Sisters Are Positive Influences, Study Finds

Article excerpt

Carol Sovchen of Mt. Lebanon says she always admired and looked up to her older sister, Nancy Nernberg of Squirrel Hill, for her talent, brains and looks. Yet, more than anything, Sovchen says, the two sisters -- 5 years apart -- are the closest of friends.

"We've always had this really close relationship through the years," says Sovchen, 65. "When I would get upset or depressed and call her, she always has this very optimistic attitude.

"She was just always my mentor -- the one to go for anything I need and anything I want to know," Sovchen says. "She's just been wonderful."

Women with sisters often describe a nurturing, lifelong relationship that transcends what any other friendship could be, and a new study from Brigham Young University supports this. The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, concludes that having a sister protects teens "from feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self- conscious and fearful." Researchers from Brigham Young in 2007 and 2008 studied 395 Seattle families with two or more children, and at least one child in each family was age 10 to 14.

The study found that affectionate siblings have positive influences on each other no matter their age, gender or how many years they are apart. They promote behaviors such as kindness and generosity and protect against delinquency and depression, says Laura Padilla-Walker, assistant professor in BYU's School of Family Life. And having a sister, rather than a brother, prevents depression, maybe because girls are better at talking about problems or are more likely to take on a caregiver role, she says.

Author Deborah Tannen -- whose book, "You Were Always Mom's Favorite!: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives," was released in paperback last week -- interviewed more than 100 women about their sister relationships. Tannen says that sister-to-sister relationships can be among a woman's most significant ties. Some women told Tannen about how they would drop everything for their sisters, and that their sisters had done that for them. Many interviewees called their sisters their best friends, Tannen says.

"The stories that I heard really were quite overwhelming ... and moving," Tannen says. She is a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Her speciality is social linguistics, which focuses on interpersonal relationships.

Part of what makes the sister relationship special, Tannen says, is the shared memories -- along with the nurturing, talk-based relationship that women tend to have more than men.

"This is a person who knows exactly what it was like to grow up in the house you grew up in," she says. Tannen is the youngest of three sisters: her, middle sister Mimi and oldest sister Naomi. …