In London where I have worked for the past 9 years (after spending 21 years at Penn State University), the newspapers are (still) awash with stories about the monstrous Austrian man, Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter for more than two decades in a tiny, window-less and soundproof basement apartment, fathering seven children with her, while keeping three of them locked up for their entire lives. When discovered, two were almost 20 years of age; one was just 5. How horrific.
When I received a call from the BBC to comment on this matter in terms of how this experience of imprisonment would affect the children, I pointed out that it was rather difficult to be certain (see below). Within a few hours of selected excerpts of the interview appearing on a BBC news website (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7370889.stm), I received the two most vitriolic emails I have ever encountered. Indeed, my oldest son told me that if these had been received by an American academic, university security services would want to be alerted!
What had I said to evoke such ire? Most importantly, I had pointed out that research evidence has repeatedly shown that children sometimes emerge from the most horrendous conditions seemingly unscathed--or certainly nowhere near as adversely affected as many, including the BBC journalist interviewing me--would assume would routinely be the case. Most notably, studies of children growing up in Romanian orphanages before the fall of the Iron Curtain who lived in circumstances that would enrage the ASPCA were animals found in such conditions have proven remarkably resilient--once adopted into reasonably functioning families. This is not to say that there was never any lasting damage, only that it has surprised many students of child development, myself included, that the legacy of this experience has not proven more devastating and pervasive.