Birth order has little influence on personality, a recent study conducted by German researchers at the University of Leipzig has shown.
The experts reviewed personality and intelligence data from over 20,000 adults: 5,240 Americans, 10,456 Germans and 4,489 Britons.
This information had resulted from several national surveys conducted in recent years, and the findings were published on October 19, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers wanted to determine if there was actually a connection between birth order and the prevalence of one of 5 major personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness and neuroticism.
It had been generally believed that older siblings are usually the most ambitious, bossy, successful and reliable.
Similarly, middle children had been stereotyped as being people-pleasers, in search of their own identity and always fearful of being neglected.
On the other hand, younger siblings were expected to be thoroughly spoiled, self-centered, charming, manipulative and immature.
However, researchers didn’t identify any such patterns and trends when analyzing and aggregating their study data, no matter what the age gap between siblings was. Correlations couldn’t be established when reviewing data while taking each country separately, nor when making cross-country inferences.
Although it was revealed that firstborns tended to score higher at IQ tests, scientists believe this isn’t actually a result of biology, but in fact it’s closely linked with a higher amount of social interaction within the family.
As they explain, older siblings often act as mentors to their younger brothers and sisters, due to their broader knowledge and experience. The process of having to recall previously memorized information, of reformulating it and presenting it in a simple manner is highly demanding from a cognitive point of view.
As a result, the intelligence of these firstborns is highly stimulated, and develops more significantly. Moreover, they also enjoy the greatest amount of attention from their parents, who employ all their resources in order to educate and guide their new offspring.
In comparison, second children usually benefit from less parental engagement, and this lack of focus grows even more with every new baby born in the family. As a result, IQ tends to drop by around 1.5 points for every younger sibling, researchers have determined.
“What is most striking about these findings is that they are in conflict with those of other large studies that have shown that birth order differences in personality definitely exist, even if they are rather modest in magnitude”, declared Frank Sulloway, adjunct professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Sulloway insists that birth order differences are a real occurrence, but they tend to change with the passage of time. For example, a later-born child might initially appear less conscientious, but eventually become more successful than firstborns, due to superior social skills.
Study authors believe however that their findings are accurate, and explain that in fact age effects often tend to be misidentified as birth order effects.
For example, a younger sibling might appear more immature simply because of lack of worldy experience, so it is unfair and highly inaccurate to judge such individuals by comparing them to their older, more seasoned brothers or sisters.
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