“Genie: Secrets of a Wild Child”: The Documentary Analysis

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Genie was a federal child who, for thirteen years since her birth, had been extremely deprived of any form of emotional, moral, and social attachments. Neglected for thirteen years, Genie had no human contact, social behavior, or exposure to any human language. The girl was found in a small room, where she spent most of her time tied to her child’s toilet. The federal child who would be known as Genie was discovered in Los Angeles, California, around 1970. During this time, there were significant debates in the field of psychology. Although the experiment conducted on Genie has been deemed unethical, it ended some of the major psychological disputes regarding the language acquisition process.

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One of the major questions involving “Genie: Secrets of a Wild Child” documentary is whether or not her behaviors had been inherited or influenced by her environment. Children need to be exposed to affection, human contact, and interaction in order for them to develop a strong sense of self. As such, the early stages of development are essential to every child’s growth. Children often socialize with micro-level members at an early age. Genie’s case is of profound importance as it shows the results when some fundamental levels of development are absent.

In general, nurture entails helping someone develop particular aspects which are essential to them. Human beings require support in order to develop their full potential. In other words, nurture plays a critical role in enhancing human behavior, personality, and intelligence. Hardwired by nature, humans have the capacity to develop fully; however, their growth is stifled when support is not provided. Genie was deprived of attention and time during her childhood, which are essential aspects of proper development. Humans are naturally capable of acquiring a new language, but Genie could hardly utter any word at thirteen. This phenomenon indicates that even though particular behavioral and cognitive abilities are naturally hardwired, they are enhanced by care and love.

The evidence that supports the importance of language acquisition in a child’s development is usually found in the rare cases of children who were not exposed to a language at an early age. A case example is Genie, who spent most of her early years in isolation. Genie’s imprisonment made it impossible for her to be exposed to social conversations. Although she later learned to utter a few words, Genie did not have enhanced cognitive abilities to acquire a full language. It was hard for her to fully acquire a language since she had not mastered the first language. As a result, Genie’s story supports the critical period hypothesis proposed by Noam Chomsky. Psychologists posit that effective learning of a language must happen before puberty (Mohamad & Rashid, 2018). Genie learned new utterances with trouble, and could not intelligently put them together to convey information.

One of the most significant theories used to educate Genie was Bandura’s social-cognitive learning theory. This theory maintains that humans can learn by observing other humans and deciding which behavior to mimic (Bandura, 2019). It also indicates that rewarded behaviors are more likely to be repeated and vice-versa. According to this theory, role models, especially teachers, are often imitated by their students (Bandura, 2019). This evidence is manifested in the case of Genie, who did not get the privilege to learn a language. Genie, however, would get the opportunity to perform simple tasks on her own such as taking a bath.

Further, Genie was able to learn by observing other people’s behaviors. Her ability to recall the behavior of those teaching her was remarkable. After reproducing the behavior, Genie would find a stimulus to repeat the action. For example, in a particular video of Genie’s teaching, she was caught watching her teacher’s actions. When asked to repeat the behavior, she did and received applause (Nilsen, 2017). It was easy to teach Genie using Bandura’s social-cognitive learning theory since it involved effective participation.

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Several theories have been formulated to explain the stages of development in children. These theories can be classified as moral, emotional, or cognitive. Lawrence Kohlberg developed most moral development theories, while Erik Erikson advanced the emotional development theories. Jean Piaget, on the other hand, is attributed to the most common cognitive development theories. According to Turiel (2018), Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development comprises pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional stages. Kohlberg noticed that children start to discern right from wrong at the age of three years as a function of external punishment. As espoused by Kohlberg, a child reaches the conventional moral development level by the age of nine (Turiel, 2018). The conventional stage is marked by the child’s ability to see molarity as an integral part of society. At around nine years, they develop a belief that it is necessary to maintain positive relationships (Turiel, 2018). Genie, who spent thirteen years in confinement, did not have exposure to her environment. As such, her case falls under the pre-conventional stage of moral development, in which an action is judged based on the repercussions.

Additionally, Erikson studied both children and adults and classified them into various stages: love, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, care, and wisdom. According to Erikson’s theory, Genie is at the fidelity stage. Eriksen posits that if infants cannot trust adults, they tend to grow up lacking trust, a fundamental aspect of emotional development (Jones & Waite-Stupiansky, 2017). This stage of development explains why Genie would feel insecure around other people. Moreover, Piaget’s theory of cognitive development can explain a decent number of Genie’s traits. Piaget’s cognitive development theory focused on the way kids learn through experiments (Hanfstingl et al., 2019). Simple experiments that involve touching and tasting are usual among young children. This theory comprises preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operations stages. According to Piaget’s cognitive development theory, Genie falls in the formal operations stage, which consists of children above eleven years (Hanfstingl et al., 2019). Genie, for example, can easily learn by observing her teacher’s actions and mimicking them.

From a moral perspective, Genie, being subjected to an agonizing past, was unethical. She had the right to learn from the environment as part of her growth. However, Genie’s father kept her confined, claiming to be protecting her from the dangers of the outside world. Before she was rescued from her imprisonment, Genie had already skipped significant development stages. This ordeal had a severe impact on her emotional, moral, and cognitive development.

In addition to that, linguistics, psychiatrists, and psychologist used her as a human guinea pig for their own agendas. Considering that Genie could not communicate, she must have been involved in scientific studies without having expressed her consent, which is against the APA standards of consent (American Psychological Association, 2017). It was unethical for the researchers to take advantage of Genie’s under-developed cognitive abilities and conduct experiments on her.

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In conclusion, “Genie: Secrets of a Wild” video shows the importance of various stages of development in a child’s growth. Genie is a federal child who is socially isolated for more than thirteen years. The story of Genie is an indication that while humans are naturally capable of acquiring new abilities by nature, for effective results, they require a caring and loving environment. Genie’s case provided researchers with a chance to gain more knowledge in controlling language acquisition skills. This video clarifies the importance of each language acquisition stage. Children, who skip some of the essential stages, as characterized by Genie, encounter challenges in learning new languages. The documentary also shows how nature and nurture are significant aspects in language acquisition.


American Psychology Association. (2017). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Web.

Bandura, A. (2019). Applying Theory for Human Betterment. Sage Journal 14(1), 12–15. Web.

Hanfstingl, B., Benke, G., & Zhang, Y. (2019). Comparing variation theory with Piaget’s theory of cognitive development: more similarities than differences? Educational Action Research, 27(4), 511–526. Web.

Jones, E., & Waite-Stupiansky, S. (2017). The Eriksons’ psychosocial developmental theory. Theories of Early Childhood Education, 31-44. Web.

Mohamad, N. N., & Rashid, R. A. (2018). A review of theoretical perspectives on language learning and acquisition. Kasetsart Journal of Social Sciences, 39(1), 161–167. Web.

Nilsen, K. (2017). Genie Wiley – TLC Documentary [Video]. YouTube.

Turiel, E. (2018). Moral Development in the Early Years: When and How. Human Development, 61(4–5), 297–308. Web.

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"“Genie: Secrets of a Wild Child”: The Documentary Analysis." PsychologyWriting, 22 June 2022, psychologywriting.com/genie-secrets-of-a-wild-child-the-documentary-analysis/.


PsychologyWriting. (2022) '“Genie: Secrets of a Wild Child”: The Documentary Analysis'. 22 June.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "“Genie: Secrets of a Wild Child”: The Documentary Analysis." June 22, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/genie-secrets-of-a-wild-child-the-documentary-analysis/.

1. PsychologyWriting. "“Genie: Secrets of a Wild Child”: The Documentary Analysis." June 22, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/genie-secrets-of-a-wild-child-the-documentary-analysis/.


PsychologyWriting. "“Genie: Secrets of a Wild Child”: The Documentary Analysis." June 22, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/genie-secrets-of-a-wild-child-the-documentary-analysis/.