New research shows siblings can make you more empathic

Both younger and older siblings uniquely contribute to each others’ empathy development. \r\n

For decades, researchers have demonstrated the numerous ways in which parents can positively influence their children’s development. This includes how confident they are, how well they do in school and how they interact with their friends


Far less attention has focused on the impact of children’s relationships with their brothers and sisters, despite the fact that most people grow up with at least one sibling and they tend to spend more time with one another than with parents or friends.

Our research at the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto shows that siblings, like parents, can have a dramatic impact on one another’s development. We’ve found, for example, that warmth and support from an older sibling can help boost the younger sibling’s language development and their understanding of others’ minds and points of view.

In a new paper, published today in the journal Child Development, we show that siblings can also play a role in the development of empathy.

We found that children who are kind, supportive and understanding influence their siblings to act and behave in similar ways. And if one sibling is struggling to be empathic but has a sibling with strong empathy skills, they manage to become more empathic over time.

Studying sibling empathy

A child who demonstrates strong empathy skills is able to show feelings of care and concern for others in need.

Learning to be empathic early in development can set in motion lifelong strengths in treating others with kindness, respect and understanding. Empathic children become empathic friends, spouses and parents.

(Unsplash/Aman Shrivastava), CC BY

In the research context, we study empathy by observing how young children respond to an adult who pretends to be upset when they broke a cherished object, hit their knee or caught their finger in a briefcase.

We are interested in how empathy skills grow over time and whether one sibling’s empathy influences the other sibling’s growth in empathy.

What’s important in this newly published research is that we were able to remove the influence of parents so we can attribute growth in a child’s empathy skills directly to their sibling (and not their parents).

Younger siblings have influence too

We commonly think of older siblings as having a greater impact on their younger siblings than vice-versa: Older brothers and sisters are more experienced and knowledgeable.

However, we’ve found in our research that both younger and older siblings uniquely contribute to each others’ empathy development.

Older siblings can be role models to the younger siblings, and vice versa —younger siblings with strong empathy skills can be role models to their older siblings.

As long as one sibling is empathic, the other one benefits.

What about age differences? Does it matter if one sibling is much older than the other?

All siblings in our study were within a maximum of four years of one another in age. But we did find that in families where siblings were further apart in age, older brothers and sisters had a stronger influence on their younger siblings.

So, the bigger the age gap, the better older siblings are at modeling empathic behaviours.

We also found that younger brothers did not significantly influence their older sisters.

It’s not just parents who influence how well children develop. Siblings do too. And sibling relationships are not just about rivalry, animosity, jealousy and competition for parental attention.

Child development is a family affair.

Sheri Madigan, Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development, Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, University of Calgary; Jennifer Jenkins, Atkinson Chair of Early Child Development and Education and Director of the Atkinson Centre, University of Toronto, and Marc Jambon, Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychology, University of Toronto

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

Videos
  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
popular

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less