By Arnav Pabby, Demi Van Deursen, Emily Dean and Erynn Lau, Grade 10, Dover Campus
The following is a piece of student work submitted to Community News.
Between siblings sometimes runs a white-hot streak of competition, a feeling to compare and contest. Always trying to one-up the other; to fight for parental approval. One sibling may be more achieving by conventional standards, but does this mean that their parents favour them? If so, what effect does this have on a relationship?
Psychologists have studied favouritism for decades, and, now more than ever, have a greater understanding of the brain’s role in favouritism.
The often unconscious choice of a favourite is caused by feelings of stress, activating the area of the brain known as the ‘amygdala’. While the amygdala is vital to the control of emotions, research has shown direct links to the development of bias and prejudice as a result of fear.
Research has shown that should a parent have a favourite, it can have lasting psychological effects on not only the neglected child but on the favoured one too.
Obvious effects on the neglected child are that they will constantly be trying to gain approval from their parents, making for a somewhat sadder childhood - sometimes this need for the parent’s approval may even carry on through adulthood. Some children even show a compulsive need to gain approval from other people of significance in their lives.
Furthermore, since they spend their whole lives trying and failing to get their parent’s approval, they may get the impression that, regardless of how hard they work, they will never get their desired outcome - making them more likely to back down from challenges.
On the other hand, the favourite child may benefit from a bolstered self-esteem and increased confidence. However, they may also find it hard to form intimate relationships since nobody will treat them as well as their parents did, making them more likely to be depressed.
Culture is one aspect which may affect favouritism. Different cultures are known to prefer different children, sometimes out of inept sexism. The most extreme example of this is Saudi Arabia, where women are simply not allowed the same rights as men, therefore the male children are obviously likely to be the favourites.
Another extreme example can be observed in China, where, during the one-child policy, there were cases of sex-selective abortion; parents wanted to have a son because it's believed they are more likely to be successful, and also they would carry forward the family name to future generations.
On the other hand, in Western culture, the idea of favouritism is more clean cut. Of course, a parent should love each child equally, however, having a favourite doesn’t mean you love one child than another, it just means you give one of them preferential treatment. Since the idea of favouritism is more widely discussed in Western culture, parents feel pressured to not have a favourite, however, this may make them in denial and guilty of having a favourite. Research also showed that in Western cultures, the personalities of the children had a large bearing on which one was the favourite.
Beyond culture, personality – that is, having a contrasting or similar personality to the child – also has a massive effect on relationships and feelings of favouritism. This isn’t surprising: parents who see more of themselves in their children know how to interact with them, and thus, the relationship feels comfortable. Just like with any other person, similar interests, pet peeves or personality quirks makes for a more understanding connection.
Essentially, if the personality clicks, relationships can be much closer.
However, similarities in personality aren’t always positive. Some studies showed that parents subconsciously projected worse feelings onto a child similar to them. These parents saw their own weaknesses reflected in their children’s behaviour, causing substantial discomfort and an almost subconscious shift in behaviour.
Even with this, personalities can change over time, and this doesn’t always equal favouritism. Although favouritism is natural, it doesn't always have to be considered bad.
Variety teaches us how to see from a different perspective, allowing us to grow and appreciate our differences.