Are You Smarter Than Your Siblings?

| 11/26/2007 3:38:12 PM

My two sisters and I fit perfectly into commonly held beliefs about birth order. As a middle child, I crave attention. My older sister, as the first born, is detail-oriented. My younger sister is adept in any social situation. The question is: Why? Are our personalities the result of genetics, or the environment we grew up in?

The study of birth order also could be “post hoc quasi-science is that it is a bit like astrology,” as Steve Connor posits for the British newspaper, the Independent. It’s easy to attribute personality traits to birth order, when they fit neatly into our preconceived notions. “[R]ather like reading a horoscope and finding that it neatly explains elements of your current situation,” Connor writes.

In spite of Connor’s charges of snake oil science, research keeps coming out to support a strong correlation between birth order and personality. Connors article responds to a study from the University of Oslo in Norway that says first born children are, on the whole, smarter than second born. The study, first published in the peer reviewed Science magazine, made headlines in USA Today and the New York Times. (And was subsequently emailed to me by my older sister.)

That media attention could be due to a bias toward birth order science, according to psychologist Judith Rich Harris, quoted in the Independent. Harris says that the only birth-order studies that get media attention are the ones that support "subjective impressions based on personal experiences,” of birth order.

So are middle children as “difficult” as research suggests? You’d have to ask my sisters.

Bennett Gordon

Mark Brodersen
12/9/2007 7:02:29 PM

I don't think the studies all quite fit either. I'm the first born of 7 and am the most outgoing of the group. I'm more of a big picture guy and am not as detail oriented as I would like to be, though the widely acclaimed Myers-Briggs personality test has me and my next 2 brothers as "fieldmarshals" where as my next 2 brothers after that are "masterminds". The next sibling, the older of the 2 sisters, is a "guardian". I can't remember what my youngest sister was categorized as. Me, being the oldest, and # 4, have our birthdays a day apart, and there's a 7 year gap between # 3 and # 4. He and I are more similar than any other 2 siblings, though we grew up in slightly different times and certainly different circumstances, though he is less outgoing than I am and is more detail oriented.

12/6/2007 9:11:38 AM

I am the 4th of 5 children. My eldest sister is an artist, the second brother is quiet and of average intelligence, the third and middle sister is rigid and controlling, I am considered very intelligent, social, and a rebal. My youngest brother is brilliant and eclectic and not very social. My mother had the five of us in eight years. I do not believe we fit into the birth order beliefs held by many. I believe I would be the same person no matter what order I was born into the family. We were all brought up on a very tight leash and yet turned out very different. Another nature vs nurture question?

12/5/2007 4:36:17 PM

My older sister and I don't quite fit into this. It's true that she's detail-oriented and organized, but she's always been social while I've always been more of a loner, although I get along well with others. Also, I'm the smartest one in the academic sense, even though she has had better study skills than I. I suppose being slightly more rebellious than she is goes along with this, but for the most part we just don't fit the profile.

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