The incredible story of triplets split at birth

Trio: Triplets Eddy, Robert and David discovered each other 19 years after they were born.

Does nature or nurture determine who we are? Identical triplets were separated at birth and raised by very different families. Years later, the three strangers met for the first time.

It was 1980 and Robert Shafran was starting his first day at college.

As he walked through the campus, other students greeted him like an old friend. Even more strange: everyone was calling him Eddy.

Eddy Galland, it turned out, was another student who had been at the college a year earlier. The two boys looked identical. Robert soon discovered the truth: the boys were long-lost brothers.

Their tale was reported by New York newspapers. Another man, David Kellman, realised he looked just like them. The triplets were reunited. One relative described them “rolling on the floor like puppies.”

This incredible story is explored in a new documentary called Three Identical Strangers, currently showing in UK cinemas.

After their birth, the triplets were separated in a highly controversial experiment to test if a person’s life is decided by nature or nurture. Each boy went to a different family: one rich, another middle-class and the last a working-class family.

Despite their different childhoods, similarities emerged. The boys had the same taste in films, enjoyed wrestling in college, and smoked the same brand of cigarettes.

However, other factors mattered too, as shown by their separate fates. Cracks soon appeared in their relationship. They drifted apart, worked different jobs, and one brother’s life ended in tragedy.

Does nature or nurture determine who we are?

Fated

Nature is the most powerful, some argue. Scientists are finding an increasing amount of evidence which links our genes to countless aspects of our lives. Experiences are important, but genes make the most difference.

Not so fast, others respond. The different fates of these three brothers prove that even those with the same DNA can have radically different lives. Upbringing and experiences are crucial factors.

You Decide

  1. What has a bigger impact on your life: genes or life experiences?

Activities

  1. How similar do you think you are to your family members? You could think about your appearance, behaviour, likes and dislikes. Overall, would you say you are more different, or more similar to your relatives?

Some People Say...

“Not even identical twins can have the exact same experiences.”

John Medina

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A scientific experiment like that imposed upon the triplets would cause outrage if it were to be suggested now. “That era, the Fifties and Sixties, [was a] Wild West period of psychology,” says director Tim Wardle.
What do we not know?
The triplets were not the only siblings that were separated during the study. However, we do not know how many children were affected.

Word Watch

Identical
The boys looked extremely similar and shared the same DNA.
Three Identical Strangers
The film recently became the best performing British documentary ever at the American box office.
Controversial
The boys’ adoptive families were not told that other brothers existed, or what the purpose of the experiment was.
Nature
The notion that the shape of your life is primarily determined by genes.
Nurture
The argument that life experience has a greater impact than genes.