Cognitive Neuroscience

How can we understand nature versus nurture by studying identical twins?
Answered by Discovery Fit & Health
  • Discovery Fit & Health

    Discovery Fit & Health

  1. Twins are often used in studies designed to uncover the effects of nature and nurture. Identical twins share the exact same genes, so some researchers hypothesize that differences between them must be due to the environment. And fraternal twins have a role to play as well, even though they don't share the same genes. By comparing the results between fraternal twins and identical twins, researchers can begin to determine the relative extent that nature or nurture played in any given outcome.

    Fifty years ago, psychiatrist Peter Neubauer and psychologist Viola Bernard evaluated triplets and twins who were separated at birth and given up for adoption. Those children were required to participate in a blind research study throughout their lives without knowing they had twin siblings. Although the psychologists discovered amazing information about what the twins had in common despite being raised in different environments, the information is sealed at Yale University until 2066.

    Until then, some studies on twins have shown that the nurture and nature argument isn't really an "all or nothing" theory. In effect, each of us is affected by genetic makeup and environment, depending on many and varied circumstances. When identical twins are brought up apart from one another, they are more similar to each other than two random people might be -- that's because they share some genes but no environment. If those same twins are brought up in the same home with the same parents, they are more alike than are fraternal twins brought up together. Fraternal twins share fewer genetic similarities, but in this example, they share the same environmental influences [source: Pinker].

    Further study still is needed on twins and others if we ever want to truly understand what makes us all alike and different. Even when identical twins are brought up together, only about 50 percent of their traits are alike. The twins have the same genes, the same family environment and the same exposures to peers but still have differences. Surely, much more is at work than just genes and parenting.

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