Identical Strangers

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Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited is a 2007 memoir written by identical twins Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein and published by Random House. The authors were separated as infants, in part, to participate in a "nature versus nurture" twin study. They were adopted by separate families who were unaware that each girl had a sister. Soon after the twins reunited for the first time in 2004 at the age of 35, they began writing the book. Of the 13 or more children involved in the study, three sets of twins and one set of triplets have discovered one another. One or two sets of twins may still not know they have an identical twin.[1][2][3]

Twins study[edit]

Viola Bernard, a prominent New York City psychiatrist, had persuaded Louise Wise Services, an adoption agency, to send twins to different homes without telling the adoptive parents that they were adopting a child who had a twin. Then, researchers sponsored by the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services secretly compared their progress. Bernard believed that identical twins would better forge individual identities if separated. By the time the twins started to investigate their adoptions, Bernard had already died, but the twins found New York University psychiatrist Peter Neubauer who had studied them.[3][4][5]

The twins study they were involved with was never completed.[6] The practice of separating twins at birth ended in the state of New York in 1980, shortly after Neubauer's study ceased.[7] Neubauer reportedly had Yale University lock away and seal the study records until 2065.[8] He realized that public opinion would be so against the research that he decided not to publish it. As of 2007, the sisters and other twins had not persuaded Yale or the Jewish Board to release the records.[3][4][5][7] By 2018, some 10,000 pages had been released but were heavily redacted and inconclusive.[9]

The Neubauer study differed from most twins studies in that it followed the twins from infancy.[3] However, the debate about whether nature or nurture has a greater impact on human development continues. The documentary Three Identical Strangers, which told the story of three male triplets who were also part of the study and found one another at age 19, noted that although much was made of superficial similarities among the three, their personalities were significantly different because they were raised by parents with profoundly different personalities and child-rearing practices. In addition, no one can accurately assess to what degree each infant in the study was shaped by the trauma of separation after several months together as infants.[10] Some researchers nonetheless believe that children's differences are forged less by their families than by genetics and chance.[4][11]

Documentary films[edit]

Two documentaries about this study have been released, The Twinning Reaction (2017)[12] and Three Identical Strangers (2018),[10][13] along with the television episode Secret Siblings (2018).[14]


  1. ^ Flaim, Denise (25 November 2007). "Lost and Found: Twin sister separated at birth are reunited and work toward a new relationship". Journal Times.
  2. ^ Flaim, Denise (25 November 2007). "Lost and found: Other twins were tracked for study". Journal Times.
  3. ^ a b c d Bernstein, Paula; Schein, Elyse (25 October 2007). "'Identical Strangers' Explore Nature Vs. Nurture". All Things Considered (Interview). Interviewed by Joe Richman. NPR. Retrieved 19 January 2019. Audio also.
  4. ^ a b c Flam, Faye (7 December 2007). "Studying twins and identity: 1960s child-development experiment is unthinkable now". Philadelphia Inquirer – via Monterey County Herald.
  5. ^ a b Bradley, Lisa (9 December 2007). "SCIENCE: When Paula met Elyse". Sunday Star Times.
  6. ^ Rieger, Robin (29 November 2007). "Twins Reunited After Experiment Speak Out". CBS 3. Archived from the original on 1 December 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2007.
  7. ^ a b Spillius, Alex (29 October 2007). "Identical twins reunited after 35 years". Telegraph. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  8. ^ McCormack, William (1 October 2018). "Records from controversial twin study sealed at Yale until 2065". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  9. ^ Ryan, Patrick (26 June 2018). "Three Identical Strangers': How triplets separated at birth became the craziest doc of 2018". USA Today. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  10. ^ a b Nevins, Jake (28 June 2018). "Three Identical Strangers: the bizarre tale of triplets separated at birth". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  11. ^ Segal, Nancy (1999). Entwined Lives: Twins and What They Tell Us About Human Behavior. Dutton.
  12. ^ The Twinning Reaction: Official Site. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  13. ^ Three Identical Strangers: Official Trailer. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  14. ^ "Secret Siblings". 20/20. 9 March 2018. ABC News.