Three brothers were separated in childhood for the sake of the experiment. Was it worth it – the big question?

The first day at college for 19-year-old brothers Robert Saffron was more than strange: strangers greeted him. Robert was completely confused until one of the students guessed. Hearing an affirmative answer, a new acquaintance exclaimed: “You have a twin brother!” Robert was taken aback. He did not know that it was his whole two.

Random reunion

When Robert Saffron went to college, he was mistaken for a twin brother, whom he had never heard of. He was a sophomore Edward Galland, and one of the students shared his phone number. Robert called him and froze, hearing his voice in the receiver. On the same day, the brothers met, and both were shocked: they were a copy of each other. The adoptive parents of the guys were also shocked, because none of them suspected the existence of twins.

The story of the reunion of the brothers was instantly picked up by the local press. One of the news releases caught the eye of another college student, David Kellman. Two faces looked at him from the photograph, no different from his reflection in the mirror. David found the phone number of Edward’s parents and called them. “God, they’re climbing out of all the cracks!” The adoptive mother exclaimed jokingly after the conversation.

The triplets in the movie “Desperately Seeking Susan”.

Finally, all the brothers were assembled: Robert, Edward and David.

It was not only their outward resemblance that struck the eye – the guys had the same preferences, for example, those related to sports (wrestling), cigarettes (Marlboro), women (they liked the older ones). Charming triplets quickly became the stars and favorites of the public: they were written about in newspapers and magazines, they were invited to TV and offered movie roles. So, the brothers appeared in the movie “Desperately Looking for Susan” with Madonna in the title role. And photographer Annie Leibovitz, specializing in celebrity portraits, asked the brothers to have a photo shoot with them.

The meeting really changed the life of each of the brothers, and it’s not even about popularity. They were so happy to be together again, that later they said: “We seemed to have fallen in love with each other.” They negotiated proposals for each other, repeated gestures. The guys began to rent an apartment with three of them, and in 1988 they opened the Triplets restaurant (“Triplets”) in one of the fashionable areas of New York.

Why the brothers were separated ?

While Robert, Edward and David could not get enough of each other, their adoptive parents were perplexed: why were they not informed of the twins at the adoption agency? When they turned there for answers, they were told that having three children in the same family was a rather difficult task. Of course, that was not the real reason. Parents did not achieve real answers then.

In fact, the twin brothers, without knowing it, participated in an experiment that was supposed to find out how much upbringing affects the character of a person. At that time, scientists did not think about the ethics of this approach to research.

A teenage girl gave birth to triplets on July 12, 1961. It turned out there were four children, but one child died during childbirth. At the age of 6 months, the boys were separated: they became participants in an experiment led by scientists Peter Neubauer and Viola Bernard. Through a prestigious Louise Wise Agency adoption agency, children were deliberately placed in three different families, which differed in their level of affluence and approaches to education. The first family belonged to the middle class, the second to the worker, and the third was prosperous. All families adopted the girls at the same agency two years earlier.

None of the parents was aware of the experiment, nor did they know about the existence of identical twins of their adopted children. The visits of specialists were explained to parents as usual practice during adoption. Initially, the researchers visited the boys at least 4 times a year, as they grew older, the meetings were reduced to 1 time. Children passed tests for cognitive abilities, all meetings were recorded on camera. Officially, the study lasted 10 years, but from some reports it becomes clear that the boys were also observed after this period.

Robert, Edward and David were not the only children who were “lucky” to participate in such an experiment. There were many more, but the exact number is unknown. Peter Neubauer published some results of the experiment in his article and book, which were published in 1986 and 1990, respectively. The entire study has not yet been published. Papers are kept at Yale, and access to them is restricted until 2065.

What was the fate of the brothers?

The brothers had not only the same appearance and similar tastes. According to adoptive parents, in infancy all boys often banged their heads on crib bars when they were upset. David is sure that was a sign of separation anxiety. Later it turned out that all three had low vision, or amblyopia, but only one of the brothers received treatment (this fact later aroused the indignation of the others).

Moreover, everyone suffered from mental health problems. By the time he was a student, Edward and David had already visited psychiatric clinics; Robert was conditionally released in the robbery case. “Researchers have seen that we have problems. And they could help. That’s what angers the most. They could help … but they didn’t, ”David recalled.

The reunion pleased the triplets, but the revealed truth about the experiment severely affected their emotional state. Already an adult, Robert said: “We were called experimental. But we are the victims. This is a big difference. We were treated like laboratory mice. And we are living people.”

Over time, the triplets got married, David had two girls, Robert had a daughter and a son, and Edward had a daughter.

Edward was more attached to his brothers than others and moved several times to be closer to them. He had a difficult relationship with his adoptive father, so after reuniting with the twins, he felt that he had finally found a family. Edward did everything to be with his brothers. Unfortunately, he suffered from bipolar disorder and committed suicide in 1995. By that time, the relationship of the twins was no longer the same due to the departure of Robert from the general business. The tragedy hit David and Robert painfully, because of which they began to move away from each other and soon almost ceased to communicate.

Their communication resumed only during the filming of the documentary “Three identical strangers.” The picture was released in 2018, and its premiere show caused tears among some viewers. After him, a couple came up to David and Robert with the words: “On behalf of all research psychologists in the world, we apologize.”

1