February 15, 2019

Photo Credit: Getty Images/skynesher

Seeing double? It’s not your imagination - birth rates of twins have been rising sharply, and twin studies are now, more than ever, influencing various disciplines. Everyone from economists, to religious scholars, to scientists see the value in studying twins. Nancy Segal, author of “Born Together-Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study,” talks to us about the far-reaching effects of twins. And if you’re not a twin yourself, don’t feel left out, because what we learn from twins can lead to breakthroughs that impact us all. Segal, a professor of psychology at California State University, Fullerton, explains how twins can teach us about nature vs. nurture, parenting styles, and preventative medicine.

Three Takeaways:

  • It’s easy to see twins’ similarities to each other - but what may prove most useful is to look for their differences. What can we learn when one identical twin develops a disease, but the other never does? Segal says that preventative medicine can greatly benefit by studying these divergences between twins.
  • Identical twins can go on to develop in strikingly similar ways, even if separated at birth. Take The Jim Twins, for example, who were separated as infants and disconnected for 39 years. In the years apart, both married and remarried women with the same first names, both gave the same name to their sons, and both vacationed on the same beach in Florida. The list continues - everything from the brand of beer they drank to the part-time jobs they held, were identical.
  • If identical twins raised apart still turn out uncannily similar, does parenting style really have all that much power to influence and shape children? Segal says we can rethink the role of parents, but emphasizes that without parental support, genes alone cannot lead a child’s unique talents to develop.

More Reading:

  • The New York Times’ Jane Brody takes a look at how twins impact the age-old Nature vs. Nurture debate.
  • Neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky thinks that our prenatal environments may influence our development more than some of our genes. This VICE article takes a look into Sapolsky’s views. And check out our very own segment with Sapolsky about how biology shapes us.
  • Learn more about the twins who rule our sky - the Gemini constellation - and the Greek mythology surrounding these twins.

science, research, human behavior, genes, Nancy Segal, twins

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