Academic journal article Family Relations

Processes of Sibling Influence in Adolescence: Individual and Family Correlates*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Processes of Sibling Influence in Adolescence: Individual and Family Correlates*

Article excerpt


This study examined the nature and correlates of adolescents' perceptions of sibling influence. Participants included 2 siblings (firstborn age M = 17.34; second-born age M = 14.76 years) from 191 maritally intact families. Adolescents' perceptions of sibling influence were measured via coded responses to open-ended questions about whether their sibling had an influence on them. Analyses revealed that older and younger siblings reported different patterns of influence. Differentiation influence and being a role model were more prevalent for firstborns, whereas modeling and modeling plus differentiation were more prevalent for second-borns. First- and second-borns' reports of influence were linked differentially to their relational and personal qualities. Discussion focuses on the need to refine the measurement of sibling influence processes.

Key Words: adolescents, modeling, sibling deidentification, sibling differentiation, sibling influence, sibling relationships.

Interest in sibling relationships has grown exponentially over the past 20 years. A foundation for this interest is the idea that siblings play a central role in each other's lives and development. For example, research on children's and young adolescents' time use shows that siblings spend more time with each other than with either parents or peers outside of school hours (e.g., McHale & Crouter, 1996). Through their everyday companionship, as well as in their roles as providers of social experience, as combatants, as models, and even as foils for one another, siblings are thought to influence one another in ways that make them alike and different from each other. In the face of these multiple influences, however, most studies examining sibling influences have failed to directly measure influence processes. Instead, sibling influence processes are invoked as post hoc explanations for observed patterns of sibling similarities and differences. The goals of this study were to (a) document first- and secondborn siblings' perceptions of how their brother/sister influenced them and (b) connect those perceptions of influence to the family contexts that may promote or suppress their operation.

Social and Observational Learning and Sibling Similarities

Most research on sibling influences has looked for and found evidence of processes leading to sibling similarities. For example, similarities have been demonstrated in adolescent siblings' risky and deviant behaviors such as childbearing and sexual behavior (e.g., East, 1998), health risk behaviors (D'Amico & Fromme, 1997), smoking (e.g., Bard & Rodgers, 2003; Slomkowski, Rende, Novak, Lloyd-Richardson, & Niaura, 2005), alcohol and drug use (e.g., Ary, Tildesley, Hops, & Andrews, 1993; Fagan & Najman, 2005; Windle, 2000), and aggression and delinquency (e.g., Bank, Patterson, & Reid, 1996; Slomkowski, Rende, Conger, Simons, & Conger, 2001). With few exceptions (e.g., Rowe & Gulley, 1992; Slomkowski et al., 2005), most studies (e.g., Ary et al.; Brook, Whiteman, Gordon, & Brook, 1990; D'Amico & Fromme; Fagan & Najman; Windle) of sibling similarity have invoked social and observational learning processes such as modeling and imitation as post hoc explanations for sibling similarities (i.e., positive associations equate to modeling).

A few researchers have indirectly tested modeling hypotheses by examining relational factors that are proposed to moderate social learning mechanisms. For example, research on adolescent sibling similarities in smoking behaviors and sexual activities revealed that sibling similarity was most evident in dyads who were high in warmth and closeness (Rowe & Gulley, 1992; Slomkowski et al., 2005). Other researchers have found that sibling similarities in alcohol use were greatest for same-gender sibling pairs who were close in age (e.g., Boyle, Sanford, Szatmari, Merikangas, & Offord, 2001; Trim, Leuthe, & Chassin, 2006). …

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