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What are Virtual Twins?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Virtual twins are children who are raised together, but have no genetic relationship. They are also very close to each in age, generally less than nine months apart in age. They can come into a family in a wide variety of ways, and they are a topic of interest to psychologists and other researchers, as they can be used to delve into the relationship between environment and genetics.

In a classic example of virtual twinning, a couple makes arrangements to adopt after struggling to have children, and then becomes pregnant. Rather than backing out of the adoption, the parents may choose to adopt as well as giving birth, giving their birth-child an adopted sibling. Virtual twins can also be created through adoption, with parents adopting two children of different parentage. Many researchers like to focus specifically on virtual twins adopted at a very young age, rather than older children adopted together.

For people interested in the nature vs. nurture argument, virtual twins can provide some interesting food for thought. Researchers who believe that environment plays a larger role than genetics would expect these twins to be very similar, since they are raised in the same environment. Studies suggest that they have fewer similarities than true genetic siblings, however, which suggests that genetics plays a heavy role in human development.

Life for virtual twins can be interesting. In the case of twins who resemble the people raising them, people may be confused about how they were born, which can sometimes be awkward in the case of a situation where one twin is adopted and one twin was born into the family. Children of a different racial background obviously stand out as adopted, although parents who adopt children of the same ethnicity may be asked if the twins are from the same family by people who are curious, and this can sometimes become irritating.

Parents who believe that siblings play a valuable role in the development of their children may deliberately set out to adopt virtual twins. Parents participating in transcultural adoption may also choose to adopt virtual twins so that their adopted children have a familiar face to interact with, in the hopes of making their children feel less alienated by the foreign culture into which they are adopted. Others may choose to adopt children of radically different ethnicities, for a variety of reasons.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By cafe41 — On Jul 04, 2011

@Starrynight- I think that adopting a baby after you had a baby might allow the children to have more fun growing up because they are so close in age. They will probably have the same friends or at least know the same people when they go to school.

I do think that the child that is not biologically related should not be told until the child gets older because I think that it might be very traumatic and difficult for a young child to understand that they were given up for adoption. The biological parents may have had selfless reason for doing this and probably could not care for the child, but a young child will probably only hear that their mother and father gave them up and did not want them.

I think that you should probably talk to the child’s pediatrician in order to assess at what age is best to talk to a child about this.

By orangey03 — On Jul 03, 2011

My virtual twin must have been the exception to the rule. We were so much alike that we became best friends.

Our personalities meshed really well, and we both loved staying active, playing sports, and going to the lake. At times, she could read my mind.

I would have been happy with her as my only friend, but when she got a boyfriend at age 16, I had to find others to hang out with, and I guess this was a good thing. My social skills were way underdeveloped, and it took joining a few clubs to actually make any friends.

Today, we are still very close. My husband and I go with her and her kids on vacation some years, and they come over every Sunday afternoon for cookouts and games. We still finish each other’s sentences, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to grow up alongside.

By Oceana — On Jul 03, 2011

I had a virtual twin growing up. My parents adopted her when I was eight months old, and as soon as we were old enough to understand, they told us about the adoption.

I like the fact that they were straight with us from the start. It made me more willing to accept our differences. Shila was way smarter than me when it came to science and mechanical things, but I could outdo her on a spelling and grammar test any day. She loved to stay indoors and watch TV, but I always wanted to play outside.

I think that growing up with a biological sibling would have been less lonely, though. Our interests were so different that we rarely played together or hung out as teenagers.

By cloudel — On Jul 03, 2011

@shell4life - Yes, it is such a fascinating mystery. I grew up not knowing that I had a twin who had been given up for adoption at birth because my parents could not afford to feed and care for both of us.

When we discovered each other during our college years, we found that we both had a deep love for the ocean, we both drove green Ford cars, and we both had dogs named Tasha. These were just a few of the things we shared. Believe me, there were many more.

Since we have come to know each other, we have been truly inseparable. At first, it’s kind of eerie looking at someone who is just like you, but after you get over the initial shock, it’s really cool.

By shell4life — On Jul 02, 2011

I read an article on a study conducted by a researcher looking into nature versus nurture with virtual twins. The study involved hundreds of pairs of twins, and the findings showed that nature won. The virtual siblings differed more on behavior, decision making, and intelligence than biological siblings, even those who were raised in separate households.

The unavoidable similarities between blood sisters and brothers amazes me. To think that they could have grown up not even knowing that they had a sister or brother, yet still share so many behavioral traits or thought processes is really astounding.

By palomino — On Jul 01, 2011

@starrynight - I also agree that telling the child early on is probably the best idea. I can understand, to a degree, why some parents would want to "keep this burden" a secret for as long as possible to preserve the child's happiness, but eventually the child is going to find out.

How much better it would be for a child to grow up always knowing that he or she were adopted than to suddenly find out one day that they are not who they thought they were. At least then, the idea of adoption would be one that is normal, acceptable, and familiar...one that would not cause a sudden shame or feelings of worthlessness over the idea of the biological parents "not wanting" the child.

With regard to virtual twins, I think it could be a particularly delicate situation to explain, but one that should be explained nonetheless. When adopting a child, a parent has to accept all of the responsibilities of ensuring that child's well being, no different from if they were actually the biological parent. I don't know what the best way would be to explain the situation to virtual twins, but I am sure there is help out there from various agencies that could aid the parents in broaching the topic to the children.

By indemnifyme — On Jul 01, 2011

@starrynight - I agree, I think in the situation of virtual twins telling them about the adoption is a good idea. I've witnessed first hand how hurtful it is for an adopted child to find out by accident and I think it's just better for the parent to tell them!

When I was growing up there was a girl I went to school with who was adopted. Her parents decided not to tell her but eventually when we were in high school she found out.

The family had been living in the same area since before the daughter was adopted so a lot of people knew about the adoption. The parents for some reason didn't make sure everyone knew they decided not tell their daughter and someone made an offhand comment about it to her one day. This resulted in a lot of strife and hurt feelings in that family!

By starrynight — On Jun 30, 2011

I think in a situation with virtual twins it is important to tell the adopted sibling they are adopted as soon as they can undertand the concept. I know some families try to keep adoption a secret but in a case like this I don't think it's feasible. Especially if the twins are around the same age but don't look much alike.

People are so nosy and in the case of virtual twins I can just imagine how many questions people would ask! I think if the adopted "twin" is told earlier they will have a better time learning to cope with all the questions. The worst thing to do would be to try and keep it a secret and have the twin find out some other way than the parent telling them!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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