Understanding Identical Twins
Ever Wish You Had an Identical Twin?
A lot of people do. Some psychologists believe people wish for a twin because deep down no one wants to feel alone in the world. Others are fascinated with the idea of having a double, a doppelganger, a constant reflection of themselves. A guaranteed pal for life.
But what is it really like to be an identical twin?
Sharing an Identity
Unless separated at birth, twins share more than a genetic code--they share an identity. And while twins develop identities much as other children do, the external world doesn't always recognize these separate personalities.
It's not uncommon for identicals to be referred to as "the twins" instead of by their proper names. And they generally answer to both names due to frequent mix-ups. Because people can't tell twins apart, they attribute the same personality traits, skills, and beliefs to both even if the twins differ. As though they are two parts to a single entity and not two separate people.
As a result, twins are usually defined only by how they compare to each other. This blindness to the unique characteristics and complexities of each twin is particularly hard in adolescence when identity is being established for the rest of their lives. As a result, twins can feel like interchangeable people.
The Compare Game
Faced with two people who look exactly alike, the natural reaction is to want to know how to tell them apart. So begins the compare game that follows identical twins throughout their lives. Who's the smart one? Who's more althletic? Who's better? And believe it or not, even Who's the prettier one?
Most discord between twins results from this constant comparison. However, it is interesting that most identical twins do not end up hating each other. In fact, they remain close friends their entire lives. They do so by agreeing not to compete with each other, reaching a tacit agreement to split up interests. It is not unusual for close twins to choose different lines of work, have different hobbies, and choose different kinds of mates. They are diligent about not letting external comparison pressures come between them.
However, sometimes these comparisons do label twins and effect how they see themselves. Take the example of a set of twins with the same IQ, They were separated into different classes in school, and one was put in the advanced class. That twin was labeled the smart one and the other the dumb one. As a result the twin that was not in the advanced classes had test anxiety and always scored lower on achievement tests than her twin sister. She came to believe that she was not as bright. Careless labeling can result iin negative effects.
Sharing a Face
Very few identifical twins truly look exactly the same.Parents and siblings have little difficulty in telling them apart. Examine the adjacent twins' faces closely. Can you see the differences?
Most people, however, are not trained to be very observant, and twins are often confused with each other. While this can be frustrating, it also allows them to hide behind their twinship.Twins rarely feel as exposed as single children do. When they finally part and go their separate ways, identical twins feel unsettled, as though a part of their identity is missing. As a result some twins choose to live together long after they have left home, and some even continue to dress alike.
Some Myths About Identical Twins
Commonly people believe that twins can read each other's minds, that they have extrasensory perception. While this may be true for isolated sets of twins, for the most part identical twins don't have this ability.
Because they are genetically similar, many identical twins think alike. They understand how their twin views the world. Twins also share everything--the same developmental stages, the same parents and siblings, the same friends--so their life experiences are closely matched. Given both this genetic and environmental closeness, twins can often glance at each other and understand what's on the mind of their twin. But they are not literally reading his or her mind.
If one twin has a disease, the other will suffer from the same disease. Even though twins are more likely to be prone to the same diseases, it doesn't mean it's inevitable. While identical twins share they same genes, there are differences, especially in female twins, based on X chromosomes. Twins receive two X chromosomes, one from their father and one from their mother. Shortly after conception, one of these X chromosomes shuts down and there is a chance the twins will end up carrying different X chomosomes. This can cause genetic variations.
Also, genomes can be altered over one's lifetime based on external factors such as diet and environment. These changes can account for both behavioral and physical changes in twins over time.
See Twins as Individuals
It's hard not to ogle at two people who look so much alike, who talk alike, and who even share the same gestures. Difficult not to compare them. But what most twins want is to be treated just like any other person, as an individual. To be recognized and acknowledged for themselves.
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