Children whose older siblings have these traits are more empathetic
Children whose older siblings are kind, warm, and supportive are more empathetic than those with siblings who don't have these traits, according to a new study.
The research also found that both older and younger siblings had a positive influence on each others' empathic concern as time went on.
Sheri Madigan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Calgary and co-author of the study, suggested:
“Our findings emphasise the importance of considering how all members of the family, not just parents and older siblings, contribute to children’s development.
“The influence of younger siblings has been found during adolescence, but our study indicates that this process may begin much earlier than previously thought.”
Originally published in the journal Child Development, the study was conducted by the University of Calgary, Universite Laval, Tel Aviv University and the University of Toronto.
Researchers studied a group of 452 ethnically diverse Canadian sibling pairs, as well as their mothers.
They wanted to find out if the measured levels of empathy in 18-month and 48-month-old siblings at the start of the study predicted changes in the siblings' empathy 18 months later.
They videotaped and studied interactions in the families' homes, with the mums also completing questionnaires.
The children's empathy was measured by observing each of the sibling's behavioural and facial responses to an adult researcher pretending to be in distress or hurt.
Marc Jambon, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, explained that the role of the younger siblings' role has been underestimated in the past - but it actually has a huge impact.
“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.
“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.”