Twin Telepathy: Best Evidence

True stories and fascinating experiments that reveal the telepathic connection between twins

ONE SPRING DAY in 2009, 15-year-old Gemma Houghton was suddenly struck with the strong feeling that her twin sister Leanne was in trouble. Gemma hurried to the bathroom, where she knew Leanne was taking a bath and found her sister submerged, unconscious and turning blue. Leanna is an epileptic and had suffered a seizure in the tub.

Gemma pulled her sister from the tub, administered CPR and revived her, saving her life. "I got this sudden feeling to check on her. It was like a voice telling me 'your sister needs you'," Gemma later told reporters. "She was under the water. At first I thought she was washing her hair or playing a trick, but when I lifted her head out I saw she had turned blue. I knew she'd had a fit." Had Gemma not been compelled by that feeling to check on her sister, Leanne almost certainly would have drowned.

This story of the telepathic Houghton twins made news in March, 2009, and it's one more anecdotal account of the psychic connection that is said to exist between many twins, especially identical twins. The Houghton sisters happen to be fraternal twins, but their mother says they are "inseparable and share an uncanny bond." A survey conducted by Dr. Lynne Cherkas, a genetic analyst at the department for twin research at King's College London, showed that one in five identical twins said they had experience some form of telepathy, and one in ten fraternal twins reported the phenomenon.

Although a telepathic connection between twins is not universal, as Dr. Cherkas' survey reveals, it is common enough to serve as some of the best evidence for the reality of telepathy among humans, and has provided researchers with a good way to study the phenomenon.

Guy Lyon Playfair has done extensive research in the field of twin telepathy, and has much of his work in his book Twin Telepathy: The Psychic Connection.

In an article for Paranormalia, Playfair comments that the Houghton event is certainly not the first time that twin telepathy may have saved a life. "I know of at least three other examples, one of which I investigated at first-hand," he says. "This would suggest that the scientific community should take rather more interest in it than it yet has."

STORIES OF TWIN TELEPATHY AND PSYCHIC CONNECTION

Much of the information we have about twin telepathy comes from the spontaneous experiences reported by the twins themselves. The article Twin Telepathy provides these anecdotes:

  • Two male twins had different areas of interest: one played soccer and the other took guitar lessons. After a few months, however, the soccer-playing twin could play the guitar nearly as well as his brother without ever having taken a lesson. A study of the boys also said that they had had "limited interaction" with each other during the time they were pursuing these interests.
  • While shopping, a man in Texas was forced to sit down due to a stabbing pain in his chest. He later learned that his twin brother in New York was having a heart attack at the same time.
  • A young girl had an accident with her bicycle and broke her ankle. Her twin sister developed swelling in the same uninjured ankle.

    In some cases, one twin will know about something that happened to the other twin when such knowledge was clearly impossible.

    • Paula Wombwell, a teacher and mother of identical twin girls recounts an unexplained event when they were about four years old. One twin, Heather was with Paula in the classroom while the other twin, Catherine was in the gymnasium on another floor. Suddenly, Paula heard Catherine crying downstairs, and Heather declared that it was because a certain person had just run over her with a scooter. There was no way Heather could have seen what happened. Sure enough, when Paula asked Catherine about what had happened she confirmed that that certain person had run over her with a scooter.
    • At Twin Connections, a website that celebrates "the mysterious bond between twins" and collects stories from twins, we find this experience: "I am a mother of identical twin boys," writes Aiya. "Gabriel and Ethan just turned 5 this year and are in kindergarten. My twin story happened when they were 4. My mother wanted to spend some time with them, but she was never able to handle both of them at the same time. We decided to let Gabriel go for a visit for three days and then Ethan would go for three days. Ethan and I were driving in the car on our way to make the switch; he was sitting in his car seat as quiet as can be just looking out the window, when he tells me, 'Mom, tell Gabriel to get his clothes on.' I looked at him and told him Gabriel was with grandma and he wasn't here. He told me, 'Just tell him mom. He needs to get his clothes on.' So I called my mom out of curiosity and asked her if she was having a hard time getting Gabriel dressed, and she said yes, they were having an argument because Gabriel didn't want to get dressed because it was too cold and he wanted to stay in his jammies."

      Next page: Experiments with Twins

      Fraternal twins can also experience these psychic sympathy symptoms:

      • "I am a fraternal twin," says Katie. "I always get a feeling when something isn't right with my sister. When my sis was in labor with her first, I started getting really bad cramps while she had contractions. It was really crazy! I also knew something wasn't right when she was in a car wreck, too.

      We have all heard the stories about twins who, even though they are separated by great distances (and in some cases were separated at birth and don't even know each other), have eerily similar lives, right down to making many identical choices.

      • Pamela Prindle Fierro, the About.com Guide to Twins & Multiples, relates an incident told to her by a friend who has an identical twin. While chatting online one day, the sisters discovered that "they had purchased the exact same pair of pants, in the same color, from the same store, on the same day. Her sister lives in Belgium, while she lives in the United States."

      Is this a case of two people who share very similar genetics simply making similar choices? Or is there truly a psychic connection that transcends distance?

      Most scientists are naturally skeptical of such anecdotes as evidence of telepathic communication. "We do hear of things like this happening between identical twins more often than fraternal, but it isn't telepathy," says Dr. Nancy Segal, professor of psychology and director of the Twin Studies Center at California State University in an article for Lawrence Journal-World.

      "They're merely coincidences that occur when two people are so much alike in the first place. It's nature and nurture - same heredity, same environment. [Identical twins] come from the same egg, and they tend to have the same general thought patterns, intelligence levels, likes and dislikes."

      Coincidence doesn't explain the effects documented in several interesting experiments, however.

      EXPERIMENTS

      Guy Lyon Playfair, in addition to his book research, has conducted informal experiments of his own to test the psychic connection between twins. These are some of the results:

      • For a television show in 2003, Playfair set up a test for twins Richard and Damien Powles. Richard was placed in a sound-proof booth with a bucket of ice water while Damien was some distance away in another studio hooked up to a polygraph machine (a "lie detector" machine that measures respiration, muscle and skin response. When Richard plunged his hand into the ice water and let out a gasp, there was an obvious blip on Damien's polygraph that measured his respiration, as if he too had let out a gasp.
      • During the same experiment, Richard was instructed to open a cardboard box, from which he expected a nice surprise. Instead, a rubber snake popped out, startling him. At that exact moment, the polygraph recorded a jump in Damien's pulse rate, as if he was having the same experience.
      • In a similar experiment before a live TV audience in 1997, twin teenagers Elaine and Evelyn Dove were likewise separated. Elaine was in the sound-proof booth with a pyramid-shaped box while Evelyn was sequestered in another room with the polygraph. When Elaine was sitting relaxed, suddenly the box exploded in a harmless but shocking pop of sparks, flashes and colored smoke. Evelyn's polygraph recorded her psychic reaction at the same moment, with one of the needles running right off the edge of the paper.

        Playfair is quick to admit that these were not experiments conducted with the strictest scientific protocols, yet it is difficult to explain their outcomes.

        And there was a reason that Playfair used cold water and the element of surprise in his experiments rather than having the twins try to communicate the number and suit of a specific playing card or other such thing. The physical and emotional response could be the key to making it work. "Telepathy tends to work best when it is needed," he says, "and when sender and receiver are strongly bonded, as with mothers and babies, dogs and their owners, and those with the strongest bond of all - twins."