Sibling Communication

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 9 January 2017

Sibling Communication

Did you know that about 80% of individuals that have siblings spend at least one third of their life with their sibling or siblings? (Myers, page 309) That is a significant amount of time to spend with someone. Our group wanted to research how siblings communicate and how gender or age can affect this communication. As researchers, we felt that this topic was important to study because so much of our lives are spent with another. We wanted to look at a number of different areas; first, we wanted to know if same sex sibling dyads communicated more than opposite gender siblings. We also wanted to know if siblings with at least one female in the relationship affect communication, if conflict is based on gender, and if age affects all of these types of communication. The purpose of our study is to examine exactly how different siblings communicate and how they handle conflict.

Literature Review

Communication is a skill that starts development from the day a person is born. Our interactions with those around us, and how they interact help us to develop our own unique styles of communication. Children are easily influenced by the people in their live and often times their closest relationships have the biggest impact on their actions. That being said, one of the most prominent relationships a child may have is with a sibling. An older sibling may help a younger sibling learn how to speak, and interact with others the same age, which at the same time is helping an older sibling learn how to communicate their thoughts and feelings. The sibling relationship starts young, and usually last an entire lifetime.

There are few other relationships that develop and grow for this amount of time. We have decided to explore this amazing relationship, and test exactly what makes these relationships similar or different from family to family. We are specifically going to look at the gender within sibling relationships, to see how this affects the development of communication. By comparing same sex female, same sex male, and opposite sex siblings we hope to see some patterns relating to gender.


Our research is focusing on the communication in sibling relationships. First, we should explain what we are referring to when discussing communication. Communication is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.” (Hacker, 2011) When we explore communication between siblings we will be including phone conversations, emails, texts, letters, face-to-face meetings, and any other forms that include the exchange of information between the siblings. In addition to communication, we will also focus some of our research on conflict in communication. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines conflict as “mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands.” (Hacker, 2011)

We will include arguments, physical fights, jealousy, and anger towards each other in our conflict research. Throughout the following discussion the concept of a ‘sibling dyad’ should be known as the relationship between two specific siblings and does not include other family members. One of the aspects of sibling relationships depends upon their self-disclosure with one another. Scott A Myers defines self-disclosure as “any information about a person that is communicated verbally to another person about past events, current feelings and attitudes, and future plans.” (Myers, 1998, p311) This characteristic in sibling relationships is important because it indicates ones feelings of trust in another.

Similarities Among Previous Studies:

In previous studies, self-disclosure, contact, and relationship maintenance have been especially noticed in sister-sister dyads. Craig Fowler, an assistant professor in Communications at California State University, combines these sister-sister relationship characteristics into the ‘principle of femaleness,’ which is defined as, “pairs of sisters would enjoy the closest sibling bond and brother-brother pairs the least closest bonds.” (Fowler, 2009, p54) This is important to our research because it examines the communication style in a particular sibling relationship. Research done by the Journal of Marriage & Family has also shown that this principle stands true, however they believe that it is in any sibling dyad that has a female. As an alternative to the principle of femaleness, Fowler describes the ‘principle of sex commonality,’ which “…suggests that communication in same gender sibling dyads would be more driven by relational motives (i.e. pleasure, affection, inclusion, and relaxation) than communication in mix gender dyads.” (Fowler, 2009, p55)

In other words, this principle is stating that the “closest dyads are those where both parties are the same gender.“ (Fowler, 2009, p55) This is also beneficial to our research because we can test validity of these theories through our investigation. Another theme that has been explored is the concept of older siblings as “orientational others” Kuhn defines this as “people to whom subjects are committed emotionally and psychologically, who provide subjects with a concept of self, and who influence a subject’s self-definition through communication. (Widmer, 1997, p1) Basically this is saying that people who have close relationships are often influential to the other person and how they communicate. In siblings, this could mean that how an older sibling acts will influence what a younger sibling thinks is acceptable.

We can use this in our research to help explain why siblings may be influencing how the other acts and feels. Conflict in sibling relationships has also been explored in terms of communication. Of the major relationships children have, conflict occurs most commonly with siblings. This is thought to be related to the fact that one sibling is often trying to assert their authority over the other (usually older over younger). This conflict is believed to be more prominent during adolescence when siblings are trying to develop themselves as a person. This leads to the younger sibling trying to “rebel” against this assumed authority. (Campione-Barr, 2010, p464) This is important to our research because conflict is a large part of how siblings communicate. By exploring this aspect of communication specifically, and then relating it back to gender, we may be able to find an important correlation.

There have been numerous studies that focus on how communication is affected by the number of siblings in each household. Although our studies are looking at one dyad, this information is helpful for us to reference. Because the information is present in more than one study, we can assume that these results are a trend and may assist us during our research. For example, a study performed by the Journal of Psychology found that “individuals who live with three or more siblings expect themselves to attain higher grades than those who have no siblings, one sibling, or two siblings…” (Rocca, 2010, p209) These results tell us that individuals in larger sibling dyads hold higher expectations for themselves due to the comparison and competition among the dyads. As previously stated, the basic concept of this study was different from ours; however, the results help us to draw an assumption about verbal ability among sibling dyads.

There have also been a number of studies performed that analyze sibling communication and it’s association with conflict. The results generally report that disclosure behaviors contribute to relational closeness, but also largely contribute to conflict among the same relationships, “sibling trust is associated with communication behaviors such as verbal aggressiveness and teasing.” (Meyers, 1998, p311) This trend reveals instances where negative communication plays a positive role in sibling relationships.

This trend will be important for us to reference during our surveying because many sibling dyads will report some sort of conflict in their relationships. However, because of this trend, we can prove that the conflict actually does play a significant role in sibling communication. According to Rocca, “siblings who actively participate in proactive responses to a conflict situation may promote numerous relational themes… and may result in the use of reciprocal, conforming communication behaviors between siblings.” (Rocca, 2010, p274) This alternative trend will also be important for us to reference during our surveying because it reports that conflict may help to improve sibling communication.

Differences Among Previous Studies:

For our research we found several differences when comparing our articles. First, we noticed that out of the eight articles, two of them focused on pair siblings, four of the articles focused on numerous siblings, and the last two focused on numerous siblings but the participants were required to pick only one of their siblings for the research. The two articles that focused on pair siblings came from the articles “Who Said You Would Wear My Sweater” and “Gender Differences in Adult Sibling Relations in Two-Child Families.” “Who Said You Could Wear My Sweater” looked at young pair-sibling conflicts and how that was associated with the quality of the relationship (Campione-Barr, 2010, p464). “Gender Differences in Adult Sibling Relations in Two-Child Families” examined closeness, contact, and help among pair siblings to see how that related to the gender of the siblings (Spitze, 2006, p977). The other six articles focused their research off of families with numerous siblings. However, “Motives for Sibling Communication Across the Lifespan” and “Siblings’ Motives for Talking to Each other” allowed participants to have numerous siblings, but they were required to only pick one of them for the questions they had to answer about them.

Another difference we found within our research was from two articles talking about how the gender may or may not determine how close the siblings are. According to the Spitze and Trent findings, they use the “principle of femaleness” and say that “the more women in a relationship, the closer the pair will be…pairs of sisters would enjoy the closest sibling bond, and brother-brother pairs the least close relationship” (Spitze, 2006, p54). In this article they say that female siblings share and hold a relationship more closely than that of a brother-to-brother relationship. In “Gender Differences in Adult Sibling Relations in Two-Child Families” they do agree that sister-sister siblings are closer than brother-brother siblings but the difference from this article to the Spitze article is that they say that it doesn’t have to be just sister-sister, if a family has a sister with brothers, they can be close because of that female characteristic.

One last difference we noticed was that all of the articles focused on different age groups. Two articles, “Gender Differences in Adult Sibling Relations in Two-Child Families” and “Siblings’ Motives for Talking to Each Other” focused their research on adult sibling relationships. The articles, “Who Said You Could Wear My Sweater” and Influence of Older Siblings on Initiation of Sexual Intercourse” focused their research on young, adolescent siblings. The last four articles focused their research on a range of ages; they didn’t necessarily focus their findings on adult vs. adolescent like the others did.

Methods previously used:

There have been many studies done by researchers that have focused on interaction between siblings and how they interact with one and another. One of the methods consisted of recruiting participants at a university in California. Participants had to be at least 18 years old and have at least one sibling. The average age of participants was 41 years old, 68% of the participants were women, and 37% were men. Of these subjects 18.3% reported were brothers reporting about brothers, 32.2% were sister reporting about sisters, 18.3% were brothers reporting about sisters, and 30.2% were sister reporting about brother. Siblings completed measurements communication, motives, and satisfaction with their sibling based on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being not at all 5 being exactly. (Fowler, 2009, p55)

Another method was from students enrolled in a senior- level communication course at a large mid-western university. Participating in this study was required for the class, and each student had to recruit 12 people to voluntarily complete a set of anonymous questionnaires and have at least one sibling. There were a total of 360 questionnaires that included 150 men and 210 women with an age range of 17 to 44 years old. The questions on the questionnaire were “used to measure the closeness of two people based on the interpersonal solidarity scale, individualized trust scale, revised self-disclosure scale and the interpersonal communication satisfaction inventory scale.” (Myers, 1998, p312-313)

Another method that was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family did a national data study that came from NSFH, which was a national probability sample of 13,007 respondents aged 19 years and older. The participants were first interviewed and then one adult per household was selected randomly for participation in the survey. The NSFH conducted the research in a community with rich data source on diverse family experiences, they took the data from the first wave of interviews and compared them to the survey to compare relationship of full siblings to the closeness they had when they were growing up compared to their relationship after they moved away from one another. (Spitze, 2006)

In a different study participants were recruited from Northeastern U.S. suburban school district. Letters describing the study were sent to parents of 7th and 10th grade students. The parents mailed back a response sheet if they were interested in the study. The study was to measure sibling pairs half of the students at each grade participated with older siblings and the other half participated with younger siblings. The pairs were divided into three cohorts. The preadolescent-early adolescent cohort, which were 7th graders and their younger siblings. Early- middle adolescent consisted of some 7th graders that were the oldest sibling and some that were the youngest, and then middle late adolescent, which consisted of 10th graders with older siblings. This was to measure sibling conflict based on a group of questions that the parents had to answer about their kids and how they handled sibling conflict. (Campione-Barr, 2010, p465-466)

Research Questions:

• Do same sex dyads communicate more than opposite sex dyads? • Which dyad type reports more conflict in comparison to age? • Is communication type affected by dyad type? (i.e.. email, F2F, socialmedia) • Is conflict type affected by gender?


Our team decided to look at sibling relationships and how they differ from family to family. We were interested in learning how gender in sibling dyads affects how they communicate. We specifically looked at a few areas and came up with a set of questions relating to sibling communication. We were trying to find out if same sex dyads communicate more than opposite gender dyads and if having at least one female in the dyad affects communication levels. We were also interested in which dyad type reports more conflict and at what age this conflict is prevalent. Our hypothesis was that having at least one female in a dyad would result in more frequent communication and that conflict would be different between different sex dyads. After our research we found that gender does affect conflict types and also how siblings communicate with one another. However, we could only compare gender to who initiated the communication and not the gender of the dyad.


Participant recruitment was performed completely online. A FaceBook event was created and each researcher had the ability to invite all of their friends to the event. Within this event, the participants could read about the study, agree to the consent, and follow the link to the final survey. The event was also made ‘public’, which means that any user that was connected to someone that was attending could view the event and ultimately take the survey. Because our survey was created in Qualtrics, participants were able to complete it online and on their own time. This program also collected data for us. Professor Leigh Maxwell was able to pull up results and provide our research group with the number of completed surveys and the results. All of the results were transcribed by Qualtrics before they were given out in order for our group to gather all of this information was anonymously.

Qualtrics was very valuable to our research, as this was our only method of research. We were able to prompt Qualtrics to compare/contrast the results of one question to others without limitation. This information helped us easily retain important information that was collected and relate results back to our original literature review and research questions. We requested the results in three different ‘comparison’ groups. The first group analyzed was “participant gender versus sibling gender versus the interaction that best describes sibling relationship.” The second group was “participant gender versus sibling gender versus who initiates communication.” Finally, the last group we requested was “participant gender versus sibling gender versus communication types.”


After distributing our surveys we ended up with a total of 208 participants. Out of the all participants, 82% of them were in the age range of 18-25, 12% of them were age range 26-35, 4% of participants were in the age range of 36-45, and 3% of participants were in the age range of 46 and up. When looking at the gender of our participants, there was a significant difference in the amount of females and males that participated; 76% of the participants were females, while only 24% of the participants were males.

After asking for participant demographics, we wanted to collect information about their sibling. The first question we asked our participants was “what is the gender of your sibling.” Participants were asked to answer questions based on one sibling. If the participant had more than one sibling, they were asked to pick just one when answering all of the questions. Our results were split almost evenly; 48% of participants answered these questions based on a male sibling and 52% answered these questions based on a female sibling.

For the next question we wanted to see if their sibling was older or younger than them. Out of 208 participants, one person did not answer this question. 54% of participants reported that their sibling was older than themselves, while 46% reported their sibling was younger than themselves. After asking if the participant’s sibling was older or younger, we asked what the age difference was between themselves and their sibling. Out of 208 participants, 206 answered this question. The highest age difference was 3-4 years at 39%, 33% of participants had a difference of 1-2 years, 15% had a difference of 5-6 years, and finally, 13% of participants reported 7 or more years.

We then wanted to know about the health and mental stability of the participant’s siblings. To find this information, we included a question that inquired about the mental and physical health of participant siblings. All participants answered this question. 98% of participants answered yes, while 2% of participants answered “no.” If participants stated that their sibling was not of stable health, they were required to explain why. All five participants who answered with “no,” responded with answers such as eating disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, drug abuse, and arthritis.

The next question we asked had to do with how close participants lived to their sibling. All 208 participants answered this question. The option picked the most was “living in the same state” at 42%. The next highest option picked most was “living in the same city” at 25%. The next option, “living in different states” was close at 21%. The option “living in the same house” had 12% and the option “living in different country” was nearly 0% with only one of our participants choosing this option.

After asking questions about their siblings we wanted to see how often our participants communicated via different mediums. For the first medium we chose “talking on the phone,” all participants responded and the highest amount, which was 72 participants, chose the answer 1-2 times a month. The lowest amount, which was 3 participants, chose the answer “multiple times a day.” The next medium was texting. 206 of the 208 total participants responded. 66 participants chose the option “once per week,” which was the highest. The lowest was “once per year” with 10 participants choosing this option. The next communication medium was “face to face;” 205 of the 208 total participants responded. The highest chosen option was “one to two times per month” with 80 participants choosing this option. The lowest was “multiple time a day” with 4 participants choosing this option. The next medium was e-mail; 207 of the 208 total participants responded. The most participants answered that they emailed “once or less per year.” There was one participant that stated that they communication with their sibling via email everyday.

The next medium was social networking; 205 of the 208 answered this. The most participants stated that they networked with their sibling “1-2 times per month” with 71 participants choosing this option. Six participants stated that they networked with their sibling “multiple times a day,” which was the lowest response. The last medium we provided as an option for communication was Skype; 204 of the 208 answered this question. A significant amount of participants reported that they Skyped with their sibling “once or less per year,” with 164 of 208 participants choosing this option. There were no participants that reported that they Skyped with their siblings on a daily basis or more. We also provided participants the choice of a “other” medium. 26 of the 208 participants responded to this option. Of the 26 responses, 25 participants chose “once or less per year” but gave no specification as to what medium they were referring to. The other response chose the option “2-5 times per year” but also gave no specification as to what medium they were referring to.

The next question we asked was who initiates communication between the two of them. All 208 participants responded to this question. 71% of participants chose the option “equal initiation” while 7% participants said that their sibling did and 23% said that they initiated communication most.

For the next question, we wanted to know about conflict between the participant and their sibling. We asked, “At what age was conflict most prevalent in your sibling relationship?” 207 of the 208 total participants responded to this question. Results were scattered throughout all of the provided options. 35% of the participants, which was the largest amount, reported that ages 14-16 were most prevalent for conflict. However, not far behind this number, 33% of participants stated that ages 11-13 were most prevalent for conflict, 16% of participants chose ages 0-10, 10% chose ages 17-21, 4% reported ages 22-35, and 36 finally only 2% of participants reported that conflict was most prevalent during ages 36 and above.

Next, we asked what type of interaction bests describes the conflict during the age they indicated above (when was conflict most prevalent). All of the 208 participants answered this question. The highest, by a lot, was “verbal argument” with 64% (134 participants), choosing this option. 12% of participants chose “devious behavior”, 11% chose “ignoring one another,” 10% chose “physical arguments.” 7 participants chose the option “other” and then explained. Their answered included things such as, “didn’t really know each other at that age,” “sassy and selfish,” and two people said “all of the above choices.”

The next question the survey asked was, “On average, how often did conflict occur?” Out of all participants, 207 participated in this question. The option chosen by most participants was “a couple time per week,” which was 37% of the total participants; 35% of participants stated that they had conflict “a couple times per month,” 15% of participants chose the option “a few times a year,” 9% chose “every day,” and 4% chose “we never had any conflict.”

The last question we asked was, “who usually instigated the conflict?” Out of all 208 participants, 206 participated in this question. The question that got the highest amount of participants was “equal instigation” with 132 people choosing this option. 46 participants chose that their sibling instigated the conflict and 28 participants chose the option that they started the conflict themselves.

Interpreting Data

When interpreting results we cross-tabulated three different parts on our survey. The first group we cross-tabulated was “participant gender versus sibling gender versus what interaction best describes conflict.” Our results revealed that “verbal arguments” were the highest response chosen by participants. Out of all participants 136 chose this. Of these 136 participants, 108 were female.

The second group we cross-tabulated was “participant gender versus sibling gender versus who initiates communication.” Our results showed that both females and males had equal initiation for interacting with one another; Of 208 participants, 148 of them responded with equal initiation. 49 participants reported that they, themselves, initiated the communication. Of these responses, 44 of the participants were female. Only 14 participants chose “your sibling” as the initiator of conflict, and these responses were females and males.

The final group of our results we cross-tabulated was “participant gender versus sibling gender versus communication types.” A higher number of participants used texting as their most common means of communication. Siblings who talk every other day or more use texting as a means of communication, while siblings who communicate once a week or less were more likely to talk on the phone or face to face.

Research Questions

When we first started our research we had five research questions. As our research went on and we made changes to our survey, some research questions could no longer be answered. After completing our study and reviewing results we are able to answer two of our research questions. The first question we could answer was, “is communication type affected by gender?” We found out that males are less likely to talk on the phone as often as female. So, our results demonstrated that females prefer to talk on the phone more than males. We also found that males are less likely to Skype than females. Finally, we could answer the question, “is conflict type affected by gender?”

We found that males with male siblings have physical arguments more than females. Verbal arguments, ignoring each other, and devious behavior between males and females and their siblings were pretty even (all within 10% of each other). For the research question that asked, “what dyad type reports more conflict in comparison to age” if we cross-tabulated age with conflict we would be able to answer this but we were unable to cross tabulate at this point. We couldn’t answer the other two research questions we had because there was no way for us to know which participants had which gendered siblings. We had numbers but no way of telling who was paired with who.

Our Result Similarities with Our Literature Review

In our literature review we stated that conflict would be an important part to our research because it plays such a large role in sibling dyads. By exploring the conflict among different genders, we were able to find a correlation. When participants were asked what interaction best describes their conflicts, 50%-60% of males and females stated that verbal arguments were most prominent in their sibling dyad. This result is similar to a study referenced in our literature review performed by Meyers. His results generally reported that disclosure behaviors contribute to relational closeness, but also largely contribute to conflict among the same relationships, “sibling trust is associated with communication behaviors such as verbal aggressiveness and teasing.” (Meyers, 1998, p311) After comparing these specific results from both of the studies, it can be concluded that verbal arguments are prominent in both male and female sibling dyads. The literature review also references “the principle of femaleness.” According to Spitze and Trent, this principle is stating that female siblings hold a closer relationship than that of a brother-to-brother relationship. There is not a doubt that our results convey this principle, as well. When participants were asked which sibling initiated communication, 71% of females reported equal initiation. Of this percentage, over half of the relationships were sister-to-sister.


When looking at our researches there were some limitations. Some limitations to our research would be when we distributed the surveys via Facebook. People who were not our friends would not be able to partake in the study because they would not have access to our survey. Another limitation to our study was if you didn’t have siblings, you couldn’t take the survey. Our survey was strictly about sibling interaction; therefore participants without siblings could not take the survey.

Further Research

When thinking about the future, if we had more time for research we would do a couple things differently. One thing we would do in the future is to ensure that there is an option for twins. We had a couple of people say they couldn’t take it because there wasn’t an option for a sibling being the same age as them. Another thing we would have done was put an option for a sibling that has passed away. Multiple people said they couldn’t take it because there wasn’t an option or anything that would let them state that their sibling wasn’t still living. Another thing we would do with the survey would be to ask the question, “is your sibling the same sex or opposite sex?”

This would make reading our results much easier with cross tabulating multiple items. One last thing we would take into consideration with further research would be on the topic of mental/physical health. In the beginning of the survey we would say something along the lines of, “if your sibling has mental/serious physical health issues, you should not participate in this survey.” When looking at our results now, if a person has serious mental or health issues we don’t really want to use that data because this could have changed the results largely. One last thing for further research would be to make sure that all participants read the consent form. We had multiple people say “you didn’t have an option if you had multiple siblings.” This shows that the person may not have read the consent form properly. If they had read it thoroughly they would know that if they had more than one sibling, just to pick one.


With this research we were searching for a better understanding of sibling communication in regards to conflict, gender, frequency, and media choice. Through this, we looked at types of communication such as verbal, non verbal, and technological (email, text etc.) After this was done, we compared communication types and participant demographics. Our objective with this research was to better understand the communication differences in sister-sister/brother-brother/brother-sister relationships. Overall, our research on the topic has shown that there are patterns among the dyads. Because we are all members of sibling dyads, we felt this research was important to analyze because so much of our lives are spent with our siblings. In retrospect, we feel that our research has helped us better understand the role of communication in the relationships among dyads.


Campione-Barr, N., & Smetana, J.G. (2010). “Who Said You Could Wear My Sweater?” Adolescent Siblings’ Conflicts and Associations with Relationship Quality. Child Development, 81(2), 464-471. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database. Fowler, C. (2009). Motives for Sibling Communication Across the Lifespan. Communication Quarterly, 57(1), 51-66. doi:10.1080/01463370802662499

Hacker. 2011. In Retrieved May 8, 2011, from

Myers, S. A. (1998). Sibling Communication Satisfaction as a Function of Interpersonal Solidarity, Individualized Trust, and Self-Disclosure. Communication Research Reports, 15(3), 309-317. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

Myers, Scott A., and Ronda L. Knox. (1998) Percieved Sibling use of Functional Communication Skills. Communication Research Reports 15, n.p. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

Rocca, K. A., Martin, M. M., & Dunleavy, K. (2010). Sibling’s motives for talking to each other. Journal of Psychology, 144(2) 205-219. Retrieved from
Academic Search Complete database.

Spitze, G., & Trent, K. (2006). Gender Differences in Adult Sibling Relations in Two-Child Families. Journal Of Marriage & Family, 68(4), 977-992. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.

Widmer, E. D. (1997). Influence of Older Siblings on Initiation of Sexual Intercourse. Journal Of Marriage & Family, 59(4), 928-938. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 9 January 2017

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