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Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent
Growing up with a sister makes people more optimistic, more ambitious and better balanced, psychologists have found.  

A study of 571 families comprised of brothers, sisters, a mixture of both and only children found that having a sister in the home led to siblings of either sex scoring more highly on a range of standard tests for good mental health.  

They were found to be better at coping with setbacks, more highly motivated, had more friends and a better social life than those who grew up with just brothers.  

The research was conducted by psychologists at De Montfort University and the University of Ulster and will be presented today at the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Brighton.  

Liz Wright, research fellow at De Montfort, said the study began after a previous project showed that girls with sisters appeared to suffer less distress when they encountered trouble in their lives.  

"We wanted to see if the positive impact of sisters went further than just girls and found that it did. One of the most interesting findings was the impact of female siblings when parents split up," she said.  

"It seems their natural inclination was to express themselves, talk about the separation and encourage other family members to do so as well. It seems to help keep family relationships going. Their was markedly less distress in broken homes with a sister."  

Psychologists have long believed that "emotional expression" at times of upheaval, is fundamental to good psychological health.  

"Sisters appear to encourage that. However, brothers seemed to have the opposite effect, perhaps discouraging others to talk."  

The tests used a standard scoring method and covered how much social support people felt they had, how much control over their lives they felt they had, levels of optimism, achievement motivation, or drive, and ability to cope with setbacks.  

The researchers said the difference when a sister was in the home were "significant". It may help to explain the success of the Williams sisters, who have coped with huge upheaval and pressure in their lives on the tennis circuit, and Sienna Miller, the actress, and her sister Savannah, the fashion designer. Sienna Miller bounced back swiftly after the end of her engagement to the actor Jude Law. She even went on stage the night the news broke.  

The mental health of only children lay between those children with a sister and those with only brothers.  

"It seems many only children had built up significant social support outside the home by the time they reached their late teens which helped them in a crisis and in other areas of life," Ms Wright said.  

The findings suggest parents with boys who separate should be aware their sons may struggle to come to terms with the family break up. They will also going to be used in the treatment of eating disorders in the future.  

The next projects will be to identify more precisely what sisters are contributing to family life to make for the better outcomes.



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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Safari wrote May 21, 2009
    • I was the oldest sister at home and mi little sister was 6 years younger than me, so there was a gap, also she got married very young, so the gap turned on bigger, but I love her and she loves me. We aren’t the closes sister, but we are there for eachother in better and bad times.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mjmurphy wrote May 21, 2009
    • good article. I wish I was closer to my sisters, but you know, dysfunctional family background. my girls are close though and I am happy about that.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Laurie Zieber wrote May 21, 2009
    • Well, finally an explanation for my imbalance! tongue out



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Marie66 wrote May 21, 2009
    • I have an older sister(4 yrs older)we do get along and we do love each other, but she has her ways and she really doesn’t show her emotions..She rather not do the family thing.. I guess she’s in her own “lil” world..

      Gilda



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Tina Sickinger wrote May 21, 2009
    • Interesting. I had two older sisters who by the time I was 10 years old were both married and gone, so I guess I was raised more like and only child? I know when I was younger I was a wreck; is that the explanation? I am very close to one of my sisters and always have been (the youngest of the two; she is 10 years older than me) so now I’m confused!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Safari wrote May 22, 2009
    • I think the article is about sisters age closest and what role sisters play in the family; specially with brothers.
      I can tell my role in my family is strong. My brothers and sister always comes around to tell me theirs stories, confussions, happiness, etc. We aren’t the closest brothers and sisters, like everyone is always in “others” life but we always have kept the brotherhood; curiuosly my newphews and nieces are very close to eachother; so where is the gap?
      I guess when both parents are working, 1 brother left to the army another got married early so did my sister and I was “left behind” with my parents and went to college, so..everybody has been living theirs lives but the love for eachother still there.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      UK Girl wrote May 22, 2009
    • I had an older sister (by 2 years she died last year) and my other sister is 9 years younger ...

      I know that middle children are always over achievers and very confident - which I am.

      I wasn’t close to my older sister she was very self contained and very driven - my young sister is very close now and I adore my nieces - we speak daily and see each other all the time - even more so now Lynn has died.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Robinesque wrote May 22, 2009
    • Soooo, I’m waiting for the “sister love” to kick in with my girls.  One is 15(yesterday!) and the other is almost 10.  Needless to say, the 10 y/o is seen as the annoying “little sister” who shamelessly loves the older.  But, one day, ONE DAY, I believe they will be each other’s “go to” for comfort.  (PLEASE, GOD!)  I mean, you get that “balance” from the only one who really talks STRAIGHT, like it or not, and 10 y/o Victoria is just the one to do it!



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Safari wrote May 22, 2009
    • My husband’s family story:
      They had 4 kids (1 daughter and 3 sons.) My husband is the youngest. He told me when things were good, everybody was good with eachother because of their materialistic issues were filled, they went wilder as teenage came, the sister was a mess since she always got what she wanted from her parents so did the older brothers: drugs, jail, early pregnancies. Finally when both parents passed away the were fighting for the house, cars, belongings, etc. Now one brother is dead, one still living in his parents house (very greedy), the sister jump from a drug dealer to another and I asked to my husband How the hell did you survived this mess? His answer was: I was the younger and watching and learning from my sieblings messes“.
      Good answer uh.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Robinesque wrote May 22, 2009
    • I’ve always wondered if the youngest was observing and absorbing for that very reason, Safari.  I still tell my brood that they have to set an example for the youngest ones.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Safari wrote May 22, 2009
    • Hi Robin,
      I guess my husband suferred so much while watching his mother crying for her childs and asking to herself what do I did wrong?
      So he as a smart and obedient son just listened to her advices. He told me the only wrong thing he have ever done was smoke marihuana and that because of his oldest brother influence, but then he quit when his mother told him: I thought you were smarter than that, lol, kicked his ass. He did quit.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Safari wrote May 22, 2009
    • I agreed with ukGirl,
      I am a middle child, so I got the best and worse from each one.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mztracy wrote May 22, 2009
    • hmmm not so much!! i love all 3 of my sisters and my brother. But i do not think it has anything to do with ‘balance‘. I am 5 yrs younger than one of my sisters and 17 years older than the other.  

      We, as individuals have to find our own balance in life.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Denise Richardson wrote May 22, 2009
    • We, as individuals have to find our own balance in life. quoting MzTracy, I totally agree with you I have 7 siblings 3 older than I and 4 younger than I and I love them all and we are all and we're all different.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Safari wrote May 26, 2009
    • If you have a Kardashians as a sister you wouldn’t be any balanced...
      Don’t get me wrong, but these girls are wild and sometimes don’t show any class.



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