Retrospect and Prospect in the Psychological Study of Families

By James P. McHale; Wendy S. Grolnick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Retrospect and Prospect in the
Psychological Study of
Sibling Relationships
Douglas M. Teti
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

No volume on family relationships would be complete without a look at the role of sibling relationships. The study of sibling relationships is both old and new, as I develop in this chapter. Identifying the antecedents and consequences of sibling relationships presents special challenges for social and personality researchers. Reasons for this are complex and relate to the enormous fluidity and diversity that characterizes sibling behavior. For the most part, systematic examinations of sibling behavior and its contextual determinants and developmental sequelae are relatively recent. This may owe to assumptions implicit in theories of development that assign primacy to parents, and especially mothers, as meaningful socialization agents. Suc theories are rooted in western tradition and belief systems, in which siblings are assumed to have little direct effect on child development. Such assumptions may be erroneous. Siblings are influential in their roles as teachers, caregivers, playmates, and support figures throughout the life span.

In psychology, some of the earliest conceptualizations of sibling relationships were those of psychoanalysts (Levy, 1934; Sewall, 1930; Smalley, 1930). These writers viewed sibling behavior primarily in terms of rivalry and competition for parental attention and resources. This unflattering characterization persisted for over 4 decades and did not really change until psychology researchers launched systematic investigations of sibling behavior in the naturalistic confines of their homes during the 1970s. In the meantime, psychologists who studied siblings were preoccupied with document

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