Twins talk: Telepathy theory explained, demystified

Olivia and Max Guarnieri ’20 are Vassar twins who are noted for their fashion styles. One of the perks of being a twin is that you get to say “Happy birthday to you, too!” Courtesy of Olivia Guarneri.

As Vassar students, we proudly celebrate and share our identities. They are explored through various outlets, such as Orientation events, student organizations and administrative offices. By this token, it’s safe to say that we ponder our identities through self-reflection and dialogue. This article highlights one such exchange within an unusual demographic: twins.

I sat down with Olivia Guarnieri ’20 and Max Guarnieri ’20 in person to talk about twinhood. My twin sister, Sasha Aronson, could not make the journey to Vassar from Sarah Lawrence, and so shared her insights in a separate Skype interview. In both conversations, it quickly became apparent that we had not explicitly discussed twinhood before. Olivia remarked in the beginning of our conversation, “This is so weird. I’m talking and explaining things to you like I’m talking to a non-twin. I’ve never talked about ‘twinness’ with another twin. I feel like it’s different—to other people I’m more explaining it to them rather than relating with them.”

The three of us talked about our encounters with others’ perceptions and misconceptions of twinhood. We have all been bewildered by those who know we have different chromosomes and still inquire, “Are you identical?” We have all been asked if we know what the other twin is thinking at any given moment, as if we have some psychic telepathy, or at least if we constantly have twin moments. Max summed it up best: “People like the idea of twins, and people find it cool.”

It was easy to establish how others perceived twinhood. It was much more difficult to separate generalizations about twinhood from personal anecdote. Part of this difficulty, as Olivia pointed out, stemmed from the fact that we only had twins: “We don’t have any other siblings, so having a sibling and having a twin is one and the same. It’s hard to know what is generally true about siblings and what is specific to twins.”

Take so-called “twin moments,” for example. While they are not as frequent or magical as most people would believe, we did agree that they happen on occasion. For Max and Olivia, these moments occur because of their shared nurture rather than shared nature. Olivia described one recurring moment: “We will be doing something, and something completely unrelated will happen. Like a pencil drops, and it will make me think of an episode of SpongeBob and I start laughing. I’ll turn to Max and ask him, ‘Do you know why I’m laughing right now?’ and he’ll say ‘Yes, it’s that episode of SpongeBob.”

Sasha and I, on the other hand, tend to have less logical twin moments. Sasha recalled, “I remember that time in middle school P.E. when we were told to shout out a number between one and 15, and we both shouted ‘seven’ with the exact same timing. You want to believe in these moments because they seem so mystical or magical. You can’t really explain it with logic.”

One major similarity between the sets of twins was, paradoxically, the lack of similarity within each set. Max explained how their interests are totally opposing: “I’m a math major. I’ve taken more science classes and history…Olivia is a media studies major into artsy extracurriculars.” In my twin set, Sasha could be described as the creative, absent-minded actress, whereas I am more the matter-of-fact, bashful basketball player.

Above are twins Sasha and Duncan Aronson ’21. The endless debate on their physical resemblance remains unabated—both sides use photographic evidence to no avail. Courtesy of Duncan Aronson.

Sasha was not surprised. She offered an explanation for differences between twins, including her decision to go to a school other than Vassar after her gap year: “I think twins have a natural tendency to want to differentiate themselves from each other. It’s partly because everyone else sees them as being the same and they have an impulse to resist, maybe even make a conscious decision to resist. I think me choosing Sarah Lawrence was just one more iteration of this.”

Our discussion may have raised more questions than it answered. Or, to wrap it up in a more adventurous package, we felt as though we barely scratched the surface of what it means to be a twin. Is there empirical evidence for twin moments or are they just random? Are twins separated in classes because they will get along too well or too poorly? How is the psychological development of infraternal twins different from that of fraternal twins? These are the kinds of questions we hope to answer through further dialogue and discovery.

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