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Nature Vs Nurture – A Sociological Approach to Feral, Isolated, and Institutionalized Children
A common question related to sociology deals with the nature of the human being in relation to the way he was raised. Does anyone know at birth if they are a boy or a girl or does they make that distinction based on the actions and words of those around them? How does prison affect a person’s functionality after being released into the world? These questions are closely related to nature versus nurture—does a person enter the world with a basic human function, or does he develop those functions as a result of those around him.
One of the topics sociologists could study is feral children. These are children who were abandoned at a very young age, and death was usually the intention of the parents, but they were raised and nurtured more by animals. Sociologists have found that children raised by animals acquire the instincts and behaviors of the species that raised them. One example of this occurred in the 1700s, when scientists of the time discovered a feral child known as the “wild boy of Aveyron.” It was found in France in 1798 and was observed to walk on all fours, show no pain associated with cold temperatures, and attack small animals – devouring them raw in a predatory manner. Although most sociologists will dismiss the meaning of feral children because of the rare cases, it still teaches us the lesson that children must learn how to behave at an early age. In this important period of youth, children develop many important social behaviors.
A slightly more common study is on isolated children. These are children raised by one person or a small group of people in an isolated area with minimal or no contact with typical society. One girl, Isabelle, was raised by her deaf and mute mother in her grandfather’s attic. After being discovered at the age of 6, it was discovered that she could not speak, preferring to rely on gestures to communicate with her mother. She also had a disease called rickets as a result of improper diet and lack of sun. This essentially rendered her legs useless. Her behavior towards strangers, especially men, was like a wild animal. She treated them with fear and hostility – and could only make noise in the form of unusual croaking. She initially scored almost zero on an IQ test – but because Isabelle was discovered at such a young age, she was able to reach the level of learning expected of her age in two years. It is possible that the results of the isolation can be canceled if the child is under twelve years of age. The primary problem, however, was the lack of language, which is the basis of all human interaction. All other interactions can be divided into subcategories of voice communication.
These first two studies, isolated and feral children, can be viewed through one of Charles Horton Cooley’s theories of human interaction. Cooley, who lived in the late 1800s, created a theory that summarized how human development occurs, capturing the theory in the concept of the ‘mirror self’. This theory had three primary elements: we imagine what we look like to those around us, we interpret other people’s reactions, and we develop a concept of ourselves. The basic gist of it is that we look at those around us and base our appearance and social interactions on what they do and what they expect. If a feral child is raised by animals, it will take on the characteristics of those animals. Likewise, the isolated child will base his actions on other isolated individuals or no one at all, and will develop little or no basic interaction skills.
Institutionalized children are even more common than isolated or feral children. Two or three centuries ago, orphanages were much different than they are now. The children were raised with little or no care on a strict schedule. On top of that, children were often beaten, stripped and denied food. As a result, children who come from orphanages tend to have difficulty forming close bonds with others and have lower IQs. In a report of a good orphanage in Iowa in the 1930s, children were raised in nurseries until about six months. They were placed in cradles that had high sides, effectively limiting their view of the world around them. No toys were hanging from the crib, mother did not keep them close. The interaction they had was limited to nurses changing their diapers, bedding and giving them medicine. Although everyone assumed that mental retardation was a problem “you’re just born with,” two sociologists researched and followed the lives of children raised in this orphanage in Iowa. HM Skeels and HB Dye began to realize that a lack of mental stimulation was robbing these children of the basic human interaction skills they needed to be effective members of society. In the study, they took thirteen children who were obviously retarded and assigned them a retarded woman to look after them. They also selected twelve children to be raised in the orphanage in the usual way, and tested both groups for IQ. It was observed that the first group developed an intense relationship with their ‘mothers’ and received much more
attention from your colleagues. Although all the children tested were still retarded, it was observed that the IQ of the first group increased by an incredible 28 points. In an equally startling statistic, it was found that the average of the second group dropped by an average of 30 IQ points. This research showed the importance of human interaction at a young age.
A final lesson can be learned from deprived animals. These are animals that were taken away from their mothers at an early age and raised in isolation. A famous study on this topic was conducted by Harry and Margaret Harlow, who raised a baby monkey in isolation. They constructed two ‘mothers’ for their monkey, one which was a wire frame with a nipple on it from which the monkey could nurse, and the other which was covered with a soft fabric. They found that although the first mother provided food, the baby would cling to the soft mother when frightened, showing that the monkey felt more comfortable through intimate physical contact – or petting.
When the monkey was introduced to the monkey community, he was rejected and had no idea how normal monkey civilization was structured. He didn’t know how to play normally with other monkeys, nor how to have sex, despite several weak attempts.
After conducting this study with female monkeys, they found that those who became pregnant became vicious mothers – hitting their babies, kicking them, or crushing them to the floor. These were monkeys that had been raised in this isolated environment for years and had no chance of integration into society. Other monkeys were observed to overcome these disadvantages with increasingly positive results: a corresponding relationship with the amount of time spent in isolation. Monkeys isolated for three to six months were relatively easily integrated, while monkeys isolated for years had irreversible consequences. When applied to humans, we understand that social interaction is key to a socially effective product.
In short, society makes us human. Babies do not naturally develop into adults, and social ideas are not transmitted through DNA. Although the body can grow, the isolation makes them victims of being little more than mere animals. In fact, a lack of language skills results in an inability to even understand relationships between people – such as father, mother, teacher and friends. In order to develop into an adult, children need to be surrounded by people who care for them. This process called “socialization” shows that we are created by those around us.
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#Nature #Nurture #Sociological #Approach #Feral #Isolated #Institutionalized #Children