Genie: The Forbidden Experiment

On November 4th 1970, LA authorities found a thirteen year old girl strapped to a potty chair. The story behind the girl shocked the world, the girl was named Genie, she was daughter to an abusive alcoholic father and a nearly blind mother. Genie had spent most of her life in solitary confinement, given little attention from the other members of her family and beaten by her father if she ever made a noise. This meant that Genie never had the opportunity to develop like other children. At the age of thirteen Genie was unable to speak, and was incontinent. Thirteen is passed what is believed to be the critical period for language development, after admittance to Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, researchers and medical staff set out to see if they could teach Genie to speak and disprove the theory  of a Critical Period.


There is a lot of arguement about whether Genie’s treatment after her discovery was ethical. Some argued that rather than being treated as a participant she should have been treated as a patient. Genie was suffering from severe malnutrition, yet she was still subjected to a series of psychological experiments.

The study was an example of the forbidden experiment, Genie was a perfect example of a case of severe privation. This allowed psychologists to carry out research into the effects of privation, something that cannot be ethically researched except in a case like this. Was it right to take advantage of Genie in this way?


For more information on this subject:

Fromkin, V., Krashen, S., Curtiss, S., Rigler, D. & Rigler, M. (1974). The development of language in genie: a case of language acquisition beyond the “critical period”. Brain and Language, 1, 81-107


About hannahsmith93

I study psychology at Bangor University

Posted on 18/11/2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Case studies, such as Genie, allow for an investigation that would ordinarily be unethical to manufacture. The study and research can help others in similar situations and be of gain to a wider society. However at what cost? There can be no value placed upon such investigative research as one person has no less worth than an entire population in my opinion. Genie should have been rehabilitated and nurtured in order for her to have a quality of life that surpassed her previous existence.

    “At first, Genie was placed in Children’s Hospital. Then she moved to the home of Jeanne Butler, one of the hospital’s rehabilitation therapists. Her improvement was striking and her comfort in Butler’s home was obvious. But Butler’s application to become Genie’s foster parent was denied by the Department of Public Social Services, which referred to a hospital policy that prohibited placement of patients in the homes of people who worked at the hospital. Thus, it was not clear why Genie was then moved to the home of Dr. David Rigler and his wife Marilyn, because Rigler also worked at Children’s Hospital. Butler charged that Genie was taken from her because, in trying to provide Genie with a reasonable home life, she had alienated the researchers, who were exploiting Genie and turning her into a human guinea pig through daily testing.”

    This tends to suggest that that the research was prioritised over the welfare of the child, therefore yes it was unethical. I do not ever think there is any situation where a person or groups health, wellbeing and happiness should ever be compromised in the name of science!

  2. Lori Ann Reece

    This is something of interest to me however any video, photos, or very much information. Is there any additional information on the “forbidden Experience” and if the only child involved was the child known as “Genie”. Is there any more information you could share with me as I can’t find anywhere else?
    Sincerely, Lori Reece

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