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