The Fascinating (and Troubling) World of Research on Twins

My wife, son and I rented a great documentary last night, “Three Identical Strangers“.

The movie looked at a set of identical triplets who had been separated at birth, adopted by three different families, and miraculously found each other 20 years later. It starts off as a feel-good movie, but then its tone changes.

Enough said – watch the movie, we found it on Amazon Prime.

After watching the movie, I wanted to learn more about the research on twins that is mentioned in the movie, and came across a 1995 article in The New Yorker by Lawrence Wright titled “Double Mystery”. Wright is actually also featured in the “Three Identical Strangers” film.

Wright looked into the phenomenon known as “separated twins”, and noted that over the decade prior to 1995 there had been an abundance of twin-based scholarship. Much of the New Yorker article offers great insights into why research on twins (both those separated and not separated) is conducted and what the results offer; I found it well worth the read.

However, what I found most fascinating were the profiles of some of the sets of identical twins who had been separated at birth. These profiles were captured by Professor Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr. at the University of Minnesota. The similarities are eerie.

The first set of twins were Jim Lewis and Jim Springer, identical twins who had been separated at birth and reunited thirty-nine years later. Each of the Jim twins, as they were called, was six feet tall and weighed a hundred and eighty pounds; they looked as much alike as any other identical pair. At their reunion, they discovered that each had been married twice, first to a woman named Linda and then to a woman named Betty. Jim Lewis had named his firstborn child James Alan, and Jim Springer had named his James Allen. In childhood, each twin had owned a dog named Toy. They had enjoyed family vacations on the same beach in Florida and had worked part-time in law enforcement. They shared a taste for Miller Lite beer and Salem cigarettes.

Another pair of such twins were Daphne Goodship and Barbara Herbert, who, like the Jims, had been adopted separately as infants and lived apart for thirty-nine years. Barbara had gone to a modest home in Hammersmith, a borough of London, as the daughter of a city gardener. Daphne had a middle-class childhood north of London, in the town of Luton, where her father was a metallurgist. When they finally met, at King’s Cross Station in London, in May of 1979, each was wearing a beige dress and a brown velvet jacket. Right away, they noticed they had identical crooked little fingers—a small defect that had kept both of them from ever learning to type or to play the piano. There were other commonalities that were harder to explain. Both had the eccentric habit of pushing up their noses, which they called “squidging.” Both had fallen down the stairs at the age of fifteen and had weak ankles as a result. At sixteen, each had met at a local dance the man she was going to marry. The twins suffered miscarriages with their first children, then proceeded to have two boys followed by a girl. And both laughed more than anyone else they knew, prompting them to be nicknamed the Giggle Twins.

One other pair of twins studied by Bouchard were Jack Yufe and Oskar Stöhr. They were born in Trinidad in 1933 and were split apart a few months later. There was a brief, but chilly, reunion 21 years later in Germany.  Then, twenty-five years later, Jack’s wife read about the Jim twins and the Minnesota studies, and Jack decided that it might be a good idea to meet his twin again, this time on neutral ground. Bouchard was standing with Jack at the Minneapolis airport when Oskar got off the plane. “I remember Jack pulling in his breath because Oskar walked exactly the same way he did,” Bouchard says. “They have a kind of swagger to their bodies.” Each sported rectangular wire-rimmed glasses, a short, clipped mustache, and a blue two-pocket shirt with epaulets. They shook hands but did not embrace. As it turned out, Jack and Oskar were also full of quirky habits in common, such as storing rubber bands on their wrists, reading magazines from back to front, flushing the toilet before using it, and dipping buttered toast in their coffee. They also enjoyed startling people by sneezing in crowded places.

As compelling as these stories are, there is the possibility that there is a darker side to such research. This is what “Three Identical Strangers” explores. Below is the trailer from the film.

To me, there is something inherently fascinating about twins; I guess I secretly wish I had an identical twin brother.

I wonder if he would also be writing a daily blog, one of which might mention his desire to have a twin brother…

I’m off to search Google; you can watch the trailer.


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