Living in the wild – nature vs nurture

At the beginning of this year I read a story in the media about Rochom P’ngieng a Cambodian girl who went missing from her village when she was eight years old. Eighteen years later, she reappeared from the jungle. She was ‘clambering along on all fours like an ape’ and hunting for food when she was discovered. She couldn’t speak any intelligible language. This is one of many historic and mythical cases testifying to the human fascination with children raised by animals in the wild, the most famous of which is the myth of Romulus and Remus, twin founders of the city of Rome who were raised by wolves.

After reading several articles about the fascinating and almost unbelievable story of Rochom P’ngieng, I was intrigued enough to look for some other real-life stories of children who have been found living in the wild, alone or in the company of animals. I searched on IBSS for articles on feral children and surprisingly I found an article called ‘Forteana’ by P. Sieveking (1991), which referred to several stories of children who have been found living in the wild, alone or in the company of animals. I also found a review of Savage Girls and Wild Boys: a History of Feral Children, a book by Michael Newton Faber (2002) which explores the ‘philosophical complexity’ of nurture versus nature and the rightness of interference in the socialization of these children.

What is, then, the importance of nurture? What can we learn from the discovery of the existence of feral children? It has always been considered that nurture played an important part in human development. It was assumed that feral children would not be able to communicate or show empathy with other human beings. Feral children would typically be entirely unaware of the needs and desires of others. The concepts of morals, property and possessions would be strange to them, and they would be unable to show empathy with other people. If brought up by animals, they would not identify themselves as human.

The phenomenon of feral children could lead us to conclude that our upbringing is entirely responsible for providing us with language, the ability to think and the concept of our own humanity. What happens in early childhood would thus have a profound, overriding impact on neurological development.

However, nature also plays an essential role too. Firstly, the brain is the control centre of the central nervous system, responsible for behaviour. Secondly, genetic variations have a considerable effect on the intellectual abilities and other characteristics of human beings.

We could conclude, therefore, what we are is the result of interactions between the environment and our genes, and the cases of feral children represent a significant source of evidence for the understanding of such complex interactions.

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One Response to Living in the wild – nature vs nurture

  1. Fortunata Baker says:

    Hello there,
    How fasinating just been looking for the Narture vs Nurture infomation on Human leaving with animals and saw your article on Rochom and this came to my mind.
    I would not call a Masai Child who is Grazing a herd of Cows in the middle of no where a Feral child But I do wonder about the stages of development, eg. Behaviour, Social skills, personalities etc. As they do grow up in real remote areas and at a very young age they start to learn to take responsibility of the cows out to search for food.For the whole day he will be on his own no other kids around probaby his copmanion is his dog and the cows.Sitting under the tree watching the aminals everyday with no expectations of a change, may be hope you may meet another man or boy grazing to talk.But most of the time you are on your own.In relation to Narture how does this fit in in comparison to feral child. It seem to me that Nurture takes over but when the Masai child retuns home at the end of the day will have the parent or a human being to ineract with,will be intresting to find out what he will be like and does he demand some companion or love from the family?How does he cope with day to day life. How Can Maslow support this child to Self actualise. The First basic part of the Hierarchy of need can be difficult to fullfill.
    Anyway Just brought a lot of thoughts in my mind and i thought you might be intrested to read my commets and thoughts.
    many thanks.may be some feed back will be intresting to hear what you think of a Maasai child spending all day with animals ( cows) in everyday of his life till he marries or may be there is an age he may be given another role i am not sure and feral child who lives with the animals all the time. Can they have any slight similarities of any kind???

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