January 21, 2011

Social Theory and Siblings

new sallyBy Sally Raskoff

Do you have brothers and sisters? Are you very different from each other or are you similar? Many people might report that they are more different than they are similar to their siblings. Researchers have come up with theories as to how people with similar genes and backgrounds can have such different personalities, have different talents, and sometimes make radically different life choices.

A recent story from National Public Radio (NPR) presented three theories about why siblings can be so different. The reporter briefly introduced a Darwinian File:Siblings.JPGtheory of Divergence, a sociological theory of Environment, and a social psychological theory of Exaggeration. She then described how each theory might help to account for the two brothers’ differences.

  1. The Darwinian theory suggests that in order to compete for their parents’ limited attention and secure their survival, siblings might purposely take on unique characteristics in order to maximize the resources devoted to them.
  2. Exaggeration theory suggests that children react to their families’ assessment of their personality characteristics and exaggerate qualities that family members perceive them to hold. This theory is similar to labeling theories and one of my favorite sociological concepts, the self-fulfilling prophecy. Labeling theories tend to examine how social realities are structured as a result of how we label things and people in specific ways. If you call someone stupid, you may only notice the things they do that seem less intelligent. A self-fulfilling prophecy is when a situation or condition is set out as truth yet it is in fact false. The consequence of this information has the effect of actually bringing that situation or condition into reality and then to some extent becomes. Sociologist Robert K. Merton coined the phrase, and gave an example of a bank that was fine in the morning, but during a day filled with rumors of its financial woes finds itself bankrupt at closing because customers heard these rumors and acted upon them, rushing to the bank and withdrawing their assets.
  3. The Environmental approach argues that although siblings grow up in the same families, life events will impact children differently based on their age, and therefore they might have profoundly different environments. According to that theory, the siblings had very different experiences while growing up in the same family. The timing of family events impacted the kids differently depending on their ages. The conclusion of the NPR story suggests that the two brothers’ differences might be best explained by the Environment theory.

File:Mannerheim siblings.jpgAnother example of this type of “environmental” theory is Jessie Bernard’s classic study of “his and hers” marriages, described in her 1972 book The Future of Marriage. She argued that each participant in a marriage has a unique perspective and experience. She also pointed out that men generally had a better experience in marriage than women, a finding that surprised many.

Studies like these can explain some of the mysteries of human relationships. They can also explain why, potentially, a cloned individual will not be an exact copy of its source, since the experience that the clone will have as it grows and matures will be markedly different than that of its DNA donor.

The NPR story got my attention because it was an interesting application of theory and mirrors what we do in class. As you learn different theories, each of which have a unique explanation, it is important to try them on to see how well they explain a specific phenomenon. In some cases, all theories may have something to add, while in other cases, one theory may emerge as more relevant than the others.

Are you significantly different in some way from some or all of your siblings? If so, what social theories might help explain your differences?


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I think part of this is true, I have two siblings we all share similiar personalities and talents. We all played soccer and enjoy reading. There are things that set us apart, I am the only girl and my two brothers didnt do well in school. I on the other hand am holding a AB average and am going to college next January. I am also the youngest so that might get me treated differently.

This is a very interesting article for me, because I've always wondered why two siblings who grew up together could have totally different personalities. I have a brother who is four years older than me, and I think some of the reasons that we are different are explained here (age, social environment, competition). This also goes along with what we learned in sociology about social structures. Siblings grow up differently because they have different obligations and statuses that they need to follow, which could result in opposite personalities and characteristics.

Siblings growing up several years apart or half-siblings growing up in different families will have different historical and social contexts affecting them. Bradley Wright has written a couple of ESB's on the life course theory of crime and age/period/cohort differences in religious affiliation. The life course perspective is valuable to understanding this topic as well. Check it out!

I believe most of this article is right. I have many siblings and are older and younger. I think the environmental reasoning is right but darwinians theorie is also true many siblings will develop characteristics to catch parents attention. I am in the middle of the pack in my family and what changed me is the hardship we went through when we were young but also made me realize if work hard things can get better. So i believe that it all depends on the person how different you are from other siblings.

I think a lot of this article is true. I have an older brother and a little sister, we have similarities but a lot of differences. The way i was raised was through hard work and dedication. I looked up to my parents especially my dad because he was very dedicated to his job and family. I am a dedicated and hard working employee at my job and my family is proud of me because of it. My Brother on the other hand got into trouble a lot but still worked the best he could at his job. I've been told i look like my brother but i can't see the similarities. I have no similarities that im aware of with my sister, she is a whole different person. I think it depends on who you look up too, whether if it's a family member or movie star is what makes you who you are.

i like these article and i think everything from these article is true. I have 2sisters and 3 brothers me and my older brother are totally the opposite we do have some similarities but we are different in many ways we usually think differently do different stuff and like different things. WE gat raise the same way and my dad tought us the same stuff how to success in life, but it seems i'm more of a trouble kid and really like to work to obtain what he wants. My older brother is calm a litle lazy dosent really worry about working so mush and i do but he dosent really ever get in trouble. we dont look the same he looks really different from me. my sisters and brother are different from every and that who u are and will be.

I think this is a very interesting blog. I believe that the second reason of the environmental approach is the most accurate. I've many different kids that all have different opinions on earthly things. Sure they might agree on certain things, but they will never completely agree because they all live their own life with different experiences. I think all 3 of these reasons are good explanations for siblings behavior though.

I think this article is interesting because this article is true because we are different from our siblings. I have three sisters and two brothers. I'm different from my three other sisters because I'm a shy person to be around with and they are like a talkative person and like to have fun. I like to have fun to but at times I be to shy to do. My two other sisters they have different moms but the same dad and they are raised different from how me and my two brothers are raised and other sister. We sometimes do have similarities like us girls like to go shopping, get our nails done, etc.

This is an interesting article. I do not believe that my family follows this though. I have two siblings and the age difference between the oldest and the youngest is merely five years. I think that because we are fairly close age wise that we may escape these things. Of course we are not all the same, we are unique. For example, I am quite obviously the best looking. However, we do have a lot of the same mannerisms and even facial expressions I have been told. This may be because we act like our parents because our parents have similar mannerisms and qualities that we share.

I have a younger brother and a younger sister and I think these three theories can explain a lot of things. For one, my brother is much more talkative and loud. Also, my sister asks many questions and constantly wants to be in on the conversation. I am the quiet one who minds my own business and likes to be alone. This may be because I am the oldest and never really needed attention.

This article really grabbed my attention, although I might totally agree with it. I had lived with my two older brothers for about thirteen years until my oldest went to college. We are all pretty unique in our own ways, and also similar. I have been told I am comparable to my oldest brother, but this may be how I was raised.m I might have looked up to him when I was younger and adapted to his ways, but I do not think it was on purpose. We all grew up around the same environment in sports, school, and some similar friends, but it seems we all turned out quite different.

This is very interesting. I always found it amuzing that two sisters who grew up together and were around each other all the time could be so different. Siblings can be so different yet so alike at the same time. They can act completely opposite at school, hang out with different groups of people and yet still have the same interests.

Moreover, siblings always make good friendship than sisters.

This is a very interesting article to me.I've always wondered why siblings who grew up together could have extremely different personalities. I have a brother who is nine years older than me, and I think all of the theroies in this article really "hit the nail on the head" with these huge factors age, social environment, and competition. This also goes along with what we learned in sociology about social structures. Siblings grow up differently because they have different obligations and roles that they need to follow, which could result in completely opposite personalities and core beliefes.

Out of this entire article, I have to agree with the Environmental approach the most, even though the other two approaches make valid points. Each childhood experience is different and what happens to the child and how they react to the situation greatly affects how they grow up. Parents too affect how their child's personality forms. Genetics may also play a part in personality, as to how much of a part I'm still not sure about.

I find my brother and sister are more alike to each other than they are too me. My sister and I are quite opposite. I know that siblings share 50% of the same genes. So it could have to do with genetics, combined with the theories you propose.

I really liked your reasons for explaining why siblings can be different. I personally believe it is a combination of all. But mostly I have one sister and we started out very different and not just becuase we are ten years apart. But she had a very stressful life and still does while it seems I an enjoying my life like a normal teenager. But as we have grown to love each other and really understand each other we are just being our selves. WE both have a similar view on the subjects in life and as we grow closer we get similar and it seems weird since we btoh have different dads.

So interesting. I have a brother who is totally different from me, so very helpful to read this. for some more awesome vidoes on the topic go to http://shrt.fm/gtLI3D

it is interesting to see the life of siblings.

I chose this article because it mirrors my life and I was instantly able to develop a strong personal connection to the different theories explained. I have one sibling, a brother who is 3 years younger than myself. We have a lot in common; we are both intelligent, smart, and have a great sense of humor, however, one outside incident affected the course of our entire life.
I spent all 4 of my high school years playing varsity soccer and I never allowed myself to receive a grade lower than a C. I was very driven and had a lot of positive influence from great friends. My younger brother on the other hand failed to make the high school baseball team his freshman year. This incident absolutely devastated him and he dove straight into a state of depression. Listening to my parents boast about my success and constantly trying to compete with me for our parent’s attention, he felt worthless. His grades slipped, he wasn’t a part of anything, and he began to hang out with the wrong crowd. After I graduated my brother got worse. He was expelled from school his junior year for smoking weed in the bathroom on campus and got in several fights. He was then homeschooled and put in a rehab program in order to stop smoking marijuana. He was clean for several months, but his grades started to suffer again.
I received a phone call in November from my farther stating he found syringes in his room. My brother had been shooting heroin for 4 months. He was admitted into rehab for a second time, but this time he is very involved in the care and treatment of other people undergoing the same thing. He gives presentations and speeches at different schools throughout the community and it doing very well. Because he is very vocal about his life, he is labeled as a deviant or someone who does hard drugs. He has turned his life around now and this stereotype is no longer true.
In conclusion, I definitely agree with the 3 theories developed to explain why siblings may end up being so different. Because my brother failed to make the freshman baseball team, his entire life was altered, sending him down a completely different road then myself. Both our parents encouraged good grades, participation in sports, and strong family values. This is where nature vs. nurture comes into play. Regardless of how a person is raised, we have no control over our outside life experiences. Another major aspect is whom we interact with; humans are social beings. My younger brother surrounded himself with out people who were labeled the same as him. Our interactions, choices, and environment are what socially construct our lives.

I agree that the personalities of siblings can be very different. Even though siblings are born to the same family, I think that each person is their own. It's what makes everyone unique.

I think speaking for myself the Darwinian Theory probably definitely applies to me. I always tried to separate myself and do exactly the opposite of what my older sister did and what my parents expected me to do, because otherwise I would just be the second best version of her. I think all of these theories are at least somewhat true and I see the exaggeration theory in some of my brothers and sisters.

I grew up in the same house with two older brothers. My oldest brother is significantly older than me so we had different rules and punishments, and experienced things differently just as this article had said. They were both very interested in sports and not in school, and I wasn't into sports but do well in school, so although we grew up in the same home with the same parents we developed different interests and priorities.

I think the Exaggeration theory works perfectly to describe the differences between my sister and I. We are all strongly influenced by how others perceive us and take on our own identity as a reflection of what others consider us to be. This is expecially true for my sister. As we were growing up my parents always expected a lot out of us. We were required to maintain high grades and high levels of responsibility. We both began working at the age of 16 in order to provide our own spending money. However, when my sister was 17 many of her friends graduated and she was left alone in school. This left her extremely depressed and all of the mentally complicated issues she had learned to deal with her entire life became a crutch for her to give up her life entirely. My parents no longer expected as much from her as they used to and my sister used her issues as an excuse to stop going to school, eventually drop out of college and not be able to hold even a part time job. She became her own self-fulfilling prophecy and now constantly claims that she is unable to rise against any difficulty that comes her way.
I, however, was always expected to do the right thing and stay out of trouble because my parents had a difficult enough time dealing with my sister. Because of that I was always held at a higher standard and my parents always believed that I was more capable of living up to their expectations. It is just interesting to think that if my sister's friends had been in her same grade she might have gone down a completey different path.

Out of the suggested theories, I would say that the Darwinian theory seems most plausible (and no, that's not just because I'm a huge Darwin fan). Children naturally lash out for attention from their parents, and it makes sense that they would try to be as different from their siblings as possible in order to get this attention.

For example, I am completely different from both of my sisters. My oldest sister isn't a bad person; she works in a factory, is married, has a daughter, and has a relatively stable life. My other sister, however, is totally different. She makes horrible decisions even though she has great potential to be smart. One the other hand, I get very good marks in school and desire to go to college to become a teacher. All of our personalities are drastically different. My middle sister probably is so diverse because she wanted attention, so she chose the terrible path. I, however, am (hopefully) choosing the positive path in being different.

I live in a household consisting of my mom, dad, and two older sisters (one of which is in college, the other lives has a job in a different state). My sisters and I have very similar beliefs, but we each have our own hobbies, perspectives, and ways to express our beliefs. I think that the environmental theory relates to my situation the most. My sisters and I have both experienced different things at different times--or even the same things at different times in our life and it causes us to respond in different ways. On the other hand, I believe that although there can be a sociological theory to explain differences in siblings, I also believe that biological theories should also be expressed. Everyone has different DNA, a different body, a different genetic makeup. I believe that biological differences also cause siblings to lead very different lives, even if they share similar ideals.

I really enjoyed reading your blog mainly because I have a singling, a brother, whom is very close in age to me yet he is extremely different in the way that he acts, speaks and thinks. Although my parents have raised us in an equalitarian family, my brother and I have taken on different personalities. They have always raised both of us in a socioemotional maintenance way. From my experience the way that I would explain this, using one of your three theories, would be the "environmental approach".

People deserve wealthy life time and business loans or just consolidation loan will make it much better. Because people's freedom depends on money.

Some siblings compete with each other in terms of talent, academic performance, and from their parents. Maybe the Darwinian Theory of "Survival of the Fittest" is applicable in this situation - that is, if applied in a positive manner.

I personally feel like most siblings may apear much different from eachother on the outside but on the insdie are very similar. They were raised in the same environment, and taught to be have the same ways. The behavior in groups of people I feel tend to be very similar.

My sisters and I are all pretty much similar. However, I have one sister two years younger than myself who is the black sheep of the family. We all have dark pin straight hair, dark eyes, and a deep olive tone to our skin; while my sister has blue eyes, was born with dirty blond hair, and has very light skin. Not only does her appearance differ from myself and my two other sisters, her personality is different as well. This is one of the reasons we tend to fight a lot. Although we are close in age and grew up constantly around each other (it was a rule in my house that one could go somewhere without the other), we turned out very different. For example, even as a child, I had felt guilt for everything and would worry about anything. However, my sister is not like this; she is laid back, and as a child she would always tell lies and deal with the consequences later. In more ways than this we differ, but we are sisters raised in the same household with many of the same experiences. This situation is common in my cousins who are also sisters and only two years apart. The explanation is most likely the idea of competing for our parents attention as children. I did it by being the good quite child, while my sister did it by being the outgoing funny child. I definitely recall competition. For example, as children, we would go up to my parents bedroom in the morning before they woke up. I would lay by my mother; then, my sister would come behind me and squeeze, taking my spot next to my mother. Although I tried desperately to keep my spot because I too wanted to lay next to our mom.

I think this article brings to light a very strange occurrence indeed, and does a nice job touching on three different theories for how this may come to be. I personally think all three theories can kind of live harmoniously. The first basically states that children compete for different resources in order to maximize their gains, the second states that children see what their family points out about them and exaggerates this quality, and the third describes how children of different ages and genders can perceive the same event in different ways. In essence, I believe the answer to the peculiarity described is all of the above! I believe children do all of this simultaneously, which can explain why siblings can be so vastly different despite sharing common grounds.

This article was very interesting, I have always wondered why my brothers and I are completely different, when we have the same parents, and same rules. This is a good way to understand communication between primary groups. Raskoff describes the three main theories on why siblings can be so different. The first theory is Darwinian theory, that children take on unique characteristics and exaggerate them in order to gain parents attention. The next theory is Exaggeration theory, where children take on certain personality characteristics that parents have given them. This closely relates to Charles Cooley’s idea of “ looking glass self”, where people start to behave depending on how others perceive them. These two theories can also relate to the labeling theory and the self-fulfilling theory mentioned in the article. The third theory mentioned in the article is the Environmental theory, in which children respond differently in their environment due to their age. My question would be “How can each of these theories be proven?”

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