Saturday, 21 January 2017

Scientists say there's no such thing as 'middle child syndrome'

But being the middle child has some surprising benefits. You’ve probably heard the term ‘middle child syndrome’ before. In fact, you may even have been accused of having it.

It’s the belief that children who are born with both older and younger siblings are resentful because they have been somewhat ignored in between the firstborn favourite and the baby. Despite its widespread popularity, many of these beliefs about middle children are not grounded in any real science. In fact, psychologists say many of the traits associated with the so-called 'syndrome' are likely a result, not a cause, of these ideas.

But researchers have found that some middle children do possess some similarities which they think may be a result of their birth order. Catherine Salmon, a psychology professor at the University of Redlands in California and co-author of the book The Secret Power of Middle Children, and her colleagues have spent the last two decades studying thousands of middle children. She spoke to Business Insider about what she found out.

First, says Salmon, middleborns tend to be less parent-oriented, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care about relationships. In one 1998 study, Salmon and colleague professor Martin Daly studied over 400 undergraduate students and asked them questions about their family relationships. In one part of the research they were asked who in their family they would turn to for help - parents or siblings. While first and last borns opted for mum or dad, middle-borns generally chose their brothers or sisters.

It wasn’t that they felt disenfranchised from their family. Instead, middle children probably spent a little bit less time with their parents and as a reflection of that, felt a little less close to them. Middle children were also more likely to view their friends as their main resources, more so than first and lastborns.

Salmon said this does tend to mean that they have really good social skills as they value those relationships a lot, so they put a lot into them and are thus great friends to have.
According to one of Salmon’s studies, middleborns might also make great partners as they tend to get along with many different personality types. Salmon  says middleborns are like ‘Type O blood," in a way, because they go with everybody.

When you get two lastborns or two firstborns together, there can often be conflict because of their similar personalities. Middles, however, are already great at negotiating and much more willing to go with the flow.

Middle children may be more susceptible to peer pressure, but they also tend to be more open-minded. Salmon thinks this might be because middleborns are usually forced to be more independent, which gives them an opportunity to find their own path and could make them more likely to experiment.

In one study, for example, Salmon asked participants about their beliefs in things that, at the time, were considered controversial. Compared with older or younger children, middle children were more open to entertaining those kinds of ideas too. Receiving less attention from their parents doesn’t mean middleborns are resentful.

"In terms of undivided time and attention and effort, middleborns do lose out on that to a certain extent, but the takeaway [of the research] was that it didn’t seem to be having much negative effect on them," Salmon told Business Insider.

"In fact, they may be psychologically better off." Salmon also said that there was no evidence that middle children were resentful at all about being less of a focus. Instead, they’re often more likely to be very attached to their siblings and have strong bonds with them.

The myths about middle child syndrome could have formed for a number of reasons. Salmon says that firstly, it comes down to what people expect.

Vivid examples in film and TV are probably also partially to blame. Shows like The Brady Bunch or 8 Simple Rules portrayed the children in the middle as left out, with the older sibling getting all the attention for example. "Those cases then become very vivid in people’s minds… and suddenly they assume that’s the way it is for everything," Salmon said.

But being in the middle might be beneficial, too. The ability to negotiate is valuable in many different areas of life, including in many career paths.

Something Salmon observed in her research was that because middleborns are always pushed in the middle, they tend to have to negotiate for the things they want. They can’t rely on being the baby, or being the oldest and most responsible.

"I think that’s why they tend to be very successful with their friendships, and very successful with their marriages, but that probably translates also into how they manage things in the business world too," Salmon said.

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