Chapter 12. Personality
Identical Twins Reunited after 35 Years
Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein were identical twins who were adopted into separate families immediately after their births in 1968. It was only at the age of 35 that the twins were reunited and discovered how similar they were to each other.
Paula Bernstein grew up in a happy home in suburban New York. She loved her adopted parents and older brother and even wrote an article titled “Why I Don’t Want to Find My Birth Mother.” Elyse’s childhood, also a happy one, was followed by university and then film school abroad.
In 2003, 35 years after she was adopted, Elyse, acting on a whim, inquired about her biological family at the adoption agency. The response came back: “You were born on October 9, 1968, at 12:51 p.m., the younger of twin girls. You’ve got a twin sister Paula, and she’s looking for you.”
“Oh my God, I’m a twin! Can you believe this? Is this really happening?” Elyse cried.
Elyse dialed Paula’s phone number: “It’s almost like I’m hearing my own voice in a recorder back at me,” she said.
“It’s funny because I feel like in a way I was talking to an old, close friend I never knew I had…we had an immediate intimacy, and yet, we didn’t know each other at all,” Paula said.
The two women met for the first time at a café for lunch and talked until the late evening.
“We had 35 years to catch up on,” said Paula. “How do you start asking somebody, ‘What have you been up to since we shared a womb together?’ Where do you start?”
With each new detail revealed, the twins learned about their remarkable similarities. They’d both gone to graduate school in film. They both loved to write, and they had both edited their high school yearbooks. They have similar taste in music.
“I think, you know, when we met it was undeniable that we were twins. Looking at this person, you are able to gaze into your own eyes and see yourself from the outside. This identical individual has the exact same DNA and is essentially your clone. We don’t have to imagine,” Paula said.
Now they finally feel like sisters.
“But it’s perhaps even closer than sisters,” Elyse said, “because we’re also twins.”
The twins, who both now live in Brooklyn, combined their writing skills to write a book called Identical Strangers about their childhoods and their experience of discovering an identical twin in their mid-30s (Spilius, 2007; Kuntzman, 2007).
You can learn more about the experiences of Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein by viewing this video:
One of the most fundamental tendencies of human beings is to size up other people. We say that Bill is fun, that Marian is adventurous, or that Frank is dishonest. When we make these statements, we mean that we believe that these people have stable individual characteristics — their personalities. Personality is defined as an individual’s consistent patterns of feeling, thinking, and behaving (John, Robins, & Pervin, 2008).
The tendency to perceive personality is a fundamental part of human nature, and a most adaptive one. If we can draw accurate generalizations about what other people are normally like, we can predict how they will behave in the future, and this can help us determine how they are likely to respond in different situations. Understanding personality can also help us better understand psychological disorders and the negative behavioural outcomes they may produce. In short, personality matters because it guides behaviour.
In this chapter we will consider the wide variety of personality traits found in human beings. We’ll consider how and when personality influences our behaviour, and how well we perceive the personalities of others. We will also consider how psychologists measure personality, and the extent to which personality is caused by nature versus nurture. The fundamental goal of personality psychologists is to understand what makes people different from each other (the study of individual differences), but they also find that people who share genes (as do Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein) have a remarkable similarity in personality.
John, O. P., Robins, R. W., & Pervin, L. A. (2008). Handbook of personality psychology: Theory and research (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Kuntzman, G. (2007, October 6). Separated twins Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein. The Brooklyn Paper. Retrieved from http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/30/39/30_39twins.html
Spilius, A. (2007, October 27). Identical twins reunited after 35 years. Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1567542/Identical-twins-reunited-after-35-years.html.