Recent studies show that not having any siblings can actually change the structure of a child’s brain, affecting behavior. A new study comparing brain scans revealed significant differences in grey matter volume between only children and children with siblings.
The grey matter of the brain is found in regions that control memory, muscle control, sensory perception, emotions, speech, decision-making, and self control.
The differences in grey matter gives only children some benefits, but also things that separate them from their peers. One study showed that only children receive some cognitive benefits.
First, MRI brain scans were taken of only children and children with siblings. Afterwards, they were given cognitive tests, which were designed to measure their intelligence, creativity, and personality. Although there was no demonstration of any differences in intelligence, only children were shown to have more flexibility in their thinking.
According to the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, the degree of flexible thinking skills is a key marker of creativity.
However, the tests also showed some downsides. The Revised NEO Personality Inventory test measures agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. This test revealed that only children demonstrate less agreeableness in their personality. The structure of the brain that the MRI brain scans provided backs up these results.
Only children displayed a greater amount of volume in the supramarginal gyrus, a portion of the parietal lobe. This part of the brain is associated with language perception and processing. This explains why only children have greater flexibility in their thinking.
On the other hand, lesser volumes in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are correlated to a less agreeable personality. The mPFC is associated with emotional regulation, personality, and social behaviors.
However, many researchers disagree and hypothesize that that the differences could be result of a child’s upbringing.
Parents devoting more attention the their child and placing greater expectations on them could foster creativity. Likewise, lesser agreeableness could be from excessive attention from family members, less exposure to external social groups, and more focus on solitary activities.
Freshman Kenisha Seth says, “This research is really cool and definitely relates to me. I have a younger brother and I feel like learning to cooperate with him makes me an agreeable person. I also have a really creative friend who is an only child. She may get that from having a lot of time alone and more expectations.”
Apart from cognitive differences, many only children feel there are pros and cons to growing up without any siblings.
Freshman Esha Patel says, “I am an only child and I do not dislike it. Although I wonder how it would be to have a sibling sometimes, I am very close to my parents and I like the feeling of independence and uniqueness I get from it.”
In contrast, other only children may feel lonely without a sibling and would not have anyone to look up to or have someone that looks up to them.
Freshman Lexi Neckritz says, “I actually love having a sibling. We get along pretty well and it is great having someone to share responsibility with.”
Scientists say that although there is still a lot to understand about this matter, this first piece of anatomical evidence is a big step forward. Looking at the science and the observations from daily life can help us piece together something really interesting.
The research has shown that there is a link between family environments and the development of the brain’s structure. This fascinating discovery is a big milestone toward the future of family study.
How does being an only child or having siblings make your life different from the other?