New Study Finds Siblings Teach Each Other To Develop Empathy

You can thank your brother or sister for this one.

Empathy is essential in building relationships, understanding others' actions, and gaining an open-minded perspective. Understanding what another person is experiencing from their point of view is crucial to building healthy relationships and achieving our life goals. So, the sooner we learn empathy, the sooner we'll be on the right path toward a meaningful and successful life. Some kids may only need to look at their brother or sister for help. 

According to a study published in Child Development, both younger and older siblings can help to teach each other empathy. Older siblings are often lauded as the ones who teach their younger brothers and sisters, but this study found that younger siblings can help to teach them empathy, too.


"Although it's assumed that older siblings and parents are the primary socializing influences on younger siblings' development, but not vice versa, we found that both younger and older siblings positively contributed to each other's empathy over time," study coauthor Marc Jambon, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, said in a statement. "These findings stayed the same, even after taking into consideration each child's earlier levels of empathy and factors that siblings in a family share — such as parenting practices or the family's socioeconomic status — that could explain similarities between them."

Researchers at the University of Calgary studied an ethnically diverse group of 452 Canadian sibling pairs between the ages of 18 months and 4 years, and their mothers from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. They recorded interactions in the families' homes and asked the moms to fill out questionnaires. Researchers measured empathy by observing each sibling's behavioral and facial responses to an adult researcher who pretended to be in distress. They found that siblings help each other learn to empathize with others — with one odd exception. Younger brothers specifically did not contribute to significant changes in older sisters' empathy after 18 months. 

"Our findings emphasize the importance of considering how all members of the family, not just parents and older siblings, contribute to children's development," co-author Sheri Madigan, Canada research chair in determinants of child development and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Calgary, said. "The influence of younger siblings has been found during adolescence, but our study indicates that this process may begin much earlier than previously thought."

(H/T: HuffPost

Cover image via Shutterstock

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