Victor of Aveyron had on their research and testing. 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 the tests Itard had designed for 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 methods was his insistence that Victor learn one method of communication—in his case writing—to the exclusion of others. In addition, 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 between Victor's and Genie's anti-social behaviors and the difficulties scientists had faced in their attempts to control them in both cases. Both of them also noted that scientists had been unable to reintegrate either one into society and pointed out that the outcomes of their cases, while not completely identical, bore striking resemblance to each other. 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. 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.
In addition to comparisons with Victor of Aveyron, both the scientists working with Genie and outside analyses of her case note the influence of the language deprivation experiments which Psamtik I, King James IV of Scotland, and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II purportedly carried or attempted to carry out. 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. In contrast to Genie, only a year after teachers began working with Isabella she successfully acquired language and developed what her teachers described as fully normal social skills.[ae] The two ABC News stories on Genie compared her case to the Fritzl case, especially noting the similarities between the abuse Genie's father carried out on his family and Josef Fritzl's imprisonment of his daughter and three of his grandchildren. Their first story also compared Genie's physical and mental problems to those of the grandchildren Fritzl held captive.
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 any congenital conditions 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 had 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 have only impacted 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.
Several researchers, including Jay Shurley, said that there was strong disagreement about how to work with Genie during the initial grant meetings in May 1971, and the atmosphere grew increasingly tense and bitter. Although no one objected to studying her linguistic development, some of the scientists voiced concern that the prevailing methods could cause love and attention to be contingent on her ability to learn language. Kent, Howard Hansen, the Riglers, and Curtiss readily acknowledged that the scientists had numerous views on the ideal direction for their research, and agreed that it had been very hard to determine their course of action, but all of them unequivocally stated that they always viewed Genie as a person and never considered her welfare to be anything but their first priority. Kent and Hansen maintained that the disagreements during the meetings were completely typical of scientific discourse and never involved animosity, and Hansen and David Rigler said the difficulty with coming to a decision about the course of research was due to the exceptional nature of the case.
Shurley and David Elkind separately said they felt the research team was chiefly focused on how to study Genie and pursued research at the expense of her well-being, with Shurley especially noting 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. After May 1971 Elkind declined to participate in the study, despite having known and both the Riglers for several years, and when asked about his decision years later he cited a desire not to be involved in a case which, in his view, prioritized scientific research over Genie's care. While Shurley acknowledged that the scientists at the center of the study had been in a completely unprecedented situation, due to his misgivings about their work he minimized his involvement with 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 maintained 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 made any effort to receive payment.
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. 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. 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 from recognizing it. He cited the starting point as the decision to appoint John Miner as legal counsel for Genie's mother and wrote that, although this had not been problematic in and of itself, it ultimately led to everyone 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 them from providing the best possible care for Genie and compromised their 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 and that 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 it was her mother prevented them from seeing her.
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. In court and in later interviews, he 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. 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.
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] He interviewed several of the scientists for the works, and chiefly documented the case from their perspectives, but spoke to Genie's mother shortly before the publication of the magazine articles and obtained several documents from her which he used in his book.[ag]
Film and television
In 1994 Nova made a multiple Emmy Award-winning documentary on Genie based on Rymer's book, narrated by Stacy Keach, titled Secret of the Wild Child.[ah] 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]
The award-winning independent film Mockingbird Don't Sing, released in 2001, is about Genie's case from the perspective of Susan Curtiss. For legal reasons, all 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.
- 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 who worked with Genie 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 her from gaining 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 stated that he did not have any desire to study Genie and declined to participate, saying no definite conclusions could be drawn because the level of trauma associated with Genie's childhood would be impossible to discern.
- Shurley also contended that 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.
- 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. However, 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 of it 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. Curtiss wrote that 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 the Riglers would often pay Genie a small amount of money—Genie took what was for her an unprecedented action by leaving Curtiss and actively interrupting Marilyn so she could be rewarded. Upon finishing, Genie then turned to Marilyn and said "May I have ten pennies?"
- One author wrote that this disproved the proposition of 18th century philosopher Étienne Bonnot de Condillac that humans require language to form memories.
- 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.
- Curtiss wrote that the results of Genie's spatial awareness tests gave indications of left-hemisphere dominance for these functions, but when monitoring her they 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.
- She noted that 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.
- In an interview Curtiss alluded to knowledge of additional abuse that occurred in this foster home, which she did not discuss.
- When independently asked about their court actions in the early 1990s both Rigler and Miner had vague but fairly consistent recollections, and in a letter Miner claimed to have lost the relevant documents.
- 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."
- In his response Rigler made a few short comments on the book itself as well; besides responding to Rymer's and Angier's assertion that the lawsuit had been settled out of court, he also wrote that the book, unlike Angier's review, had accurately documented the reasons for Genie's initial admission to Children's Hospital.
- 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 comment on.
- In a 2008 interview, the police officer who arrested Genie's parents said that their inaction on his behalf had been a major error on their part in handling the case.
- 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.
- Rymer wrote that he decided not to attempt to meet Genie, as he concluded that doing so 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.
- Broadcast as Genie: A Deprived Child in the United Kingdom.
- Broadcast as Wild Child: The Story of Feral Children in the United States.
- Reynolds & Fletcher-Janzen 2004, p. 428.
- Waltz, Mitzi (2013). "Bedlam, Behaviouralism, and Beyond". Autism: A Social and Medical History. Basingstoke, Hampshire, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-230-52750-8. OCLC 821693777.
- James, Susan Donaldson (May 7, 2008). "Wild Child 'Genie': A Tortured Life". ABC News. Archived from the original on April 23, 2013. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
- "Secret of the Wild Child". NOVA. Season 22. Episode 2. PBS. March 4, 1997. OCLC 57894649. PBS (United States), BBC (United Kingdom). Archived from the original on November 9, 2012. Retrieved February 12, 2009.
- Curtiss 1977, pp. 1–6.
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- Curtiss et al. 1975.
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- Rymer 1994, pp. 151–155.
- Rymer 1994.
- Leiber, Justin (June–September 1977). "Nature's Experiments, Society's Closures". Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 27 (2–3): 325–343. doi:10.1111/1468-5914.00041. ISSN 0021-8308. OCLC 5152679776. Archived from the original on March 23, 2010. Retrieved September 1, 2014.
- Rymer 1994, pp. 11–14.
- James, Susan Donaldson (May 19, 2008). "Raised by a Tyrant, Suffering a Sibling's Abuse". ABC News. Archived from the original on September 14, 2011. Retrieved February 12, 2009.
- James, Susan Donaldson (May 19, 2008). "Family's Past". ABC News. Archived from the original on October 13, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
- Rymer 1994, pp. 11–16.
- Newton 2002, p. 305.
- Rymer 1994, pp. 11–15.
- & Curtiss 1977, pp. 2–4.
- Weston, Jonah (director/producer) (July 2002). "Wild Child". Body Shock. Season 1. Episode 2. OCLC 437863794. Channel 4.
- Curtiss 1977, pp. 3–7.
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- Rymer 1994, p. 13.
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- Curtiss, Susan; Fromkin, Victoria A.; Krashen, Stephen D.; Rigler, David; Rigler, Marilyn (1974). "The Development of Language in Genie: a Case of Language Acquisition Beyond the "Critical Period"" (PDF). Brain and Language (Los Angeles) 1 (1): 81–107. doi:10.1016/0093-934X(74)90027-3. ISSN 0093-934X. OCLC 4652742368. Archived from the original on August 6, 2015. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
- Curtiss 1977, pp. 4–5.
- Curtiss 1977, p. 4.
- Curtiss 1977, pp. 4–5, 11.
- Rymer 1994, pp. 14–16.
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- Curtiss 1977, p. 5.
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- Newton 2002, p. 211.
- Rymer 1994, pp. 14–15, 208.
- Newton 2002, pp. 211–213.
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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.
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- Collection of documents and film footage pertaining to Genie's case – UCLA Library Special Collections Department