The Anthill

Anthill 26: Twins

Double trouble, two peas in a pod, always together and possibly even reading each other’s minds – twins come with tonnes of stereotypes. This episode of The Anthill digs into some of the research around twins – from what it’s like to be one, how it differs to other sibling relationships (if at all) and how twins play a crucial role in scientific research.

As well as speaking to some twins to find out some of their pet peeves about how the world views their relationship, we speak to the University of Central Lancashire’s Kate Bacon about the extent that the identity of twins is shaped by being a twin. And psychologist Alison Pike at Sussex University gives us an overview of how twins compare to other siblings.

Then we explore just how much stereotypes of twins abound in popular culture. As Xavier Aldana Reyes, senior lecturer in English literature and film at Manchester Metropolitan University, told us, Gothic literature and horror films have embraced the idea of the “evil twin”. Think The Shining.

In films or photographs, twins are usually dressed the same and are incredibly close. But as James Hoctor, from the University of Kent’s department of philosophy told us, these depictions of twins affect how they’re viewed in the real world – and this can be damaging.

Aside from their use in the plot lines of scary films, twins are helping scientists understand the human condition, and particularly the impact of our genes on our lives. To find out more we spoke to three scientists who work with large scale twin databases.

Twins are helping scientists understand ageing. from www.shutterstock.com

Claire Steves, a senior clinical lecturer at King’s College London, which runs the Twins UK database explained what they’ve found out comparing identical and non-identical twins. Kaare Christensen, head of the Danish Twin Registry at the University of Southern Denmark, tells us about how twins studies are revealing insights into how we age – and when we die. And Athula Sumithapala, professor of psychiatry at the University of Keele, tells us about a new twins registry he and colleagues are setting up in Sri Lanka, and why more twin databases are needed in the developing world.


The Anthill theme music is by Alex Grey for Melody Loops. Music in the twins and popular culture segment is Double Drift by Kevin MacLeod via Incompetech. Music in the twin studies segment is Old Bossa by Twin Musicom, via YouTube.

Click here to listen to more episodes of The Anthill, on themes including Sex, Intuition, and Scientists who experiment on themselves.

Thank you to City, University of London’s Department of Journalism for letting us use their studios to record The Anthill.