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Having a Sibling Makes You More Empathetic, Study Finds
Tuesday, March 13, 2018 9:51:00 AM

Younger and older siblings uniquely contribute to each other's development of empathy, TAU researchers say

A new Tel Aviv University study finds that both older and younger siblings positively influence each other's empathy.

Dr. Ella Daniel of TAU's Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education has determined that children whose younger brothers and sisters are kind, warm and supportive grow up to be more empathic than children whose younger siblings lack those characteristics. This challenges the established wisdom that it is only older children who play a role in shaping their younger siblings' attitudes.

In two separate observations over an 18-month period, the scientists tested an ethnically diverse group of 452 sibling pairs and their mothers in Canada. The researchers tested levels of empathy in 18- and 48-month-old siblings. They set up sessions in the families' homes and played with each child separately. During each session, the researcher would pretend to hurt him/herself, or break a valuable toy. The child's reaction would be noted and recorded. They conducted the same trial 18 months later, finding statistically significant effects on empathy.

The new study takes the burden off parents and older siblings, whose influence has been shown to affect the development of empathy. The researchers also found that the influence of older brothers and sisters was stronger in families where the age difference was bigger.

The research could influence policy debates about how best to conduct sibling interventions, including whether teaching one sibling (older or younger) can in turn affect the empathy of the other.

The study, conducted in collaboration with researchers from the University of Calgary, Université Laval, and the University of Toronto, was published in Child Development.

For more, read the article in Newsweek.

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