The Twinning Reaction

Identical twins were separated at birth and secretly studied by psychologists for decades in an infamous research experiment. Explore the often tragic long-term effects of these separations and the enduring bonds the twins share.

Identical twins were separated at birth and secretly studied by psychologists for decades in an infamous American research experiment. The Twinning Reaction explores the pitfalls of medical arrogance, the often tragic long-term effects of these separations, and the enduring bonds the twins share.

In 1960 two prominent psychoanalysts, Dr. Peter Neubauer and Dr. Viola Bernard, began a secret study involving orphaned babies from a New York City adoption agency. The doctors separated at least five sets of twins and triplets, never telling the adoptive parents their child had an “other.” Researchers tested, filmed and interviewed some of the children and families for years, under the pretense of conducting an “adoption study.” In truth, it was a nature versus nurture study of twins and triplets separated in infancy.

The Twinning Reaction tells the stories of four sets of identical twins and triplets who were separated by the Louise Wise Services adoption agency. Three of the sets were included in the Neubauer-Bernard twin study, while the fourth set was not part of any experiment.

Some of these twins and triplets have reunited by sheer luck, others through the filmmaker’s years of research on this story. The documentary examines the traumatic, long-term effects of the separations — and continuing deception — on the twins and their adoptive families. At least three individuals have taken their own lives.

The documentary follows reunited twins, Doug and Howard, in their quest for answers about the twin study and its findings. With the help of several attorneys, the twins obtain access to their own secret study files, which are sealed at the Yale University Archives until the year 2066. Cameras are rolling as Doug and Howard open the Pandora’s Box of information about their past.

The Twinning Reaction also features rare audio recordings of the twin-study authors, Drs. Peter Neubauer and Viola Bernard, as they describe their research to The New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright.

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