Nathalie Jonsson

Science Writer 

The Curse Of Having Siblings


It was Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychologist, who proposed that your personality is shaped by where in a sequence of siblings you are born.  He, himself a second child, had spent his childhood looking up to his older brother.

According to his theory, most love and attention is directed at the first-born child. In turn, the child will grow up achievement-oriented, conforming and neurotic. A support for this theory is that many practicing doctors were found to be first-born children. If more children follow, the first child will go to great lengths to bring the focus back to him or her and ‘dethrone’ the new child. These techniques can result in bad behaviour and could come reappear to haunt you in adult life.

Children born after the first make great counsellors. They are able to take learn from the mistakes made by their older sibling and learn empathy from not being the one that gets attention. To reduce competition, these children will venture into new subjects and areas, ignoring anything that the older child has mastered. Following children will also grow up to become adventurous, sociable and rebellious.

In later years, the theory has lost weight. One reason being, that as more data has been collected the results have become less consistent. Another problem seems to be the complexity of how our personalities are formed. Finally, it seems like our cultural expectations of what roles children have in families can influence our actual goals and life-decision. As more insight into the real-life data is gained and the reality of our personalities become more complex, it still seems match our expectations of how different sibling turn out. For instance, in one study first-borns were thought have higher IQ than later-born siblings and children born in the middle were thought to be envious. These characteristics are not necessarily true, but might have made first-borns turn to high-profile jobs and children born in the middle act out in jealousy.

Regardless, of whether or not you can predict someone’s personality based on the interaction with their siblings, I think we can all agree that siblings do have some sort of influence on us. Throughout life, however, we do experience many other things that end up shaping who we are. As Alfred Adler stressed himself: Everything can be different.

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