Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Gift of Siblings: When Everyone's an Expert

Brothers and sisters likely influence our lives in many ways but are they more important than parents? Do more siblings mean a tighter family bond and hence an even more potent effect over a lifetime? Who knows.  These are interesting questions raised by Frank Bruni in his column at the New York Times this weekend. He does, by the way, seem to think siblings pack a powerful punch, especially his brothers and sister. He doesn't bother citing any empirical evidence but does throw in  quotes by his friend Campbell along with sibling experts or at least people who wrote books about siblings, the first, Jeffrey Kluger, the author of The Sibling Effect and the other, George Howe Colt, the author of "Brothers."

Despite the paucity of empirical evidence from Bruni, there is a large body of research on siblings. Having a sister makes boys kinder.  Having a brother makes girls better at figuring out spatial problems. Having an older brother raises the odds of a man being gay. Siblings duke it out more over toys and possessions than anything else (big suprise). And then there's the occasional nugget like this:
A new study of Bolivian villagers shows a link between having a younger brother and slightly increased blood pressure levels later on in adulthood, though Brandeis University researchers did note the effect seemed to diminish with age. Huffington Post
Phew, have always wondered about blood pressure in Bolivian villagers. I would have brought you more curious sibling studies but every single article started with the author's attention-hogging little brother or freakishly talented older sister, daughter, son or other personal details that kept me from the data.  

Anywhoooo, there is no talking siblings without an appearance by that darling of the media and the public imagination - birth order. I can't possibly get into that labyrinth of mythical and valid results.  But just as first-born/last-born gets a nod the discussion then must turn to the only child...optimal number of children....parental happiness...adopted parents....step parents...co-habitating unmarried parents.....co-habitating unmarried step-parents.....gay parents.....blah blah blah.

Are sibling the most critical predictor of success, happiness and future mental health? That question is beyond the scope of this post but I can tell you one thing for sure. Everybody has an opinion and they're likely to give it in the opening paragraphs of their news story or blog post along with a personal anecdote about their own brother, sister, daughter, son, great aunt or neighbor. Everyone's an expert. Everyone's got a story. Why call on science when we have our stories.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You would never believe I ran into an expert this weekend! This expert was telling me her personal story of how sibs are great and more kids is the way to go. She answers to the name "mom".

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

So where'd you run into her? The liquor aisle, I dare hope? BTW, please call me momma...

Anonymous said...

No, sadly, bc that would actually make for a much more colorful story. I meant my own actual mom, who had to quick give me her expert advice of "have more kids! Siblingssiblingssiblings!" while my dad was in the bathroom bc "your father would not approve of me saying this to you!"

Experts are everywhere, especially when you visit family...

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Oh that expert!