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What Twins Can Tell Us About Who We Are

In March of 2017, the two sets of Bogotá twins, Jorge, William, Carlos and Wilber (left to right), gathered to celebrate Carlos's graduation.
Diana Carolina
/
St. Martin's Press
In March of 2017, the two sets of Bogotá twins, Jorge, William, Carlos and Wilber (left to right), gathered to celebrate Carlos's graduation.

In December 1988, two sets of identical twins in Bogotá became test subjects in a study for which they had never volunteered. It was an experiment that could never be performed in a lab, and had never before been documented. And it became a testament to the eternal tug between nature and nurture in shaping who we are.

The brothers as children. From left to right: Carlos and Jorge at age 5, and Wilber and William at age 6.
Courtesy of Jorge and Carlos; William and Wilber / St. Martin's Press
/
St. Martin's Press
The brothers as children. From left to right: Carlos and Jorge at age 5, and Wilber and William at age 6.

This week, psychologist Nancy Segal tells the story of the Bogotá twins, which was a tragedy, a soap opera, and a science experiment, all rolled into one. And she explains why twin studies aren't just for twins. They can serve as a paradigm to understand age-old questions that affect us all: Is our fate written in our genes? And how powerful is upbringing in shaping who we become?

Insights — and provocations — from twin studies, this week on Hidden Brain.

Additional Resources:

" Accidental Brothers: The Story of Twins Exchanged at Birth and the Power of Nature and Nurture ,"by Nancy Segal and Yesika Montoya, 2018

"Born Together—Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study," by Nancy Segal, 2012

" Pairs of Genetically Unrelated Look-Alikes: Further Tests of Personality Similarity and Social Affiliation," by Nancy Segal and colleagues, 2018

"Socioeconomic Status Modifies Heritability of IQ in Young Children," by Eric Turkheimer and colleagues, 2003

"Personality Similarity in Twins Reared Apart and Together," by Thomas Bouchard and colleagues, 1988

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Jennifer Schmidt, Parth Shah, Rhaina Cohen, Laura Kwerel, and Thomas Lu. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain , and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Laura Kwerel
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.
Parth Shah is a producer and reporter in the Programming department at NPR. He came to NPR in 2016 as a Kroc Fellow.