Well, here’s some news that will either have you nodding your head in agreement or yelling defensively at your computer screen: the brains of only children are actually different than the brains of children with siblings. And – here’s the kicker – that might have some not-so-great implications.
In a recent study published in the journal Brain Imaging and Behaviour, researchers from Southwest University in Chongqing, China investigated anatomical differences between the brains of only and non-only children, as well as personality and cognition traits such as intelligence and creativity. Their somewhat surprising finding? Only children have some pretty significant neurological differences from their siblinged peers in the brain regions associated with imagination, agreeableness and emotional regulation.
But here’s where it gets controversial: on an “agreeableness scale,” researchers concluded that only children are less agreeable than those who have brothers and sisters, while their higher “flexibility scores” and increased “opportunities for independent activity…[are] strongly related to creative thinking.” So…only children aren’t too nice, but at least they’re more creative? Oooo-kay.
It must all be true, right? Because #science. But let’s keep in mind that, like all scientific research, generalities and conclusions don’t apply to every individual, family or circumstance. And, like many scientific studies, this one has some limitations. For one thing, the study’s sample size was relatively small, with only 250 Southwest University undergraduate and graduate students included – in other words, not exactly a large, or representative, population. What’s more, there are plenty of solid, large-scale longitudinal studies that suggest the contrary: that only children are just as happy or happier than their siblinged peers and possess similar social skills and friendship networks to children with brothers and sisters. So there’s that.
Whatever your personal experience, it’s clear that the science of siblings is still up for debate – probably a good thing. That said, if you want to avoid some of the pitfalls traditionally associated with raising only children, we’re big fans of these tips.