The Similarity of Siblings' Attachments to Their Mother

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Abstract

Do siblings develop similar attachment relationships with their mother? Attachment theory suggests that brothers and sisters growing up in the same family are likely to relate in similar ways to their parents, at least when parental attachment representations and interactive styles remain stable across time. In the current study, sibling attachment data from three research groups (from Pennsylvania State University, Leiden University, and the University of Western Ontario) have been pooled to assemble a sufficiently large sample of observations (N= 138 sibling pairs) for a detailed comparison of sibling attachment relationships. Spacing between the births, differences in maternal sensitivity, and gender of siblings were examined as possible sources of concordance of nonconcordance. Attachment security (including disorganized attachment) of each sibling was assessed with the Strange Situation procedure between 12 and 14 months after birth. Maternal sensitivity was observed with the same rating scale in a laboratory play session in one of the studies and in home observations in the others. Sibling relationships were found to be significantly concordant when classified as secure/nonsecure (62% concordance, p < .01, 1-tailed, intraclass correlation = .23) but not when further subcategorized. Maternal insensitivity to both siblings (shared environment) was associated with concordance of sibling nonsecurity. Siblings of the same gender were more likely to form concordant relationships with their mother (68%; p < .01, 1-tailed, intraclass correlation = .37) than those of opposite gender. Same-sex sibling concordance was comparable to the concordance found for monozygotic twins in earlier studies. Genetic factors may, therefore, play a relatively small role in the development of attachment.

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