Friday, November 26, 2010

Me, My Brother and Charles Darwin

NPR has been doing a special all week on siblings. One discussion that I found particularly interesting was about how siblings are so similar genetically yet they often have such different personalities. The theories behind this claim were really intriguing and I found that one of them almost perfectly described my relationship with my older brother.

Siblings are always competing for the love and attention of their parents. This competition leads to major differences in personality traits, just as Sulloway, a Darwin theorist, suggests.
"And when organisms compete, there tends to be a phenomenon that Darwin long ago identified in the Origins of Species called the principle of divergence. The role of divergence is basically to minimize competition so it's not direct. And that leads to specialization in different niches."

My older brother was, and still is, a really good student. His grades were always better than mine, and I knew I could never keep up with him academically. So, I didn't try to keep up him. I focused on the social aspects of school. Consequently, I became much more extroverted than my brother. Our experiences, particularly in high school, were very different. While he may have been home working on a school project that I'm sure he'd get an A on, I was out with friends not thinking about that AP History paper due on Monday.
I don't want it to sound like I was failing every class while my brother had no friends. That's not true, and this obviously isn't the most extreme example, but the differences were there.

Looking at us now, it is interesting to see how we've grown since we've gone away to college, and the competition for our parents' attention has more or less dissipated. My brother, while still maintaining a solid GPA, is a social butterfly. He has tons of friends and a very active social life. I have found that I have become more introverted as I enjoy time to myself and have a much smaller group of friends than I did in high school. I think it is interesting to observe such a switch in personalities when this competition is no longer present.

So, did this early competition shape us into false identities or have our differing experiences led to growth in opposite directions? We'll have to consult the Professor, our staff psychologist, on this one.


  1. This also makes me wonder if the first child is more inclined to perform for the parents in a way; in my family, it's kind of the same situation in that I've always been the academic who really liked languages, school, etc., all things my parents value, while my sister has never cared as much for school, focusing instead on sports. She still does well in school, but because I was there to take that role of the student first, she was kind of forced to do something different, even though we're at about the same level of intelligence. I always wonder if things would have been different had our births been switched.

  2. And where the hell is the Professor?