Comm102 Interpersonal communications
21 March 2014
When individuals hear about the phenomenon of birth order and the way that it can effect a person psychologically they become a defensive and apprehensive because it is a factor that a person has no control over. The order in which an individual is born can impact several factors of their life, their personality, their communication patterns, who they may choose for friendships or spouses, and even their intelligence. The problem with studying the aspects and effects of birth order is that the studies that have occurred have produced mixed results. Birth order also is more of a correlation study, not a cause and effect study so the information and results may not apply to a significant amount of people. From Life Smart text book written by Fiore, “…Birth order has a limited ability to predict behavior” (Fiore).
Birth order has been studied predominately on how it effects personality and I.Q. In 2007 Norwegian epidemiologists named Petter Kristensen and Tor Bjerkedal began a study that involved 250,000 participants (“How Birth Order Affects Your Personality”). Through their study they found a negative correlation between a people’s Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.) and their birth order. Therefore the more older siblings an individual has the lower their I.Q. will be. A Study of Birth Order, Academic Performance, and Personality written by Tshui Sun Ha and Cai Lian Tam says that this could be due to a “rich uterine environment,” that is present in young first child bearing women. The more rich the uterine environment, the greater health and intelligence the child is likely to have (Ha, Tshui Sun and Tam, Cai Lian).
There have also been several studies on how birth order effects personality. According to Georgia Psychologist, Alan E. Stewert, who enhances on some ideas from the original birth order theorist, Alfred Adler, he describes a typical first born child has an individual who has leadership position qualities, strives to achieve goals, and may be sensitive at first when another sibling is born due to a decrease in attention from their parents (“That Elusive Birth Order Effect and What it Means for You”). Life Smart, also agrees that first borns are typically more motivated than a middle or youngest sibling and tend to be more academically oriented (Fiore). According to A Study of Birth Order, Academic Performance, and Personality, first borns correlate negatively with openness. They are also more conscientious because they tend to reflect their parents’ attitudes, beliefs, and personality (Ha, Tshui Sun and Tam, Cai Lian). When it comes to communication, since the first born has leadership qualities and are more open, they tend to be more outgoing, more talkative (Bostrom, Robert, Prather, Mark, and Harrington, Nancy), and more blunt with their words.
A middle child is described by Stewert as having several feelings of rejection, however they may develop spectacular social skills in order to keep from being ignored (“That Elusive Birth Order Effect and What it Means for You”). The middle child struggles for attention because they are neither the goal accomplishing and driven oldest child nor the needy dependent youngest child. Communication wise, the middle child may also, like the oldest, be out spoken and loud because they are attention starved since they are caught in the middle and may not receive as much attention as they would like, or they may be very quiet and shy due to the commonality of not receiving a great deal of attention.
The youngest or last born child is described as having feelings of being less capable than their older siblings. Since the individual may feel this way they may be pampered and will develop social skills that can get others to do things for them (“That Elusive Birth Order Effect and What it Means for You”). These are common characteristics for last born children because they are the “baby” of the family and get comfortable with other people always helping or doing things for them since they are the youngest and typically the smallest of the family.
The last born child is also described as being very charming and popular. Tshui San Ha and Cai Lian Tam describes later born children to develop attitudes, beliefs, and personalities that differ from their parents. Psychologist Sulloway would say later born children are, “born to rebel (Ha, Tshui Sun and Tam, Cai Lian).” Sulloway’s claim that the later born children are rebellious may be due to the fact that the older siblings have experienced things already and their parents are learned more about raising children that the younger children may receive more rules or directions from their parents than did the previously raised children. This control by the parents may be the reason why the later born children are more likely to be rebellious.
Stewert also describes some characteristics of an only child. They are the type of child that receives all of the attention of the parents and even though this can be a positive aspect, it can also be negative. An only child may often been scrutinized and controlled by their parents. Only children however interact more comfortably with adults than other children and they are highly verbal (Ha, Tshui Sun and Tam, Cai Lian).
There are many variables that play a role in birth order and its accuracy. For example family size matters greatly (“How Birth Order Affects Your Personality”); if you are the oldest of three siblings your experiences are going to be significantly different than that of seven siblings. The size of family plays such a big role because as the family grows the parental resources are spread thinner and thinner. This is the reason why first borns of a large family typically act as caregivers for their younger brothers and sisters (Fiore). This gives the first born child opportunities to grow up quicker, act older than their biological age, and learn about the needs of others and how to meet those needs (Fiore).
Another variable that can affect the accuracy of the birth order studies is the number of years that are present between the children (“That Elusive Birth Order Effect and What it Means for You”). If there are only a few years between the middle child and the younger child then the middle child may experience more feelings of rejection and there will be more competition between the siblings. However if the age gap is, for example, six years, the middle child and the last born child will have less competition over parental resources because they are at such different stages of their lives.
As previously stated in my introduction, the fact that the uncontrollable item of birth order can effect a great deal of a person’s personality, choices, and communication is somewhat scary to think about. However it can be changed. There is a difference between the actual birth order of siblings and the perceived birth order of siblings (“That Elusive Birth Order Effect and What it Means for You”). This idea was first introduced by Alfred Adler and was later studied more by the Psychological Birth Order Inventory (PBOI). The perceived birth order is the age and position in the family that a child behaves. Therefore even though a person may be the last born, they can still be a leader and a teacher of the family. According to the Psychological Birth Order Inventory the perceived roles an individual plays in the family has a larger influence on a person’s personality and characteristics than their actual birth placement (“That Elusive Birth Order Effect and What it Means for You”). Changes also can occur based on the parent’s perceptions of their children and accepting of stereotypes about birth order of siblings (“That Elusive Birth Order Effect and What it Means for You”). If they believe that the youngest child is less capable and needs extra attention than the child will turn into the type of individual that possesses these characteristics. This idea is called a parent’s self-fulfilling prophecy; a prediction or believed idea that comes true simply because it is believed. Therefore the stereotypical traits of a person’s birth order can be broken and disapproved by both the child and the parents, all it takes is to not fall into the stereotypical behaviors that are unwanted depending on the birth order.
Bostrom, Robert, Prather, Mark, and Harrington, Nancy. “Birth Order and Communicative Behavior.” University of Kentucky. n.d. Web. 20 March 2014. http://www.uky.edu/~bostrom/BIRTH12.htm
Ha, Tshui Sun and Tam, Cai Lian. “A Study of Birth Order, Academic Performance, and Personality.” 2011 International Conference on Social Science and Humanity IPEDR vol.5 (2011):28-29. Web. 20 March 2014
“How Birth Order Affects Your Personality.” Scientific American. Scientific American, a Division of Nature America Inc., 8 Jan. 2009. Web. 18 March 2014. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ruled-by-birth-order/
Fiore, Lisa. Life Smart Exploring Human Development. New York: McGraw Hill, 2011. Print. Pages 143-144. 19 March 2014.
“That Elusive Birth Order Effect and What it Means for You.” Psychology Today. Fulfillment at Any Age, 18 May 2013. Web. 19 March 2014. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201305/elusive-birth-order- effect-and-what-it-means-you