Genie: The Feral Child

Here we will investigate the importance of attachment through a case study conducted by Curtiss (1977). Genie was the pseudonym given to a young girl who was discovered at the age of 13 years by Los Angeles child welfare to be a victim of severe abuse and neglect. Genie had been socially isolated for almost her entire life due to her father’s belief that she suffered from an intellectual disability of some form, he locked Genie away in a room alone where she was often chained to either a child’s toilet or a crib. A clearly defined black-and-white close-up photograph of Genie from the chest up against an indeterminate background. Her eyes are focused slightly above and to the right of the camera, and she has an expressionless, vacant, innocent look on her face.Due to receiving zero stimulation of any kind, including any human interaction, once Genie was finally discovered by the authorities, she did not possess any language skills and limited motor function. After only a few months with a team of medical personnel and psychologists, Genie started to show an improvement in non-verbal communication and with gradual effort, even her social skills improved dramatically.
Unfortunately, after the termination of research funds, Genie was returned to foster care and passed through a series of foster homes, in which she suffered further abuse. Subsequently, despite the initial efforts of researchers, Genie regressed to her initial state. She was later returned to her mother (around mid-1975) for a few months before her mother decided that she could no longer cope with her care and Genie was returned to social services. Very little is known about her current whereabouts, however it is believed she is still in the care of the state of California.

This case study is frequently used to address the topic of Attachment and its importance. The privation (lack of basic essentials for well being – an attachment has never formed) suffered by Genie demonstrates how crucial relationships of attachment are to the development of cognition and emotion.
Another case study in the importance of attachment is that of the Czech Twins: twin boys who lost their mother soon after birth and were given to social services for a year before being fostered by a loving aunt for 6 months and finally returned to their father. The twins were then locked in a cellar together by their stepmother for over five years and abused. The twins were discovered at the age of 7 and were later adopted by two women – I believe they were sisters-. As they grew, the boys quickly caught up with the intellect and emotionally abilities of their peers and proceeded to even attend further education, marry and have children of their own.

NOTE: It is crucial to highlight the differences between these two case studies and their outcomes! We can speculate that the positive outcome of the Czech twins as opposed to Genie was due to three main factors:

  1. The twins were discovered at a much earlier age then Genie and could thus reap more of the benefits of proper care and recover much easier,
  2. Whilst imprisoned, the twins had each other for social contact, whereas Genie was entirely alone,
  3. The twins were adopted by maternal, loving individuals but Genie was transferred from foster home to foster home and was often abused throughout her time there.

Therefore, whilst both studies demonstrate the importance of attachment, they do not highlight the same exact issue.


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