siblings in back of car on road trip siblings in back of car on road trip If you have siblings, now is a good time to hug them. (Photo: altanaka/Shutterstock)

Your sibling is helping you become a better person, science confirms

A new study shows that children whose younger brothers and sisters are kind, warm and supportive grow up to be more empathetic.

Your brothers and sisters are good for more than just borrowing clothes and establishing alibis. Turns out, they're also doing a lot for your worth as a person.

A new study from Tel Aviv University in Israel and two Canadian universities revealed that children whose younger siblings are kind, warm and supportive grow up more empathetic than other children. Professor Ella Daniel co-led the study, which tested 452 Canadian sibling pairs and their mothers. While observing and interacting with the children in the study, the researchers pretended to hurt himself or break a valuable toy. They then noted the children's reaction. Eighteen months later, they conducted the same experiments on the same children.

In the end, they found that both older and younger siblings positively influence each other's empathic concern over time.

Danielle Haim, Este Haim and Alana Haim of HAIM attend the First Annual 'Girls To The Front' event benefiting Girls Rock Camp Foundation at Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. From left: From the band Haim, sisters Danielle Haim, Este Haim (oldest) and Alana Haim. Clearly empathy runs as deeply in this family as musical genius. (Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Girls Rock Camp Foundation)

"Our findings emphasize the importance of considering how all members of the family, not just parents and older siblings, contribute to children's development," said Sheri Madigan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Calgary, who co-authored the study. "The influence of younger siblings has been found during adolescence, but our study indicates that this process may begin much earlier than previously thought."

In addition, the researchers found it's not just older siblings who benefit from this empathic exchange. "Although it's assumed that older siblings and parents are the primary socializing influences on younger siblings' development (but not vice versa), we found that both younger and older siblings positively contributed to each other's empathy over time," said Marc Jambon, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, who co-led the study. "These findings stayed the same, even after taking into consideration each child's earlier levels of empathy and factors that siblings in a family share – such as parenting practices or the family's socioeconomic status – that could explain similarities between them."

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