The Wild Boy Of Aveyron Nature Vs Nurture Essay

Lost or abandoned human children raised in extreme social isolation, either surviving in the wild through their own efforts or "adopted" by animals.

The study of children reared in complete or nearly complete isolation from human contact can provide important information to psychologists studying various aspects of socialization. After their return to human society, feral children often continue to be seriously retarded, raising the question of whether or not such children manifested abnormalities before their removal from society. Interest in wild or feral children dates back to Carl Linnaeus's 1758 classification of loco ferus—"feral" or "wolf" men, characterized as four-footed, nonspeaking, and hairy.

The most famous case of a human being surviving in total isolation for an extended period of time is that of Victor, the "wild boy of Aveyron," discovered in 1799. Lost or abandoned in childhood, he had apparently survived on his own in the wild up to the age of approximately 11. Philippe Pinel, the renowned director of the asylum at Bicêtre, France, declared Victor an incurable idiot, but Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, a physician and teacher of the deaf, undertook to educate him. Although he remained almost totally unable to speak, Victor showed great improvements in socialization and cognitive ability in the course of several years spent working with Itard. In 1807, Itard published Rapports sur le sauvage de l'Aveyron (Reports on the Wild Boy of Aveyron), a classic work on human educability, detailing his work with Victor between the years 180105.

Unlike Victor, the young man named Kaspar Hauser who appeared in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1828 had apparently been locked up in isolation for an extended period, but without being totally deprived of human care. A 17-year-old with the mentality of a child of three, Hauser was reeducated over the next five years, regaining many of the faculties that had been stunted by extreme social and sensory deprivation, to the point where he could communicate verbally although his speech was substandard. After an earlier assassination attempt, Hauser was murdered in 1833, presumably by someone who sought to prevent his origins from becoming known.

Despite the persistence and popularity of stories about children reared by animals throughout history, well-documented cases of such children are very rare, and in most of these cases the documentation begins with the discovery of the child, so that virtually nothing is known about the time actually spent in the company of animals. In the best-known modern case of zoanthropy (humans living among animals), however, researchers did have some opportunities to observe the behavior of two children—the so-called Wolf Children of Midnapore—while they were in the company of wolves, actually removing them from the embrace of a pair of wolf cubs in order to take them back to society. Kamala and Amala, two young girls, were observed living with wolves in India in 1920, when Kamala was approximately eight years of age, and Amala about one and a half. Not only did they exhibit the physical behavior of wolves—running on all fours, eating raw meat, and staying active at night—they displayed physiological adaptations to their feral life, including modifications of the jaw resulting from chewing on bones. Taken to an orphanage run by J.A.L. Singh, the girls were cared for and exposed to human society. Amala, the younger one, died within two years, but Kamala achieved a modicum of socialization over the nine remaining years she lived.

The study of feral children has engaged some of the central philosophical and scientific controversies about human nature, including the nature/nurture debate as well as questions about which human activities require social instruction, whether or not there is a critical period for language acquisition, and to what extent can education compensate for delayed development and limited intelligence. Itard's pioneering work with the "wild boy of Aveyron" has had a profound impact on both education of the disabled and early childhood education. In 1909, the renowned Italian educator and physician Maria Montessori (1870-1952) wrote that she considered her own achievements a "summing up" of previous progress, giving Itard a prominent place among those whose work she saw herself as continuing.

Further Reading

Candland, Douglas Keith. Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Singh, Joseph. Wolf Children and Feral Man. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1966.


In the year 1800, in a village located in the French province Aveyron, a child gained a lot of popularity among the villagers. Many considered him a savage beast because he was searching and digging for roots, he climbed trees, and didn’t walk in a biped position. It seems that he was about 12 years old. He became popular and people all over came to see the “oddity”. He couldn’t speak, he had a lot of scars on his body, and he had weird food preferences. Soon he was taken for study. He was called Victor and he was a feral child.

Feral children (are also called wild children) are human children who have lived isolated from human contact from a very young age. 

Victor seemed to ignore any form of civilization that was offered to him: he ripped his clothes apart, he didn’t eat meat, he preferred raw potatoes, roots, and nuts. He was not making any sounds and he was indifferent to human voice. He was also accustomed to exposure to cold and when a biology professor Piere Joseph Bonnaterre took him outside in the snow, the child started playing and running nude. Our perception of cold and warmth is mostly based on the experience we have, so it seems that Victor was used to cold weather and he probably spent his life outside.

Apparently Victor lived all his early childhood alone, he was a stranger to social norms and something about him made him closer to his animal status. A lot of people hoped that he was going to offer answers regarding the true nature of human beings, a subject that was highly disputed by philosophers in that time. There were questions that needed to be answered: What makes us different from animals? What would happen if we would be raised totally isolated from the human society? How much do we owe to education in the process of our upbringing?

Another thing people thought was the fact that the boy had to have a noble character; this would have proved the theory that children were born good, but they are corrupted by society. However, instead of a good child, he wasn’t adapted to society, he couldn’t walk in a biped position and he couldn’t talk. So there was no way to see if he was good or bad.  Doctors concluded that he was mental retarded and recommended putting him into an asylum.

Jean-Marc Itard did not agree with the diagnostic and argued that the deficiencies were caused by his social isolation. Because he was away from humans he couldn’t have developed social skills, but he was an extraordinary being because he had the ability to survive on his own. Itard personally took care of the child, wanting to show that the environment is the one that influences human behavior. He started publishing reports on his progress and it seemed that Victor showed significant progress in understanding language and reading simple words; however, this was only at a very low level. When it came to emotions, he had affection for the people who took care of him but he couldn’t communicate and he spoke just a few words. He had no sexual interests and he didn’t manage to adapt to social life. The fact that he showed affection was an amazing thing and there’s a record about one event: the housekeeper was mourning the loss of her husband when Victor showed a sympathetic behavior towards her.

Throughout the years Itard spent working with the boy, he managed to obtain some small gradual progress. It seems that Victor understood the meaning of actions and used an “action language” which is a more primitive form of communication.

Most doctors reached the conclusion that he had mental deficiencies after all but this is not certain. He was sent to live with a woman and died in 1828.

Itard created new methods of diagnostic for mental and language abilities and combined these procedures with a program of instruction. He became the founder of “oral education of the deaf” the field called otolaryngology.

The subject of feral children is still controversial nowadays; some people believe that there are no genuine feral children. Others believe that the child suffered from autism or schizophrenia. 

Related Posts : children development, feral child, language acquisition, psychology and psychiatry, victor of aveyron, wild child

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