02 Mar What makes us who we are – and can we change our fate?
Three Identical Strangers, the award-winning documentary film about identical triplets, focusses on three boys who were put up for adoption by their mother in New York in 1961. They were placed in three different families by a Freudian psychologist studying nature and nurture. The study was never published.
The boys grew into adults who, in later life, had divergent personalities and looked dissimilar. Yet when they first discovered each other as teenagers, the media shone a spotlight on their behavioural similarities, claiming, that this proved the supremacy of nature over nurture.
But as the triplets matured, their dissimilarities grew more pronounced. They had been raised in three families with contrasting parenting styles and this, it seemed had influenced their characters.
So the pendulum swung back to nurture over nature.
But what if identical siblings inherit completely different character traits?
The nature versus nurture debate has traditionally relied on identical twins studies because they were of course presumed to be genetic clones. But behavioural geneticists have discovered that through a process of epigenetics and minor DNA mutations in utero, this is not so.
The medical records of Russian conjoined twins, Masha and Dasha Krivoshlyapova, are proof of this. They were taken from their parents at birth by Soviet scientists in 1951 (the mother wanted to visit them and so was told they’d died,) to be experimented on in a laboratory for six years.
Part of these experiments involved observing their individual character traits and the resultant scientific paper showed that from the first few weeks of life, the girls were like chalk and cheese: Masha was feisty, stubborn and spirited while Dasha was meek, gentle and a people pleaser.
Their contrasting, innate personalities affected how each of them reacted to their identical environments and so became more pronounced as they grew older. Masha became increasingly controlling and Dasha increasingly submissive. Masha loved life – and Dasha was depressed and wanted out of it.
Their diametrically opposed personalities changed their fates as well as their looks.
The interplay between our genes and our experience makes us who we are. Masha became become a narcissist and Dasha an empath. But as Dasha proved, that isn’t the end story
Through self-awareness we can step back and exert our free will to change our circumstances.