The Times 25th March 2009
Is there really such a thing as twintuition ? Are twins truly telepathically linked by a shared intuition?
Dr Lynne Cherkas, a genetic analyst at the department for twin research at King’s College London, and a non-identical twin herself, has spent years studying twins. She has come across several cases in which, when one twin was giving birth, the other felt a shared pain, and even one where a woman had a nightmare about a red car and discovered later that her twin had been severely injured in a car accident.
Overall, though, she says there is no set “pattern” to be applied. “We see a whole range of relationships – twins who are very close and those who don’t get on,” she says. “If they are identical they often have a very close friendship, but some find it hard to be individuals and dislike being a twin.
“However, a few years ago we sent out a questionnaire to our twins asking about their psychic abilities, and one identical twin in five reported some kind of telepathy, compared with one in ten for nonidentical twins.”
Overall, nearly half of the twins surveyed said that they had never had a telepathic experience, 39 per cent that they may have had one, and 15 per cent that they had definitely had one.
In some way, it seems that genetics is important. “Twins who are brought up together share the same social experience,” says Dr Cherkas. “Genes must play a role, otherwise we would find that instances of telepathy would occur as often in non-identical as in identical twins.”
For 20-year-old Marie, upbringing and nurture are the keys to why she and her non-identical twin Chantal are so similar. While Marie has long dark hair and is studying costume design at the Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, Chantal has a blonde pixie crop and is studying English at Oxford. But until they left home for university, they shared a room and studied the same subjects at school. Sometimes they feel sick at the same time or suffer headaches simultaneously.
“I remember, when I was in Year 2 at primary school, that both of us were sitting an exam – and for one essay-style question we gave exactly the same answer,” says Marie. “Later, we were taken aside and asked if we’d cheated – but we hadn’t. We’d been sitting on opposite sides of the room. I don’t know how much of it was down to our learning things together, but it was pretty weird.”
In fact, says Dr Cherkas, the “twin effect” can become stronger as twins grow older and move apart. While they are together they form a “working agreement” and play off each other. Often the older one will be dominant until they reach adulthood.
“At 18 or so, when they separate, their genes can fulfill their potential at last,” says Dr Cherkas. “They may become more like each other, despite each one having spent years forging his or her own personality.”
For some, such as Sally Keeble, that closeness can become a nightmare. In a recent newspaper article she revealed how, some weeks after her identical twin sister, Helen, told her that she was pregnant, she began experiencing all the symptoms of morning sickness.
Although they were close emotionally, they did not talk every day and lived 100 miles apart in London and Hertfordshire. Yet when pregnant Helen started feeling pains one morning, Sally woke with apparently identical stomach cramps, “overwhelmed with waves of pain, panic and nausea”. Two weeks later she suffered agonising pain at her desk as she was preparing to go home from work – and later heard that her sister had gone into a traumatic labour.
To Audrey Sandbank, a family psychotherapist and the author of Twin and Triplet Psychology (Routledge), these tales of shared pain should not be dismissed as entirely coincidental by the sceptics.
While twins may develop their own language, she says, this is often more of a “dialect” in which each reinforces the mistakes of the other. But where twins share an intense emotional link, there is a connection between them that science has yet fully to comprehend.
“I knew a pair of brothers where one was a seaman who suffered a major heart attack on board a ship miles from home. At the same tim, his brother collapsed unconscious in the garden,” says Sandbank. “We are connected on a level that we don’t really understand, and when there is a strong emotional connection – as there often is with twins, because they have shared everything and are wired up the same way – in extremis, such as one twin dying in the bath, the brain may send out an emergency signal to alert the other.”
For Professor Chris French, head of the anomalistic psychology research unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, the explanation is more prosaic.
“People will always have concerns about those they love – so it’s bound to happen that at some point they will have these feelings and they’ll turn out to be true. But most of the time it doesn’t,” he says.
“These anecdotes are pretty common between mothers and daughters and ebtween twins, and if we have a physical pain we are likely to follow it up. The problem is, we have no data about people ringing up where it’s not the case – so we don’t know how much of it is an intriguing coincidence, but one that proves nothing.”