Having a Sibling Can Make You More Empathic And Kinder, Study Finds

Yes, siblings can be annoying. And frustrating. And — just — ugh. But as it turns out, there may be a few benefits to having a brother or sister. In fact, a new study has found that your siblings could make you kinder and more empathetic.

In other words, siblings really do — or at the very least, can — make you a better person. Read on below to find out more about the researchers’ findings and what they mean for sibs everywhere.

Siblings. While there’s no denying that growing up with siblings can be difficult (hello, personality clashes and rivalry), it also involves a lot of love. Because face it: as far as friendships go, the ones you have with your siblings are the most honest and long-lasting. Not to mention, the most hilarious too.

The study. Now, a study has uncovered just how much of an important role siblings playing in a childhood’s development. Namely, the research, from the University of Calgary, Université Laval, Tel Aviv University, and the University of Toronto, has discovered the children whose siblings are “kind, warm and supportive grow up to be more empathic than children whose siblings lack those characteristics,” according to The Independent.

On a similar note, researchers also discovered that both older and younger siblings can positively influence each others’ empathic levels over the years, The Independent reports. The trademark of an empathic feeling? Psychologically identifying with the feelings, thought, or attitudes of others.

Overall, the study highlights how growing up with a brother or sister plays an important role in child development. “Our findings emphasize the importance of considering how all members of the family, not just parents and older siblings, contribute to children’s development,” said Sheri Madigan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Calgary, who co-authored the study, according to The Independent.

Published in the journal Child Development, the research looked at 452 Canadian sibling pairs, according to The Independent. The pairs were aged between 18 months and four years (aw!). The researchers also looked at the tots’ mothers for a period of 18 months.

The research. Exactly what was the researchers’ goal? As The Independent notes, those behind the study wanted to find out whether the “siblings’ level of empathy at the start of the study predicted changes in the other siblings’ empathy by the end.”

So, just how did the researchers go about fulfilling their goal? They filmed the participants, of course. As The Independent notes, the researchers took footage of interactions in the families’ homes. Not to mention, they also had the mothers complete questionnaires.

Method. The researchers went beyond filming the participants, however. “Children’s empathy was also measured by observing each sibling’s behavioural and facial responses to an adult researcher who pretended to be distressed or hurt,” according to The Independent. “This included breaking a cherished object, hitting their knee and catching their finger in a briefcase.”

Findings. So, what’d the researchers have to say about the findings? “Although it’s assumed that older siblings and parents are the primary socialising influences on younger siblings’ development (but not vice versa), we found that both younger and older siblings positively contributed to each other’s empathy over time,” suggested Marc Jambon, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, The Independent reports.

Jambon went on to note how the findings stayed the same no matter what. “These findings stayed the same, even after taking into consideration each child’s earlier levels of empathy and factors that siblings in a family share – such as parenting practices or the family’s socioeconomic status – that could explain similarities between them,” he said.

In addition, the researchers also looked at whether siblings’ development of empathy contrasted as a result of age. Furthermore, they also analyzed whether it differed as a result of gender differences between the pairs, according to The Independent.

So, what’d the researchers conclude? They discovered that the effects stayed the same (yet again) for all children in the study. However, there was one exception interesting enough, The Independent reports.

The exception to the rule? Younger brothers did not contribute significant changes in older sisters’ empathy, the researchers found. “The influence of older brothers and sisters was also stronger in families where the age gap between the siblings was greater, suggesting they were more effective teachers and role models,” The Independent further noted.

Why it’s important. For years, researchers have analyzed the numerous ways in which parents can positivity affects their children’s development, looking at things like how confident they are and how well they do in school. Seemingly, this new study is important because it looks at the impact of children’s relationships with their brothers and sisters.

Takeaway. Bottom line? Siblings, like parents, can have a significant affect on one another’s development. Kids who are kind, supportive, and understanding impact their siblings to act and behave in similar ways. Child development, it seems then, is not just a parent affair: it’s a family one.