We all like to think we’re unique individuals with our own look and style, but at some point or other, we’ve been told we have a doppelgänger somewhere in the world. It’s these bizarre occurrences that make us question whether we’re as unique as we’d like to believe.
For college student Robert Shafran, it was pretty common to hear that he resembled other people—specifically another student on campus. He typically just brushed them off. But when he discovered the truth about his lookalike, a decades-long lie began to unravel…
Nearly everyone has been told they have a doppelgänger at some point in their life. Whether you closely resemble a celebrity or even the local barista, it can be a tad bizarre to think someone else looks exactly like you.
Of course, some people experience it more than others. When you have a fairly “common” look—if you exhibit dominant genes, like brown hair, for instance—it can be easy for others to confuse you for someone else. That’s how it was for one college student named Robert Shafran.
When Robert’s roommate, Michael Domitz, told him he looked exactly like another student at Sullivan County Community College in upstate New York, it didn’t seem particularly noteworthy. But soon enough, he’d learn there was more to this lookalike than he thought…
Michael told Robert that he was the spitting image of his previous roommate, Eddy. Initially, Robert didn’t think much of this information. After all, there are tons of people who look similar, right?
Soon, Robert learned that Michael wasn’t the only one who felt that way. In fact, every day people would come up to him and call him Eddy. The plot thickened when Robert discovered he and this alleged doppelgänger even shared the same birthday!
And the similarities only continued from there. They had the same hair, the same expressions, the same laugh, and they were both adopted. Perhaps weirdest of all: they had the same birthmark and the same IQ score—148.
Given the mounting similarities, Robert and Eddy decided to meet up and see about getting some answers—were they related? How could that be when they never even knew about each other? To find out, they had a DNA test performed.
University of Michigan / Flickr
Soon, the doctors confirmed their suspicions: not only were they related, but they were identical twins! It wasn’t long before TV shows and newspapers came calling. But their already bizarre story was about to take an even stranger turn…
Another college student named David was watching the news when he saw the story of the identical twins. After noticing the uncanny similarities between his looks and the other teens—and the fact that he, too, was adopted—he contacted the family to see if he was possibly related to them as well.
Another DNA test revealed that David was not only related to Robert and Eddy, but he was their identical triplet! Amazingly, the boys learned through the Louise Wise Adoption Agency in New York City that they had a fourth identical quadruplet (sadly, he’d died at birth). But why had they all been separated in the first place?
The brothers became instant celebrities and enjoyed their similarities. “Once we got together, there was a joy that I had never experienced in my life and it lasted a really long time,” Robert remembered. But then they’d find out something concerning about their past…
After their story broke, the brothers were approached by producers hoping to film a documentary called Three Identical Strangers. The film would shed some light on the bizarre upbringing of the three triplets, but it ended up revealing much more than that…
Initially, the adoption agency refused to reveal why the brothers had been separated at birth. But researchers for the documentary investigated the agency and discovered that there was a specific reason why the boys were divided.
At the suggestion of a psychiatrist, the agency decided to participate in a “nature versus nurture” experiment in which the triplets were separated. The study would demonstrate how the boys reacted when they wouldn’t have to compete for attention from their parents.
At the time, the adoptive parents were only told that their son was part of a child development study, which was actually a stipulation of their adoption. From there, the mystery just kept unraveling…
Soon, the families learned that Dr. Peter Neubauer, who ran the Child Development Centre in Manhattan, had directed the secret—albeit legal—study, which was funded by America’s National Institutes of Health. His goal was to find the truth behind the nature versus nurture debate.
Once a month for 12 straight years, each family visited Manhattan to have the boys’ behavior, intelligence, and personalities tested. All of the moments in their lives were filmed and analyzed by psychologists.
In hopes of achieving varying results, the three brothers were raised in different socioeconomic households. Robert was raised in a wealthy home, Eddy in a middle-class home, and David in a working-class home.
Even though the psychologists would visit the boys in their respective homes, they never mentioned anything about the other siblings. David’s parents were shocked when he randomly began to suspect he had a brother.
While it’s important to study how people are affected by their genes and environment, tests like this one beg the question: how far is too far? And to what length will people go to answer the age-old debate? The case of the brothers, minus Eddie—who committed suicide at 33—would certainly draw more attention with the documentary’s release!
It’s unfortunate that those boys were divided for the sake of a social experiment. It might have been legal, and the researchers might have learned a great deal, but that doesn’t make what they did any less horrible!
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