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Tyrone Schiff

Unnaturally Nurtured

The formation of a twin is a fascinating and unexplainable occurrence in nature. It occurs

randomly and without planning. Generally, twins find that they are able to confide in their

respective twin more so than any other person in their lives. Twins possess a bond that extends

far deeper than just their physically similar attributes. Twins share something that is said to be

inherently unique to us all: their DNA and genetics. Monozygotic twins have the exact same

genetic makeup in every single cell that composes them. Cognizant of the similarities inherent to

a twin’s genetics, an interesting question is generated. In various psychological fields, the

argument rages on whether our lives are molded by our environments or by our genetics. This

conflict of opinions is commonly referred to as nature versus nurture. In the case of twins, they

provide psychologists with a rare opportunity to study the roles of these two factors on the

individual. It ought to be noted that psychologists are often limited by the uncontrollable

influences that occur in any given twin experiment. At the same time, however, these limitations

are accompanied by many beneficial insights. Thus, being able to compare twins is a strong

benefit and ally of nature; however, certain environmental factors proposed by psychologists

play a key role in defending the theory of nurture.

This paper will attempt to look at two different situations in which twins were studied.

First, the David Reimer case will be presented and then the example of the twins being separated

at birth depicted in the film shown in class. In the case of David Reimer, a genetically normal

male was attempted to be converted in to a female. This was recommended by the psychologist

John Money who asserted that “newborns are psychosexually neutral,” meaning that

environmental cues would be the only determinant needed when trying to figure out sexual

identity (Colapinto, 1997, p.64). The true benefit in this case for Money was being able to
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compare David’s progression as a female against his twin brother’s progression as a male.

Money is clearly a staunch activist for the role of nurture. In contrast to Money, another

psychologist named Milton Diamond argued in favor of our genetic make-up and therefore the

role of nature in one’s development. Diamond had gathered evidence in his lab that “suggested a

link between hormones that bathe a developing fetus’s brain and nervous system and its later

sexual function” (Colapinto, 1997, p.64). Diamond is essentially making the argument for nature

in this case that during development a certain sexual orientation is coded into the individual. If

one recalls, David Reimer ultimately switched from being a female, the stimulus his environment

had forced upon him, and chose to live his life as a male, the initial genetic coding he had

received. This argues heavily in favor of nature, but there are certain limitations to twin research

that could possibly explain these findings.

In response to the catastrophe that was the experiment of David Reimer, John Money

justified the failure by asserting that it was due to David’s environmental factors that ultimately

led to the failure. Money believed that due to the fact that David had a twin brother, someone

with whom David could compare himself, this made David’s unnatural progression into

becoming a female that much harder. David recalls that he “kept thinking of the fun stuff my

brother was doing […]” (Colapinto, 1997, p.67). Clearly, having this twin brother around was

not a good environmental factor for his progress. Furthermore, Money also attributed the failure

to the environmental factor that David received in regards to his rearing. Money put extreme

pressure on the parents to not have any “second thoughts” for it would “weaken the child’s

identification as a girl or woman” (Colapinto, 1997, p.66). With this in mind, the parents

wouldn’t allow David to take part in perfectly normal activities that any young girl may have

wanted to do. David recalls wanting to shave with his father, but was immediately reprimanded
Tyrone Schiff
and told to go with his mother. One could argue that had David’s parents been a little more

lenient, and perhaps allow for David to grow into a tom-girl the experiment would have been far

more successful. However, this is just one incident of twin research.

In a film shown in class, there was an interesting case of twins that had been separated at

birth and reunited later on in their lives. Clearly, these twins had been raised in quite different

environments and had gone through different experiences. Yet, it is relevant to note that both of

them had chosen to become firefighters as their professions. The twins also noticed that they held

a beer glass very similarly. This particular twin research argues very heavily in favor of nature,

based on the fact that their environments were different but ultimately the twins followed a

similar path. However, one should also consider that these twins may have had various

experiences in their own lives that led to their identical professions. As is the case in this study,

the greatest limitation in any twin research experiment is the lack of control over the subjects

(ABC News, 1999).

So, what can one gather about the research done on twins and their contribution to the

ongoing debate of nature versus nurture? In some ways, there a many benefits, yet at the same

time there are a number of limiting factors. Benefits include the fact that genetically their make-

up is identical which allows for a superb comparison. On the other hand, all twin studies are

limited by the fact that they can’t be controlled by psychologists, and there are factors that cannot

be anticipated. Ultimately, twin research provides a number of answers to the debate on nature

versus nurture, but at the same time propose new questions that lie ready for investigation.
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1. Colapinto, John, (1997). The True Story of John/Joan. Rolling Stone, 775, 54-73. Retrieved

January 15, 2003.

2. Films for the Humanities and Sciences, ABC News (Producer). (1999). Boy or Girl? When
Doctors Choose a Child's Sex [video]. (Available from Films for the Humanities and
Sciences, P.O. Box 2053, Princeton, NJ 08543,