Dominance and Submissiveness in Twins: The Pecking Order

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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 pecking order, often literally underneath dominant twin George’s bottom.

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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 dominant twin 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 dominance and submissiveness in twins 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,

Other parents are adamant their twins should remain in the same classroom because the distress of being apart is too much. Their roles within the twin sibling relationship make them a strong unit.

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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 from 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 Dominance and Submissiveness in Twins?

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 from 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 about the Twin Pecking Order?

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?).

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“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 telling off, but the sitting/crushing continues. Another twin mom told me her identical twins had a sudden role reversal as they hit school age, so we will see how their complementary roles develop!



Katherine Betts

Architect and Science Teacher in a previous life, Katherine Betts is now a SAHM of three kids and family lifestyle blogger. She created her twin parenting blog, TwinPickle, to help parents of multiples with the unique challenges they face. Since it's conception, TwinPickle has grown to include a larger virtual community of twin parents through social media.

Blog Comments

[…] to me how one twin is always more dominate. They were both so sweet, but Luna was the more dominant twin. They were still easier than most newborns who come in the studio though, so I am not complaining […]

Did they ever have a physical fight ?

My wife and her twin sister are in there early 30’s and argue a lot ,don’t think they have ever seen who was dominant. My wife was born first and she’s a little shorter than her twin sister. But they are pretty equal in size . I asked my wife who would win in a catfight/ wrestle match between them and she said i would. Asked same question to her twin sister and she said I would . Should they have a wrestling Match to see who is dominant?

I don’t think they should worry about which one would win and which one wouldn’t, What a lot of people don’t realize about being a twin is they are ALWAYS compared by everyone!! That’s Not a good thing at all!! I don’t feel people even realize they do it when they see twins together!!! I am a twin,,I know!!!

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