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Identical strangers
  1. John Launer
  1. Associate Editor, Postgraduate Medical Journal, London WC1H 9JP, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr John Launer, Associate Editor, Postgraduate Medical Journal, London WC1H 9JP, UK; johnlauner{at}

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Jim Lewis and Jim Springer lived in different towns in Ohio in the USA, 40 miles apart. So far as they were aware, they had never met, but they each knew they had been born with an identical twin, and had then been adopted by different families. In his late 30s, Jim Lewis decided to track down his lost brother, who turned out to be Jim Springer (see figure 1). As well as finding they shared a first name, there were more surprises in store. Each of them was exactly six feet tall and weighed 108 pounds. Both bit their nails and suffered from migraines. They both had little aptitude for spelling but were skilled in maths and carpentry. More extraordinary, they had each been married twice, first to a woman named Linda and then to a woman named Betty. One had named his firstborn child James Alan, and the other had named his James Allen. Each had once owned a dog named Toy. They drove the same model and colour of car, went to the same beach in Florida for their vacations, and shared a taste for the same brands of beer and cigarettes.1

Figure 1

The Jim twins. Courtesy of the Jim twins and Dr. Nancy L. Segal

The story of the Jim twins is one of the most famous accounts of identical twins and the uncanny characteristics they can sometimes share, even when raised apart. Their experiences also led to one of the world’s biggest studies of identical twins ever, the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart (MISTRA).2 To the surprise of most psychologists at the time, it showed that monozygotic twins reared apart are broadly speaking as similar to each other as those raised together—in terms of personality, temperament, occupation, leisure-time interests and social attitudes. In …

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