Department of Psychology and Family Science
Dana Hirn Mueller
Humans are social beings who shape their lives through relationships. The ability to understand the mental status of others, or empathy, is a critical determinant to successful social relationships. Few studies have explored how older siblings influence the development of empathy in younger siblings. The current study examined an aspect of positive sibling relationships to understand what interactions and/or behaviors between siblings foster empathy development. The primary hypothesis was that a positive correlation exists between physical affection among siblings and empathy development in the youngest sibling. This study included 100 adult participants who are the youngest sibling. An online survey measured participants’ current empathy and the physical affection shared with their sibling(s) while growing up. Outcome variables of interest (physical affection and empathy) were measured using Likert-type scale questions. To test the primary hypothesis, the Pearson correlation coefficient was calculated using empathy and physical affection scores. There was no statistically significant correlation between physical affection displayed among siblings and empathy development in the youngest sibling. Demographic variables, such as gender and generational cohort, did not influence the correlation. The results suggest no significant correlation between physical affection displayed among siblings and the development of empathy in the youngest sibling.