I came across Anna’s story while in college, and since then case studies similar to this one have intrigued me so I thought I would write about it for this week’s blog.

Anna was six years old when she was found (Davis, 1940/1947), having been kept in a room for most of her life. She was an illegitimate child and her Grandfather disapproved of his Daughter’s behaviour. Anna’s Mother tried giving her to several child agencies however these attempts were unsuccessful. She was kept in a dark room for most of the five and a half years, given barely enough to keep her alive. She was tied to a broken chair which was too small for her, and believed to have been tied in a cot for much longer then most children are placed in them. When she was found she was suffering from malnutrition as well as her muscles showed signs of atrophy. She was immobile, expressionless and indifferent to everything. She was believed to be deaf as she did not response to others (later they found that her deafness was functional rather then organic). She could not talk, walk, feed her or do anything that showed signs of intelligence.

Anna was born in March 1932 in Pennsylvania. She was her mother’s second illegitimate child. She had tried to give Anna up for several months but no agency was willing to take the financial burden (America was in the grip of the Great Depression). She was kept in a store room out of the way of her grandfather as her presence made him angry. She was kept on a diet of milk which left her malnutritioned. Her mother resented the trouble Anna caused her and gave her little attention. She was never bathed, trained or even caressed.

Once Anna was taken away and placed in a foster home she showed signs of improving. At the age of nine she began to develop speech. She had started to conform to social norms and was able to feed to herself, though only using a spoon. Her teachers described her as having a pleasant disposition. Unfortunately Anna passed away in August 1942 of Hemorrhagic Jaundice.

One of Paul Lutus’ arguments against psychology being a science is that clinical psychologists do not really know how treatment will affect their clients, and that any success becomes research (Lutus, 2009). This is certainly true for Anna and other cases like hers. Davis compared the apparent failure of Anna’s treatment to the success of treating another girl called Isabella (Isabella’s story bared a number of similarities with Anna’s but with one major difference, Isabelle had learnt to communicate with her deaf Mother through hand gestures (Mason, 1942)). However there is no other way to research this area other than case studies. It would be completely unethical to perform social isolation experiments on children in controlled experiments, or at least for the length of time needed to have validity in cases such as Anna’s.

Case studies such as Anna’s may not be controlled experiments but that does not mean they are not scientific. Theories obtained through case studies may be falsified by future studies. They are valid, cases like Anna’s and Isabelle’s may help form a treatment program for others, such as the victims of Josef Fritzl (BBC, 2009). They are also reliable as several case studies have found similar results. Case studies may not be the best way to study psychology; however they can provide useful information, and sometimes help make the most of a bad situation.




Davis K., (1947). Final Note on a Case of Extreme Isolation. American Journal of Sociology. 52 (5), 432-447.

Davis, K., (1940). Extreme Social Isolation of a Child. American Journal of Sociology. 45 (4), 554-565.

Lutus, P.. (2009). Is Psychology a Science?. Available: http://www.arachnoid.com/psychology/index.html.

Mason, M. K. (1942). Learning to speak after six and one-half years of silence, Journal of Speech Disorders, 7, 295-304.

Unknown Author – BBC. (2009). Profile: Josef Fritzl . Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7371959.stm.