Sibling Rivalry in Degree and Dimensions Across the Lifespan

This topic submitted by Annie McNerney and Joy Usner (usnerjm@muohio.edu) at 11:12 pm on 4/30/01. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 2, 2001. Section: Myers.

Abstract:
Any person who has a sibling has most likely experienced some degree of rivalry. We wanted to compare how sibling rivalry changes over developmental stages in different areas. We tested 85 college students to see how they rated the intensity and type of rivalry they had with siblings throughout their life so far. We hoped that dividing up the categories into social, academic, and physical dimensions would allow us to see which areas specifically siblings are most rivalrous in as they mature. We chose the age categories carefully to represent what we felt were important developmental stages in a person’s life. We hoped that each age category would reveal a type and degree of sibling rivalry that would indicate what the subject was striving for at that time, be it parental attention, physical power or social status.
Our findings revealed that the age category of 10-15 had the highest level of reported competition, and we believe this is because all three areas (academic, social and physical) are important and changing for the individual at this time.
Introduction:
Why is it important or valuable to study sibling rivalry? With so many aspects that affect the development of a person, how does examining the relationship they had with a sibling make any difference? Women in the United States have on average 2.06 children in their lifetime (www.cia.gov). Sibling relationships are something that affect the majority of us. Sibling rivalry is something that most Americans have experienced in their lifetime, as 55% of people report that they have experienced some type of this familial competition (Lamb, Sutton-Smith, 233).
There is no condition short of death that can permanently remove our formal position with siblings. Their place in our life is important, and even in the case of estrangement, their position is noted and affects the way we live our lives. Elder siblings are almost unanimous in their opinion that a failed or hostile sibling relationship is one of the biggest regrets of their life (Bank & Kahn, xxiii).
Siblings can be an important source of support in times of stress. Research shows that children growing up in disharmonious homes have fewer problems if they have a good sibling relationship (Boer & Dunn, 10). Much time in early development is spent at home in direct contact with siblings during play and the patterns we form with them at this time can positively or negatively affect self-perception throughout our lifetime. Many elder siblings look back on their rivalrous relations and view them as important factors in forcing them to become themselves (Bank & Kahn, xxiii). Examining the causes and effects of sibling rivalry at different stages of development can help to establish the healthiest relationships possible.
When studying sibling rivalry it is as important to look at the differences among and between siblings as it is to look at the similarities. It is important to recognize that siblings only share 50 percent of a common gene pool, therefore allowing for huge discrepancies in appearances, IQ’s, temperaments, physical sizes, and social abilities (Bank & Kahn, xxii). These differences do not rule out the possibility of a strong bond between siblings, but they do highlight the possibility and probability of competition and rivalry due to contrasting personalities and characteristics.

Relevance:
Dunn has conducted studies that confirmed that children as young as two can empathize with the feelings of their newborn siblings, particularly when parents have facilitated this understanding (Bank & Kahn, xxiii). Mothers who spoke of the newborn sibling as a person with feelings rather than using the word “it” have been shown to elicit warmer and kinder feelings from the older sibling towards the newborn. These findings help to highlight the important role parents, and especially mothers have as the bonds between siblings form.
We chose to use a survey to evaluate the different types of sibling competition throughout the life cycle. We broke the categories up into the following sections: Ages 0-5, 5-10, 10-15, 15-20, and 20-25. The reason we chose these specific categories are because we thought they represented important lengths of time in a person's life. The first category (0-5) would include the time of life where a child does not attend school for a full day. This is the time when children would spend the day together at home or in some other care setting. A lot of play interaction would take place at this time, and we thought this would provide us with interesting data, given that participants would be able
to remember some aspects of this period of time. We understand this age category leaves for the most vague and unspecified memories of sibling relations. We predicted that the competition that would be reported for this age category would be low on the academic level, and high in the social category, as children work hard to get attention from adults. We thought the perceived physical competition would be moderate.
The age category of 5-10 is labeled as middle-late childhood. This is the time in a person's life where they spend the day at grammar school, and when many children participate in community sports or activities. We thought this specific age category was valuable in that is a period of time on the brink of adolescence and all that goes with that tumultuous time of life. We felt that we would get some valuable responses for this category. We predicted that social would be moderate, physical high and academic moderate.
From 10-15, a person is in early adolescence. This time of life is comprised of shifting values and confusing roles. A person is learning to make their place in the world and in their family, and we thought this time would allow for some good results regarding sibling rivalry. Adolescence is marked for its increased feelings of insecurity and vulnerability, and we felt that this would cause in increase in rivalrous feelings. Our predictions were that the social competition would be very high, as well as the academic and physical. This is a time of life where most everybody is hypersensitive to the changes in their body, so we predicted that physical competition would be something many people experienced. In adolescence girls are often very aware of their weight and boys of their build, and we thought this would show up in our findings.
The ages 15-20 are important because they encompass dramatic life changes. The shifts from middle school to high school as well as the move from high school to college take place during this time, and therefore the relationships between siblings in this time frame would shift as well. We thought the level and type of rivalry reported as taking place at this time would be affected by many people's distance from home as they move away to college. We predicted that competition in the category of academic would be high, social high, and physical high.
20-25 is an age category that we thought was necessary to look at because many persons at this time are making their place in the employment world. We thought this would lead to changes in the rivalry that took place socially and academically. However, many of the people surveyed were themselves age 20, or short of it, so our results were not as developed as we wished they could have been. Our predictions were that the competition reported socially would be moderate, academically would be high, and physically would be low.
We hoped to discover the different types of rivalry that take place early in development. We hoped that our findings would allow siblings to become more aware of how their relationship with their siblings has progressed as they have matured. We also thought our research on sibling rivalry would benefit parents who were in the process of raising children. We hoped our research would make them more aware of the types and degrees of rivalry that take place, and that this knowledge would help them to raise their children carefully, with attention to the seemingly insignificant differences they may display as they interact with each child. Perhaps if parents became more aware of the impact sibling rivalry can have on self-perception, they would take extra care in their interactions. Children would develop into more secure and comfortable adults because of this extra sensitivity and care.
It is important to consider different types of sibling rivalry. Two divisions take place when considering sibling rivalry, that of adult- initiated, and sibling-generated rivalry (Lamb, Sutton & Smith, 234). Adult initiated rivalry can be separated into two dynamics, overt and covert comparison (Lamb, Sutton & Smith, 234). Overt comparison would be characterized as containing statements such as "Andy is so good at doing his soccer drills on time, do you think you could work harder, Tony?" This type of comparison is obvious and felt quickly and sharply by the compared. It may be the intention of the parent compare one sibling with the goal of providing a model for them to encourage a desired behavior. However, the child may interpret this type of conditioning with feelings of inferiority and shame, which may translate into sibling rivalry.
Overt comparison is subtler, and may be characterized by statements made by parents such as "I am so proud of Andy for completing his soccer drills on time." While no direct comparison is being made, the sibling senses a parent's pleasure with one sibling for something they themselves have not done, and rivalry can arise from those feelings of inadequacy and resentment.
Sibling-generated rivalry is perceived most frequently as initiated by a brother, less frequently by a sister, and least often by the self (Lamb, Sutton-Smith, 234). The rivalry that is reported in this category seems to be the result of vying for parent's attention, recognition, and love, but also a struggle for power and position among siblings (Lamb, Sutton-Smith, 234). This brings us back to some of the evolutionary perspectives as to how and why sibling rivalry takes place.
Hamilton states that chance of helping a relative decreases as the cost to self-increases, with the degree of relation heavily playing on the decision. We are more likely to help someone if they are more closely related to us, and the amount and degree of goodwill increases if that relative has a higher chance of reproduction (Mock & Parker, 14). This seems hard to believe, but think of how we mourn for our relatives who have died. We would mourn more severely if a cousin at age 24 died than we would for an aunt at age 75. "But they had so much life ahead of them" could be interpreted to mean that they had so many years left to reproduce and increase the family's chance at success. This gets back to the idea of inclusive fitness.
Hamilton also states that siblings gauge the odds that their sibling's share their father as well as their mother, and they will treat them according to the perceived probability that they have the same set of parents.
It is important to look at the idea of parental investment. Raising a child is an extremely time and energy consuming activity. Since it is so investment-heavy, and we accept the idea that we all act according to how frequently and successfully we can reproduce, it may not be ridiculous to assume that parents invest more heavily in the offspring that shows the highest potential for success. "Mom loved you best!"
may not be so far off after all.
Trivers looked at the issue of sibling rivalry in a different light. He said that a child’s genetic interest should be so that they see themselves as twice as valuable as their sibling, while the parents, being equally related to the two, view them equally (Wright, 166). From this Trivers derives that children will have to be taught to share because they will ultimately be more interested in their own survival than that of their kin. Parents will teach their children to share in order to maximize the number of offspring they produced that will be successful and reproductive.
Darwin looked at Trivers claim that children are taught to share and related it back to his own experience with his children. He observed that his son would taunt and tease his daughter, and try hard to get attention away from her if she was to be in demand of a lot of their parents. Darwin saw this as evidence that siblings are not intrinsically kind to one another. These ploys and scams that are used to secure the maximum attention from parents supports the claim that a sibling is more interested in their own survival than that of their sibling. This may be the root of many instances of sibling rivalry.
It is clear that the relationships we have with our siblings are important as we go through life. Regardless of if our bonds are strong or weak, the state of them affects our self-perception and worldview. Looking at the different types, dimensions and degrees of sibling rivalry from an evolutionary, as well as psychological perspective helps us to gain the clearest insight as to how the competition experienced between siblings touches a person throughout their life.

Materials and Methods:
For our experiment we chose to survey 85 students of Miami University. Our surveys were passed out randomly without regard to gender, major, or socioeconomic status. We choose to ignore these areas because we were looking for human behavior as a whole. Gender, major and socioeconomic status may affect our results, but our hypothesis did not involve these subcategories.
We wanted to compare what areas in which siblings were competitive in varying stages of their lives. Each person surveyed was asked to choose one sibling to answer the question about. Choosing the areas academic, social, and physical we hoped to target three areas in which development occurs during the first 25 years of ones life and that siblings can take competitive/cooperative stances to. Academic is referring to learning and educational related actions, social to interpersonal relationships, and physical to bodily/kinesthetic activities such as sports.
The age categories we choose were five year increments and we felt that they represented different developmental stages: pre-school, early school age, early adolescents, late adolescence and young adulthood.
For our fifth and seventh questions we asked those taking the survey to choose which category in which they were the most competitive or cooperative. By asking to rank both competitive and cooperative we were not assuming that if you were competitive in one stage that you were not cooperative. Perhaps one stage of life leads to a more dynamic relationship with a sibling.
These results are only as accurate as the memories and experiences as those we have surveyed. Most people did not remember much before age 5, so contributions were limited for that age. Others are so much older than their siblings that competition or cooperation with a sibling did not come into play yet. Our results were also limited in the 20-25 age group. Few of those surveyed had reached that stage.
Our results may not be representative in the academic category seeing as how all of those surveyed were college students. This group is receiving a higher degree of education than most, so they must have needed to be inclined to work in this area whether through competition or cooperation.
We first distributed a sample survey to the class February 7 that was not as detailed (Appendix A). After revision we added additional questions on cooperativeness. We also asked whether the relationship would be viewed as competitive or cooperative overall (Appendix B).
Our surveys were passed out to random students in classes, coworkers, residence halls, and the Shriver Center Wednesday April 18-Tuesday April 24. Those surveyed were not told of the hypothesis as to not skew the results. All participants were willing to take the survey and we believe that the results are accurate. Results were then tabulated Tuesday April 24 and graphs made to show the pertinent information.

Results:
Our respondents averaged 1.5 siblings with 7 being an only child and thus without siblings.
For birth order, 30 were the oldest or first born, 15 were middle and 33 the youngest. For the sibling that was chosen to be compared for the rest of the questions, the average age difference was .17 years less than the surveyor.
The relationship with the sibling was overall ranked as being more cooperative (54 of 76). Figure 1

Figure 1
The area that the students felt they were the most competitive in changed drastically over time (Figure 2). In the 0-5-age range physical aspects overwhelming resulted as the most competitive with 65%. Physical would peak during 5-10 and then plummet to 12% by the ages of 20-25. Academic on the other hand started very low with 4% during 0-5 and steadily increasing to 65% in 20-25. Social remained fairly constant around 30% throughout the five age brackets.

Figure 2
Our results showed that between the ages of 10 to 15 siblings are the most competitive (Figure 3). 56% (43 of the 77 that responded) choose this as the most competitive stage. During that stage the results as to which category was chosen, as the most competitive were rather close. 38% (28 of 73) chose academic, 37% social (27 of 73) and 25% physical (18 of 73). Conversely for cooperativeness in the 10-15 age bracket 43% selected academic as the most cooperative, 35% social and 22% physical.

Figure 3

For cooperativeness the results were somewhat scattered (Figure 4). Social was chosen as the most cooperative category during the 0-5 age range with 57%. Social would drop to its lowest at 10-15 with 37% and then again rise reaching 59% at 20-25. Academic would do the opposite. It started low with only 24% during ages 0-5 peaked with 43% from 10-15 and then again dropped by 20-25 with only 14%. Physical cooperativeness stayed fairly steady at about 20%. Again we see that from ages 10-15 academic, social and physical are close. This age bracket is both a competitive and cooperative for siblings in all areas.

Figure 4
The following graph (Figure 5) shows the relationship of competitiveness vs. cooperativeness from the age of 10-15. All results are fairly close resulting leading to the tremendously dynamic 10-15 years. Siblings have responded that they are both competitive and cooperative and for the categories during this age bracket. As we can see the social are is almost equal with 37% as the most competitive and 35% the most cooperative.

Figure 5

Distributing this survey led most of those surveyed to recount tales of times they had competed with a sibling. Most were good-natured and the siblings’ relationship is still overall positive.
Discussion and Conclusion:
Our background research led us to believe that as people changed and developed, so did the relationships they had with their siblings. Many of the works that we used to research proved to us that sibling relationships affected a person’s self-perception throughout their whole life, and we hoped to identify the age category with the highest reported level of competition and evaluate how we felt this changed a person positively or negatively.
The age category with the highest level of reported competition was that of 10-15. This was what we hypothesized, as we had read and remembered this specific time of life to be one with intense and strong feelings overall. We thought that the insecurity and vulnerability experienced by most people at this time would result in a threatened concept of self, and that this would bring about a vying for attention and resources that would reaffirm this increasingly vague sense of self.
We also feel that the section we tested on academic competition was influenced by the fact that we tested on a college campus. The individuals we tested have all been competitive academically throughout their life, or else they would not be here, and we feel that this may have skewed our results to some degree.
If we could change an aspect of our survey we would look at the differences we found among people of different socioeconomic levels. We would also test for the differences in competition between members of the two genders. We believe this may have been interesting because of Trivers and Willard’s work that contends different socioeconomic status results in differing levels of attention given to offspring by parents. Trivers and Willard maintained that it was more advantageous for lower status families to invest more heavily in females, for it was women that had a better chance of marrying up if they were given enough attention and resources. Marrying into a higher class would mean more and better resources would be secured, therefore allowing more of the family’s genes to be passed on successfully. In families of a higher class, it was more genetically advantageous to invest in males, for the drive to secure resources was not as pressing. The need to marry up was not there, so investing in male offspring was more sensible.
Trivers believed that siblings would inherently be selfish, as they were ultimately related to siblings by only 50 percent. He maintained that siblings would have to learn to be cooperative, because ensuring their own survival was more important than aiding in someone else’s, even if that person was related to them. Trivers said that parents teach offspring to cooperate in order to have the highest number of successful offspring. We thought this connected to our findings in that 54 out of the 85 subjects we tested reported their relationship with their sibling as being competitive. We feel that subjects reported the state of their relationship at present, after cooperation had been instilled and rewarded in them.
Another aspect of our project that we would change if we could would be asking for an overall rating of cooperation or competition for each age category tested. We think an overall evaluation is too broad, and that having the rating for each age category would deepen our results.
If we had more time and resources for our project we think it would have been interesting to test people while they were in the age categories we studied. If we were able to quantify the degree and type of rivalry for people while they were in the age categories, we think the results would be more honest, clear and candid. We also think it would be fun to make up a survey for young people. It would be fun to adjust the survey for appropriate reading levels i.e.: using smiley faces L J.
Appendix
A) Original Survey

1. How many siblings do you have?

2. What is your birth order?

Oldest Middle (or close to it) Youngest

Choose one sibling, and answer the following questions with them in mind.
3. Rate in order the age at which you believe you were most competitive with them overall.
Age:
__ 0-5
__ 5-10
__ 10-15
__ 15-20
__ 20-25

4. At the age category mentioned, which specific area do you remember there being the most competition in? (Check the most appropriate category)
Academic Social Physical
Age
0-5
5-10
10-15
15-20
20-25

5. Would you rate, overall, your relationship with our sibling as being cooperative or competitive?


B) Revised Survey That Was Distributed

1. How many siblings do you have?


2. What is your birth order?

Oldest Middle (or close to it) Youngest

Choose one sibling, and answer the following questions with them in mind.

3. How close is that sibling to you in age?
Example: +2, he/she is two years older or –3, he/she is three years younger


4. Would you rate, overall, your relationship with your sibling as being cooperative or competitive?


5. For each age category, which specific area do you remember there being the most competition in? (Check the most appropriate category)
Academic Social Physical
Age
0-5
5-10
10-15
15-20
20-25

6. Choose the age at which you believe you were most competitive with them overall.
Age:
__ 0-5 __ 5-10 __ 10-15 __ 15-20 __ 20-25

7. For each age category, which specific area do you remember there being the most cooperative in? (Check the most appropriate category)
Academic Social Physical
Age
0-5
5-10
10-15
15-20
20-25
8. Choose the age at which you believe you were most cooperative with them overall.
Age:
__ 0-5 __ 5-10 __ 10-15 __ 15-20 __ 20-25


C) Tabulated Results
1. How many siblings do you have? Average = 1.5 (seven only children)

2. What is your birth order?

Oldest-30 Middle (or close to it)-15 Youngest-33

Choose one sibling, and answer the following questions with them in mind.

3. How close is that sibling to you in age?
Example: +2, he/she is two years older or –3, he/she is three years younger

Average = -.17 years

4. Would you rate, overall, your relationship with your sibling as being cooperative or competitive?

Competitive: 54 Cooperative: 12

5. For each age category, which specific area do you remember there being the most competition in? (Check the most appropriate category)
Academic Social Physical
Age
0-5 2 15 32
5-10 7 12 40
10-15 28 27 18
15-20 34 24 9
20-25 22 8 4

6. Choose the age at which you believe you were most competitive with them overall.
Age:
1 0-5 10 5-10 43 10-15 23 15-20 0 20-25

7. For each age category, which specific area do you remember there being the most cooperative in? (Check the most appropriate category)
Academic Social Physical
Age
0-5 12 29 10
5-10 19 28 9
10-15 23 19 12
15-20 18 27 13
20-25 4 17 8

8. Choose the age at which you believe you were most cooperative with them overall.
Age:
__ 0-5 __ 5-10 __ 10-15 __ 15-20 __ 20-25
(This question was disregarded because of an editing error. When we passed our the surveys it stated competitive instead of cooperative.)

Works Cited:
Bank, Stephen P., and Michael D. Kahn. The Sibling Bond. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Boer, Frits, and Judy Dunn. Children’s Sibling Relationships: Developmental and Clinical Issues. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992.

Lamb, Michael E., and Brian Sutton-Smith. Sibling Relationships: Their Nature and Significance Across the Lifespan. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1982.

Mock, Douglas W., and Geoffrey A. Parker. The Evolution of Sibling Rivalry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Wright, Robert. The Moral Animal. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

www.cia.gov

Next Article
Previous Article
Return to the Topic Menu


Here is a list of responses that have been posted to this Study...

IMPORTANT: Press the Browser Reload button to view the latest contribution.

Respond to this Submission!

IMPORTANT: For each Response, make sure the title of the response is different than previous titles shown above!

Response Title:
Author(s):

E-Mail:
Professor's Name (Choose either Cummins or Myers):
Optional: For Further Info on this Topic, Check out this WWW Site:
Response Text:



Article complete. Click HERE to return to the Human Nature Menu.

Visit the rest of the site!

Site NAVIGATION--Table of Contents

Listen to a "Voice Navigation" Intro! (Quicktime or MP3)

Google
Search WWW WITHIN-SITE Keyword Search!!

WEATHER & EARTH SCIENCE RESOURCES

TROPICAL ECOSYSTEM FIELD COURSES

Hays' Marine Ecology Images and Movies Ohio Bird Photo Collection | Tropical Bird Collection | Costa Rica Image Collection | Edge of the Farm Conservation Area | Hays' Tarantula Page | Local Watershed Fish Studies| Wildflowers, Arthropods, ETC in SW Ohio | Earth Science Resources | Astronomy Links | Global Change | Marine Ecology "Creature Study Guide" |

OTHER ACADEMIC COURSES, STUDENT RESEARCH, OTHER STUFF

| Educational Philosophy | Discovery Labs: Moon, Geologic Time, Sun, Taxonomy, Frisbee | Project Dragonfly | Vita |Field Course Postings | Student Research Postings | Nature/Science Autobiography | Environmental Programs at Miami University

TEACHING TOOLS & OTHER STUFF

Daily Necessities: Macintosh Resources |Search Engines | Library Resources|Server Stats| Family Album | View My Schedule | View Guestbook | Western College "Multimedia Potpourri"