We used to think that having siblings – a kind of “inoculation” against selfishness. But is it really so?
Researchers found out if only children in a family are really more selfish.
Stereotypes abound that only children in a family are spoiled, self-centered “little emperors.” But a 2019 study in Germany found: While the idea that such children are more narcissistic is widespread, it’s wrong.
Now a team in China couldn’t find any evidence for another cliché: Only children are more selfish. In an article recently published in Social Psychology and Personality Science, Xuegan Zheng of Shaanxi Normal University and colleagues confirm for the first time that this particular stereotype does exist-at least among adults who grew up with siblings.
This group consistently tended to rate “typical” only children as less prosocial (or more selfish) than children who had siblings; however, the adult only children in this study rated both groups equally.
The team used various scales to collect these scores, including a version of the dictator game in which participants were asked to estimate how much money a “typical” only child or someone with a sibling would be willing to share with them.
In a second study of 391 adults (169 of whom were only children), researchers used the same altruism scales (including the dictator game), but this time they asked participants to rate themselves.
They found no differences between the two groups: only children were not found to be more selfish than children with siblings.
This particular stereotype is thought to stem, at least in part, from the idea that only children grow up to be the focus of their parents’ attention.
If this is true, there may be positive aspects to it. Some earlier studies have shown, for example, that such children tend to report better, warmer relationships with their parents.
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