Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture - Feral Child Victor of Aveyron

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. 


  1. What happen to a child relates to their experience they go through from young and I think this somehow effects their thinking and ways but then, like you have mentioned, people around and society can make a change, depending how much hard they try to.

  2. The future development is greatly influenced by the first years of life and those are essential. However, feral children can be helped with continuous therapy and with a lot of effort to reach an acceptable level. It depends a lot on when they were abandoned. Those who were abandoned early don't stand a chance(as you can see they are only able to use a rudimentary form of language and communication is hard) but if they were abandoned after they reached a certain age, things can be improved.

  3. Interesting post. I remember reading about the feral cases in grad school and whether they were indeed feral or suffering from other mental conditions. I do believe that the first years of life have a significant effect, especially touching and comforting small babies. That contact is essential. Thought provoking post!

  4. Loved this post. Very informative about the feral child. May I say, this is related to Psychology of Language.

  5. Awesome post! I remember reading about him a LONG time ago. I never considered the possibility of autism. Thanks for posting...I'm going to hit Wikipedia now!

  6. Interesting read. The idea of feral children reminds me of that film "Nell" with Jodie Foster. Though I think she was autistic and somehow was abandoned in the wild.

  7. @Frugal in WV Yeah, psychologists contradict each other a lot on this and since we can't do any research it's hard to decide. Yes, the first years of life influence and shape us. Thanks
    @Balqis Thanks! Indeed, the post is related to psychology of language, I wish I could have more categories on my blog, like sub categories where I could add the field of psychology, but I don't know how to do that :)))
    @Ann Thanks Ann, yes he may have been autistic or had another mental disease.
    @yummychunklet I saw Nell, it was a great movie. I don't remember whether she was autistic or not but I do remember that she was living isolated with her mother until the mother died.

  8. Thats very strange and interesting. I have heared of a boy who was born in our country and he was beast, he was growing much faster and has too many hairs on his body as compared to normal human. I do not have much info but I believe that these are some kind of strange diseases.

  9. hi andreea, feral children..must be extremely rare. i am sure they can get back to human characteristics, given time and the right guidance and help.. very interesting post..have a nice day

  10. @Sarang This boy Victor wasn't having a disease, his body developed normally I guess. He was just unable to communicate because he didn't developed properly.
    @Jay Thanks honey :D
    @cookingvarieties Hi Wan, yes they are extremely rare and it's good things are that way :D I think they can, I just read about a girl who was found living with dogs and she managed to make an almost full recovery after about 10 years.

  11. Very interesting article, infact just read few weeks back about this Cambodian Jungle Girl and watched vidoes; have a look here @

    She had similar characteristics. Sad she is not able to communicate otherwise it would be nice to learn from her experiences living in the jungle.


  12. Very interesting topic! Have a great day!

  13. @Katrina Thanks, wow that Cambodian jungle girl story was really interesting. It is unfortunate that she wasn't able to communicate, I was also curious about how she managed to live along in the jungle.
    @Rola Thanks dear, you too! :D

  14. nariaaaaaaaa abra q acer l trabajito este no¿? ya abra tiempo despues d irnos de fiesta x ai a coco loco o a alguna d esas