The Twin Pecking Order: Dominance and Submissiveness in Twins

Despite looking particularly identical recently, the Twins could not be more different on the inside. As their personalities grow, the difference between them becomes more apparent; and it feels inevitable that only one emerges at the top of the twin pecking order. It’s natural as part of the animal kingdom, that there be dominance and submissiveness in twins, isn’t it? But unfortunately for Arthur, he’s at the bottom of the twin pecking order, often literally underneath George’s bottom.

twin pecking order dominance and submissiveness in twins fb

The boys were born at 36wks with only an ounce between them in weight and half an inch in length. This is rare… usually one twin will naturally grow larger than the other, and with twins sharing a placenta this can lead to problems with Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome. As the boys continued to grow after birth they continued to amaze their pediatrician by remaining completely identical. By their three month appointment they were exactly, to the ounce and inch, the same size. Maybe it’s mysterious twin personality stuff, maybe it’s George’s love for carbs, but once we broke into solid food, George’s weight took the lead, and with it came his dominance.

Personalities Forming the Twin Pecking Order

Arthur is a very busy chap, inquisitive and adventurous, and always getting himself into trouble. If you hear a crash in the background, 80% of the time it’s Arthur, hence the recent finger chopping incident. George on the other hand is charming and cuddly, and generally gets into less trouble than his brother. That’s until you leave them alone. If left in their play space together I will hear screaming from Arthur and wonder what on Earth is going on. When I investigate I often find George sitting on, lying on, and generally crushing his brother in any way he can. This is an improvement on the biting we used to have, at one point poor Arthur was covered in teeth marks. We’ve had kicking, shoving, and all round bullying… yet you would think butter wouldn’t melt if you saw him in the flesh.

Despite all the brotherly love/abuse, Arthur never retaliates. I’ve never once seen him do the same back, and never see the same bite marks on George. It seems they have worked it out between them… George is the boss, and occasionally he needs to remind his minion of his superior status. So, is this twin pecking order anything to worry about? 

Dominance and Submissiveness in Twins

The twin pecking order is normal and natural, although some cases are more severe than others. It is often advised that twins be separated at school into separate classrooms, to allow each student to flourish and maintain individuality. 

‘The challenge with twins is that you have a dominant and submissive twin… If you keep them together in same classroom, the dominant twin will continue to speak for the other sibling and make decisions.’ (Marie Doyle to Renée M. Grinnell, PsychCentral.com)

twin pecking order dominance and submissiveness in twins sad

A study of Inter-twin Relationships and Mental Health describes three categories of dominance between twins:

1 Physical Dominance:

Classically, the bigger twin is the more physically dominant. It’s basic human nature, and particularly applicable to boys as they hit puberty. It happens often with singleton siblings too… the older is bigger, and enforces him/herself through physical dominance.

2 Psychological Dominance:

This one’s interesting… while boys tend to use physical dominance as they hit puberty, girls tend to use psychological dominance. Enforcing opinions, mannerisms and decisions through manipulation; psychological dominance is the one to worry about. It has been shown that if psychological dominance continues into adulthood, the submissive is more likely to suffer with depression and other psychiatric problems such as anorexia; but it’s not all plain sailing for the dominant either:

‘Psychologically dominant males and females of same-sex twin pairs expressed greater nervousness than did their co-twins.’ (Inter-twin Relationships and Mental Health)

3 Verbal Dominance:

As language develops, it is not uncommon for one twin to talk for the other. The verbally dominant twin may respond to questions directed at their co-twin; and they may ask questions and explain situations for their submissive partner. The submissive can become dependent on this verbal crutch, leading to delays in their own speech development.

‘It has been recorded that twins develop distinct roles within their relationship in which each specializes in a specific set of skills. One of these is speaking.’ (Twin and Triplet Psychology: A Professional Guide to Working with Multiples)

What Causes the Twin Pecking Order?

In the animal kingdom, it is often the physically small, sickly type that naturally becomes the submissive. It seems us humans are not much different:

“Perinatal complications appear to be predictive of submissiveness” (Inter-twin Relationships and Mental Health)

Despite being born of good size, Arthur spent a very short time on oxygen when he was born. He also suffered with reflux more than his brother as a newborn. Could these small differences be the reason he now has to bow down to his brother?

Should Parents Worry?

I have previously talked about Twin Escalation Syndrome, which seems related to finding the twin pecking order. Personally, I’m not too concerned about my boys, I see them as a complimentary pair… Arthur has a glint of the clever mischievous type in his eye, George is the protective bear type. So I see them as a team… the Brains and the Brawn… Pinky & The Brain (please tell me you’ve seen Pinky & the Brain?).

Pinky and the Brain
Source: looneytunes.wikia.com

“Many studies of sibling interactions among twins indicate that twins are asymmetrical in their relationship and enact complementary roles relative to one another.” (Inter-twin Relationships and Mental Health)

We have managed to curb the biting with stern tellings off, but the sitting/crushing continues. Another twin mom told be her identical twins had a sudden role reversal as they hit school age, so we will see how their complementary roles develop!



Why My Daughter Is Going to Science Camp This Summer

It feels like my daughter spends a lot of time at school… that will soon become very apparent when she’s under my feet for ten weeks. Yes, the summer break is upon us, and I’ve been sitting down to consider how on Earth I’m going to keep her occupied. The first couple of summer breaks I had as a SAHM I never even thought about science camp, or any other camp for that matter. We had just moved from England to Texas, so in true expat style we spent everyday swimming. Elsie literally couldn’t get enough of it, and it was a skill I was desperate for her to learn. However, with the twins in tow, swimming is no longer the relaxing option it used to be; and I would highly recommend having more than one adult present when swimming with two toddlers. So what am I going to do with her? Last year I didn’t really think about it… she got bored, I sent her to activity camp last minute, and she knocked her two front teeth out in the first week in a freak accident. My small experience with summer camp didn’t gone well; so this year I decided to give it more thought.

science camp fb

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The Importance of ‘Progress’ and Champagne

We had teacher conferences last week. Following on from our last teacher conference experience, I’m afraid to report that both our organizational skills still need working on. Results are good though… can you believe we have to discuss results when talking about a seven year old? As a teacher myself, I feel a little despondent looking at the piece of paper printed with numbers; I’m supposed to impressed with Elsie’s ‘progress’. She was a 4.2, but she’s now a 5.5… oh fabulous, crack open the champagne. I wonder sometimes whether my British sarcasm comes across properly in my writing… just to make it crystal clear, these numbers mean nothing. 

Before I go on a total rant about the state of the education system on both sides of the Atlantic, I will reign myself back in and just highlight this point:

Data collected by the National Survey of Science and Math Education indicates that “just sixteen minutes per day in the typical K–3 classroom are dedicated to social studies, with just nineteen minutes earmarked for science.” (Michael Petrilli, edexellence.net)

I’m getting a little tired of hearing about ‘progress’ in reading and maths. I know very well how my daughter is progressing in these subjects, thanks to the utterly tedious and soul destroying homework that is delivered in her backpack every week. But how are her problem solving skills? How is her ability to develop questions, work as a team and evaluate her own progress? Is curiosity in the world around her growing? Does she know how to explore her observations and share them with others? Does she understand the application of her knowledge, or is the weekly maths and spelling test just being banked in the ‘boring school work’ compartment in her brain? 

science camp magnifying glass

Why Science Camp?

This, along with the squealing of excitement when I suggested it, is why Elsie is going to Science camp this summer. Science as a subject incorporates plenty of reading, writing and mathematics… so don’t worry, that 5.2 will survive unscathed, despite getting involved in activities beyond the all important Common Core. Science is more valued than it used to be; the push for Engineers seems to be working, although I do wish other science careers would be sold to kids too. Are my kids going to be competing in an oversaturated market when graduating with their Engineering degree, because it’s the career buzz word of their generation? Engineering, and Snap Chat… they both seem to be doing well with the kids these days.

I do hope people will start to think outside the box a little, and truly understand the purpose of scientific thinking. When I studied for my PGCE I was shown ‘Shift Happens’ in my opening lecture. It has stuck with me since, and I think of it often. It’s a little old now, which is ironic given the content, but I continue to find it inspiring. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you watch it now… I hope you get from it what I did:

The key point for me is that we are teaching children for jobs that don’t even exist yet. We cannot possibly imagine what wacky jobs are going to be out there when they graduate, so lets focus on inspiring, and building the confidence to seek out new knowledge.

What Can We Do at Home?

Many schools offer science camp over the summer for a sensible price. Many external companies also run camps which can get expensive but involve a lot of equipment, specialized teaching and supervision, so can be justified in their budget. There are also plenty of activities you can do at home with your kids to encourage critical thinking and scientific values. Elsie will be doing a couple of weeks at official science camp, and I also plan to get stuck into some fun at home. Watch this space, I’ll come back next month with an activity to share, in the meantime here’s some resources to get your creative juices flowing:

And if you’re in the market for some science kits, here are my favorite picks:


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Can Twins Feel Each Other’s Pain?

It’s been a while since I posted about telepathic twins and other freaky twin stuff, and it’s time to return to the world of the weird and wonderful. Unfortunately the trigger for this research is an unhappy event… my poor little boy has been in a cast past the elbow these past two weeks, and I’m not entirely sure when he’ll be free of it. He’s coping brilliantly, but I have been surprised how his accident has affected his brother. Is it possible twins feel each other’s pain? 

can twins feel each other's pain

It was bound to happen eventually… our first proper injury. But I wasn’t expecting something so dramatic at such a young age. Poor Arthur at 17months amputated the end of his finger using a chair. Yes, a chair – that can happen, and apparently we are not the first. Does it make me a bad person that hearing another child has lost a finger in this way makes me feel better as a parent? If you’ve ever had a child injure themselves you’ll be familiar with that Matrix-style circular slow-motion phenomenon, as you watch events happening before your eyes, yet you just can’t get there in time to stop it. While playing with George on the grass in the back yard, my attention was away from his twin brother for a moment. He was instantly up on the patio chair, stood, it tipped back with his figures curled over the back… and bam… a finger sandwich between patio chair and concrete. In total panic the missing piece of finger went on ice and the entire family bundled into the mom-wagon and headed for the ER.

We were all hysterical; but between two 17month-olds, a seven year old who’ll melt-down over a paper cut, and a Dad that suffers with anxiety and panic attacks; Mom was left trying to keep it together. But as the situation began to calm, and Arthur was in good hands at the hospital, one of us was still extremely distressed. And it wasn’t Arthur – it was his twin brother George. Was he just feeding off the air of emotions? Was he just wanting attention while we whirled around Arthur? Or is it possible twins can feel each other’s pain? 

Twins claiming they share pain

Identical twins Angela King and Elena Gatt insist twins feel each other’s pain. From accidents, to morning sickness, to operations, they share it all. When Angela had her tonsils removed age 8, her sister was totally unaware and stayed with her grandmother during the operation.

‘Elena screamed at the exact moment they were removed,’ Angela said. ‘Grandma called mum and said there was something wrong with El because she was in a lot of pain.’ (Cindy Tran, Daily Mail)

While Angela happily recovered in hospital, Elena struggled to eat at her grandma’s house, because of her continued pain. They recall a similar story where Elena injured her knee while on vacation. Angela felt a sudden pain in her own knee and called immediately to check her sister was OK. To read more about these two, check out the Daily Mail article.

can twins feel each other's pain mail
Angela King and Elena Gatt. Source: dailymail.co.uk

Sally Keeble and her sister Helen, were always skeptical of stories of twin telepathy and weird connections. However, when Helen fell pregnant, her identical twin sister started to experience morning sickness, 100 miles away. Sally then experienced sever stomach cramping in the middle of the night a few weeks before her sister’s due date. When she called to check on her, sure enough her twin had been experiencing early labor pains. Two weeks later Sally felt excruciating abdominal pain, following by dizziness. She remembered the time it happened because she was in the process of leaving work. When she got home, she had a message that her sister had indeed given birth at that exact time. For more on this tory, head over to the The Guardian.

In Telepathic Twins and Other Freaky Twin Stuff, I tell the story of Gemma and Leanne Houghton and the shared connection that saved Leanne’s life, have a read and see what you think!

Is there any science behind the idea that twins feel each other’s pain? 

Identical twins are created from the same fertilized egg – no-one knows what causes the split, although there are theories. Is it possible that having the same DNA can connect you in such a way that you experience the same sensations at the same time? Despite much anecdotal evidence that suggests twins feel each other’s pain, science continues to find little evidence of such a phenomenon. And there are plenty of twins claiming there is no way this type of connection is possible, because they have been totally unaware when something traumatic has happened to their beloved sibling. However, there is a theory to explain this:

‘Researchers at the University of Indiana have studied thousands of twins and have noticed that the later they divided, the closer they become after birth. So it seems likely that this is the group most likely to experience telepathy’ (David Jones, New Dawn Magazine)

So a twin shouldn’t feel bad that they had no idea their sister was being mugged last night, you may have just been an early egg splitter. Of course, some twins never completely split, creating conjoined twins, and one of the earliest records of how twins feel each other’s pain is that of a pair of conjoined twins separated by an operation just after birth:

‘However far apart we are now we still have one and the same body, so that whatever impression, physical or mental, one of us perceives has its after-effects on the other’ says one of the Corsican Brothers back in 1844. (Benjamin Redford, Live Science)

Historically, the idea that twins feel each other’s pain has been ridiculed by science, and I get it… it’s a pretty wacky idea. In 2010 the Nobel prizewinner Brian Josephson was shunned from speaking at an event he was invited to, after it came to light he had been researching a connection between quantum theory and telepathy. His research was written off as an interest in the paranormal, and it was suggested that fellow physicists would no longer take him seriously. Now, anyone that’s read up on quantum theory will know it is some jaw-droppingly crazy sh*#; yet it is widely accepted enough to teach at school these days. So who knows, maybe telepathy and the idea that twins feel each other’s pain will too one day?

einstein quantum theory
source: flickr.com

My own experience…

When it was time to sew the end of Arthur’s finger on, Daddy took George and Big Sister out to the waiting room to avoid more mass hysteria. It took some time to get sorted, because he was drugged to help keep him still and well… stuff in hospitals just takes forever doesn’t it? As the doctors were busy sewing the finger on, Arthur’s drugs began to wear off, and myself and a very large man were busy using our body weight to hold him down (don’t worry, the pain meds were still working, just not the dopey stuff). My phone starting bleeping with multiple messages that I was not in a position to answer…

“Can we come back yet?”

“What’s going on?”

“George is going mental… I don’t know what’s wrong with him”

We had already spent a number of hours in the hospital and both babies had understandably been a upset, but it was the very moment Arthur was having his finger stitched back on that George went crazy, despite being some distance from the room. Weird right?

That night, we made it home and were all exhausted. We managed to squeeze some chicken nuggets into the littles and off they went to bed. Arthur fell into a deep sleep, exhausted from the days events. George went to sleep but repeatedly woke up through the night, unconsolable unless I held him. All my kids are good sleepers, and I can’t remember the last time I had to get up in the night to go into the boys room. He just wouldn’t settle, and was so sad and miserable I ended up bringing him into bed with me. I am no co-sleeper, even my husband is told to move away when I want to sleep… I’m just not a cuddle sleeper. But George needed love and closeness, he was clearly experiencing some kind of trauma, and whether it was purely emotional was difficult to tell. He was so distressed I honestly considered giving him a dose of Tylenol, because he just seemed to be in pain. I didn’t, and he eventually went to sleep, but I can’t help thinking some kind of Twin Thing was happening.

Poor George has had to come with me to all Arthur’s doctor’s appointments which has been very stressful for him, but I presume he just can’t bear seeing his best bud and partner-in-crime suffer. Whether he’s experiencing physical sensations is impossible to tell at this age, but I look forward to questioning them about it when they’re old enough. For know, I’m just happy he’ll healing… we’re on our third cast and look forward to getting back to normal soon!

can twins feel each other's pain casts

What do you think? Is it possible twins feel each other’s pain?


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Identical Twins: Why does the fertilized egg split?

Today I’m putting on my science hat and attacking the question which burns my curiosity as well as many others. Why does a fertilized egg divide to create identical twins? It is well established that this is not a hereditary tendency and yet around 0.3% of babies are born a natural clone. So why does one become two?
The quick answer is… no-one knows. But like all other outstanding questions, there are plenty of scientists trying to find out. So before we consider the theories, here’s a summary of what we do know:

How identical twins form

Unlike fraternal twins (which come from the fertilization of two eggs), identical twins are formed when a single zygote (fertilized egg) splits into two. This natural cloning process will happen at some point in the first ten days of gestation, usually around day 4-5. After a human egg is fertilized, the zygote ‘collapses’ and expands a number of times as the cells multiply/ It’s during one of these ‘collapses’ that the magic moment happens. During a collapse, the cells contained in the embryo divide into two groups, allowing two separate embryos to ‘hatch’ from the protective outer layer of what is now called the blastocyst. These two matching balls of cells keep dividing and multiplying to create two separate, yet identical, babies.

Identical_twins why does the fertilized egg split diagram
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Identical Twin Trivia that may help explain why the fertilized egg splits…

‘Twin Towns’

Allahabad in North-East India is just one of a number of ‘twin towns’. For the past 40years Allahabad has experienced an unusually high number of identical twin births. Locals are sure there is something in the water or soil causing this, as they claim animals such as buffalo are also affected by the phenomenon. However, scientists are yet to find any environmental or social oddities and DNA from Allahabad twins has not given much insight either. Most researchers have written off the theory of twin towns as no more than a statistical fluke. Another twin town, Linha São Pedro in Brazil, reported in the 1990’s that 5% of births were identical twins… that’s quite the fluke.

identical twins why does the fertilized egg split india

The Nine Banded Armadillo

Nine-banded armadillos almost always give birth to four identical quadruplets. These quadruplets are created from one single fertilized egg that splits, and then split again. This is thought to be an evolutionary result of the physical constraints imposed by the shape of the armadillo’s uterus. However, while it may be seen as an evolutionary advantage for the Armadillo, twinning of embryos in humans is considered more of a pregnancy fail by scientists, because it holds higher risks of congenital anomalies and premature birth. Still, for armadillos it’s not a random event so something is causing it to happen…

identical twins how does the fertilized egg split armadillo

Identical twins and IVF

When receiving IVF treatment, the chances of having identical twins rises from 0.3% to 2%. So even if only one embryo is implanted there is a 2% chance it will divide and create two babies. No-one knows why the chances of embryo division is higher, although it is suggested that subtle chemical differences between the lab and the human body are to blame. Maybe it’s just all that prodding and poking?

identical twins why does the fertilized egg split ivf

SCIENTIFIC THEORIES AS TO Why does the fertilized egg splitS…

We’ve looked at when it happens, but what scientific theories are out there for why identical twins develop from one fertilised egg?

Genetic mutation:

Dr Bruno Reversade has been busy investigating variations in the genomes of families from ’twin towns’ in the hope of finding a twinning gene. He has a candidate region, on chromosome four, and he thinks mutations in a gene here might have been present in the founders of twin towns, and then spread through the population. He speculates that the mutated gene might prevent cells sticking together tightly within the blastocyst, resulting in a split.

Dr Dianna Payne thinks the imperfect environment of the IVF lab is causing some cells to die or weaken at the cell junctions. This leads to the idea that a similar process could be caused in naturally conceived embryos, if they were triggered by faulty genes. It is also possible that subtle differences in the cells could force cells to repel one another, pushing two separated groups of cells to opposite sides of the blastocyst.

Daddy did it:

There is a popular theory (although I have struggled to find any scientific sources) that an enzyme in sperm causes the embryo to split. Many families with twins claim they have an abnormal number of identical twins in their family tree, even though at present science still claims it’s a random event.

identical twins why does the fertilized egg split daddy

It’s all about timing:

Dr Judith Hall suggests twinning depends on the timing of fertilization, explaining why humans twin more than other animals (except the armadillo of course!). Most mammals choose to mate when conditions are perfect, when eggs have been freshly ovulated. Humans on the other hand just do it any old time and an old egg may be more likely to split.

identical twins why does the fertilized egg split timing

So…there you have it.

I think if you combine Payne and Hall’s ideas to suggest an old egg is ‘faulty’, leading to abnormalities which create a repulsion between the cells, you have a fairly sound theory. After all, most identical twins don’t make it – it has been suggested that 12% of natural conceptions produce identical twins – but the vast majority of embryos are lost. Occasionally this can even result in a ‘vanishing twin’ where one embryo continues to full term while the other is lost and absorbed by the body.

Essentially something has gone wrong with the usual fertilization process to create two babies from one, although as an identical twin mom myself I think it’s just magic. Take your pick, what do you think causes identical twins?


Related Posts:


Cyranoski, D. (2009, April). Developmental biology: Two by two. Retrieved from: http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090415/full/458826a.html

Study: Identical Twins Caused by ‘Embryo Collapse’ (2007, July). Retrieved from: http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/07/05/study-identical-twins-caused-by-embryo-collapse.html

The extraordinary moment one baby becomes two (2007, July). Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-465788/The-extraordinary-moment-baby-two.html

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