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Genie Wiley - Secrets of the Wild Child


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In the fall of 1970, social workers took custody of a 13-year-old child who had spent much of her life chained to a potty chair in her bedroom. She could not speak, walk, or respond to other people. She was called "Genie." Her case attracted psychologists who were interested in finding out whether she could still learn to speak. At the time, some linguists, led by MIT's Noam Chomsky, believed that human speech is a genetically programmed ability. Eric Lenneberg, a neuropsychologist, agreed with Chomsky and added further that if a person did not learn to speak by adolescence, then the natural ability to learn language might be lost forever. This theory was the so-called "critical period hypothesis."Although Genie's situation was one that scientists would never create intentionally to test their theories, her unfortunate circumstances made her a prime candidate for experimentation. Genie was past puberty. If she could still learn language, it would cast doubt on the critical period hypothesis. Ultimately, Genie's caretakers were criticized for combining their research with her treatment.



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