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Social Learning Theory Relation to Genie Wiley’s Case Report

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Updated: Jun 23rd, 2022

Introduction

While research ethics are very sensitive in human development research (particularly in children), there has been significant progress in the research on language acquisition in children and the “window” of learning opportunity. Through the research, scientists have been enlightened further on the role of nature and nurture in child development. Cases such as Genie’s, and hundreds of other undocumented cases of feral children have helped psychologists, and scientists better understand the biological and emotional needs of humans at different stages of their development. Given the vast amount of information currently available on child development, it is compelling to view Bandura’s line of thought to be more accurate in Genie Wiley’s case. This report seeks to relate the social learning theory to Genie Wiley’s case and investigate the contributions of nature and nurture to some of her behaviors and social interactions.

The Contributions of Nature and Nurture

Undoubtedly, nature and nurture had a tremendous, lifelong, and damaging impact on Genie’s development in all aspects. The total isolation from society and the absolute absence of active conversation deprived her of the opportunity to communicate with others and learn about the environment, thwarted her psychological progress, and inflicted irreparable physical harm. In particular, because of the adverse circumstances, her brain appeared to be impaired and decreased in size, which significantly restricted her cognitive abilities responsible for memorizing, logic, attention, and learning from experience (Christie and Weston, 2002, 0:25:25- 0:25:50). She also possessed exceedingly impulsive and unstable behavior and mood and was inclined to harm herself physically. As a result, Genie always experiences severe difficulties in interactions with other people, including peers, and the exploration of the surrounding world.

The Application of the Theory

The social learning theory can be one of the effective approaches to explain Genie Wiley’s case. In essence, this theory states that young children, typically learn behaviors via imitation from other individuals, especially parents, relatives, and friend who serves as a role-model (Lumen Learning, 2017). Furthermore, Bandura, a founder of the hypothesis, supposes that media is also a powerful social influencer that can foster and cultivate particular behavioral patterns (Lumen Learning, 2017). Hence, since Genie was devoid of a healthy social environment and their biological and emotional needs were predominantly neglected by her parents until the age of 13, she did not have illustrative behavioral examples. For instance, the girl did not realize a need to learn a language, get food or other livelihoods, and converse with other individuals.

Urie Bronfenbrenner presented a model that brought all the influences of human development together. Unlike Piaget, Bronfenbrenner recognized the role played by culture and interactions in human development (Lumen Learning, 2017). Additionally, the individual’s social development is affected by microsystems, including parents and siblings, those in direct contact with the individual. The mesosystem, which consists of school, the individual’s family, and religion, also influence the behavioral development of an individual (Lumen Learning, 2017). Genie’s case agrees with Bronfenbrenner’s model in that after her seclusion from the normal environment, she was unable to learn the culture, language, trends, as well as her behavioral development.

Critical Period for Language Development

Genie’s development under scientists Susan Curtiss and James Kent disapproved the theory that there is a critical period for language development in humans. Being thirteen and a half years old at the time of her rescue, Genie was well past the “window” of learning opportunities. For scientists, this was the case they had been seeking since Genie was just like a feral child who had never been taught to speak or associate with anyone (Christie and Weston, 2002, 0:20:49 – 0:20:54). Genie was not only learning necessary words about everything around her but also engaged with people and was interested in the surrounding world. Overall, as Curtiss stated, the girl managed to learn hundreds of new words and made impressive progress in her understanding of others (Christie and Weston, 2002, 0:24:07 – 0:25:15). However, at a point, Genie’s traumatic upbringing affected her learning, halting her progress in learning language and relating to her environment.

On the other hand, as it appeared later, Genie’s traumatic upbringing affected her learning, halting her progress in learning language and relating to her environment. Therefore, while Genie’s case disapproved of the theory to some extent, it also supported the theory when she could not make any further noticeable advancement in her language acquisition. According to modern scientific research, Genie had already reached her teenage age, and her brain being starved of stimulation, never developed enough capacity to learn a language (Christie and Weston, 2002, 0:26:02 – 0:26:22). Thus, although the hypothesis of the critical period for language development has been significantly questioned, it still makes sense and requires further, more in-depth examination.

Ethical Issues in Research

Genie’s case serves as an excellent example of controversial ethical issues that frequently occur in research. In particular, because of the considerable number of people involved in her life, the local government assumed that such overactive social activity, especially the close attention of academic specialists, can harm her psychological state. As a result, they decided to limit the circle of her social interactions and settle her in one adult care home in Los Angeles (Christie and Weston, 2002, 0:28:26 – 0:28:35). Overall, this shows apparent contradictions between the scientific community’s strive to study particular issues and the public precautions and misunderstandings.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

The errors that led to the deterioration of Genie’s mental condition are primarily connected with the government’s decisions. After being moved back to the house where she had been terribly abused by her mother Irene and then taken under the care of the local government, Genie’s chance to improve her condition deteriorated (Christie and Weston, 2002, 0:26:52- 0:27:08). She was barred from seeing the people who were central to her recovery, being moved from home to home. For her welfare and scientific progress, Genie should have been kept under the watch of the people who meant much to her cognitive improvement. Only the respective social and health experts and professionals can provide necessary, adequate, and qualified support for the rapid recovery and healthy development of Genie Wiley.

Conclusion

The paper has examined Genie Wiley’s case, including the contributions of nature and nurture to her development, through the prism of the social learning theory and Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems model. The total isolation from society and other privations to her psychological progress inflicted irreparable physical harm. Genie’s case correlates with Bandura’s theory and Bronfenbrenner’s model in that her seclusion from the healthy environment adversely affected her all abilities. Although the hypothesis of the critical period for Language Development has been almost disapproved, it still makes sense and requires further, more in-depth examination. Finally, Genie should stay with experts who can deliver qualified support for rapid recovery and socialization.

References

Christie, D. (Producer) & Weston, J (Director). (2002). Wild child: The story of feral children [Video file]. Web.

Lumen Learning. (2017). Lifespan development. In N. Walker and F. Bobola (Eds.). Web.

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