Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

Living Edition
| Editors: Virgil Zeigler-Hill, Todd K. Shackelford

Personality and Familial Relationships

  • Jennifer Prewitt-FreilinoEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_711-1

The concept of family holds a multiplicity of meanings, ranging from shared genetic material, common ancestral heritage across generations, members of a household to relationships of mutual care and support that go beyond the scope of mere friendship. From a legal standpoint, family includes those bound by blood, marriage, or adoption. However, as demographers have noted, contemporary conceptualizations of family often extend beyond these narrow confines to include those individuals in one’s life that provide the social functions of family (e.g., financial interdependence, emotional support, co-parenting; Tillman and Nam 2008). Psychologists have long explored the role that families play in shaping the psychological characteristics of children (from genetic contributions, the role caregivers play in creating lasting templates for later social interaction, to the impact of socialization and social learning mechanisms within the home). In addition, psychologists have begun the explore how shifts in family dynamics (e.g., the birth of a child, the divorce of parents) can influence the way individual family members think, feel, and behave. Thus, familial relationships play a pivotal role in shaping stable patterns of individual’s behavior.

Below, I give an overview of the various ways parents influence their children’s individual characteristics across the lifespan, then I move on to the ways children can reciprocally influence parents, and finally how larger issues of family dynamics affect specific family members.

Parents’ Influence on Children’s Personality

Genetic, Shared, and Non-shared Genetic Influences on Personality

Although debate exists about the relative contributions of nature versus nurture, few dispute that parents contribute significantly to the personalities of children, whether from genetics, socialization practices, demographic influences, or an interplay of these influences. In terms of genetic contributions, heritability studies of the Big 5 personality traits conducted on monozygotic (MZ) versus dizygotic (DZ) twins suggest between 40% and 60% heritability across the different traits (Bouchard and McGue 2003; Jang et al. 1996; Vernon et al. 2008). Similarly, other indicators of personality, from the General Personality Factor (GFP; van der Linden et al. 2018) to the “Big 3” of the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire (MPQ; Bouchard and McGue 2003) demonstrate heritability estimates that are similar to that for the Big 5. Indeed, Bouchard and McGue (2003) found that across the five major domains of individual differences (cognitive abilities, personality, social attitudes, psychological interest, and psychopathology), substantial evidence supports moderate to strong genetic influences. Moreover, recent research has found specific genomic variants that map onto neuroticism and openness, indicating a direct genetic pathway for heritability of some personality traits (Power and Pluess 2015). Further, recent theorizing has substantiated the evolutionary fitness of genetically inherited personality traits as “individual reaction norms with environment-contingent fitness consequences” (Penke et al. 2007). Thus, it appears clear that one’s genetic relationship to family members contributes fairly substantially to one’s personality and stable characteristics, and emerging literature is highlighting the genomic mechanisms and evolutionary theory to explain why genetic transmission of specific individual differences in personality might be adaptive.

Although genetic studies have traditionally focused on the heritability of particular traits in an attempt to explain variance in personality indicators, they often also attempt to parcel out the influence of shared and non-shared environmental influences. Evidence from twin studies have traditionally shown nonexistent effects for the shared environment on individual differences (Bouchard and McGue 2003; Briley and Tucker-Drob 2017), leading some to go so far as to indicate that parents have almost no influence on children beyond genetic influences (Harris 1995). However, researchers who have highlighted the potential for contrast effects in heritability study methodology (i.e., the extent to which self and informant reports might be influenced by a tendency to see twins as more divergent than they in fact are because they are being judged relative to each other rather than some objective standard) demonstrate that using observation methodologies can increase the apparent impact of shared environmental influence (Borkenau et al. 2001). Indeed, Borkenau et al. (2001) found that although heritability and non-shared environmental factors accounted for more of the variance in personality (at 40% and 35% respectively), shared environmental factors accounted for 25% of the variance of the Big 5 personality traits, except extraversion, which showed little influence from shared environment.

Research on the dynamic effects of genes versus environment across the lifespan on individual differences suggest that personality factors and indicators of cognitive abilities have quite divergent trajectories over the lifespan (Briley and Tucker-Drob 2017). According to Briley and Tucker-Drob’s (2017) overview, genetic influences on personality slowly wane over the course of adulthood, whereas the effect of non-shared environmental influences gradually rise, and the authors suggest no effect of shared environment. In contrast, for cognitive abilities, the substantial influence of shared environmental factors plummet as individuals pass through adolescence into adulthood, with an inverse effect for genetic influences. Thus, their work suggests that personality and individual differences are the effect of a unique interplay of genetic, non-shared, and (to a limited extent) shared environmental influences that shift over the course of one’s life.

In sum, much research on personality suggests that parents exert substantial influence on their offspring’s personality via genetic heritability of specific traits (Bouchard and McGue 2003). There is less evidence from heritability studies to suggest that shared environment plays a role personality traits (Borkenau et al. 2001), however, that may be an artifact of the methodological use of self and informant reports that could underestimate the similarity in behavior among DZ twins (Borkenau et al. 2001). Finally, there is evidence that non-shared environmental influences play a role in shaping personality and perhaps these influences start to outpace genetic influences on personality over the course of one’s life, and that this pattern is quite different than the increasing influence of genetics on cognitive ability (Briley and Tucker-Drob 2017). Thus, the heritability literature paints a rather bleak picture of the influence of parents on their children’s personality, suggesting that beyond their genetic contributions, parents have very little influence on their children’s personality or other individual differences (Cohen 1999; Harris 1998), Indeed, according to Harris (1998), beyond genetics, parents’ greatest influence might be in helping select the peer groups that will shape their child’s behavior. However, many have noted that the lack of shared environmental influences do not signal that parents are not important influencers of children’s behavior but that parental behavior is often dynamic and responsive to children’s distinct personalities, characteristics, needs, and abilities (see Vandell 2000). Thus, the following sections review the literature on parenting styles and attachment.

Parenting Styles

Classic work on parenting style highlights the ways in which routine styles of parenting may shape children’s behavior systematically (Baumrind 1967, 1971). Indeed, Baumrind’s work highlighted the extent to which parents who exhibited a high level of demandingness and responsiveness (i.e., authoritative parents) had children who were more competent and less likely to use drugs (Baumrind 1991). Despite this early work that hinted at a unidirectional path from parenting style to children’s outcomes, more recent work has shifted dramatically. Rather than conceptualizing parents as unidirectional influencers of their children’s behavior, contemporary developmental investigations of the relationship of parental characteristics, parenting styles or behaviors, and children’s temperament, personality, and behaviors have largely highlighted the dynamic, interactive, and multidirectional nature of parent child relationships (Slagt et al. 2016; Vandell 2000). Although research demonstrates that parenting style plays a small role in children’s achievement and internalizing behavior (Pinquart 2016, 2017), most research suggests that both parents’ and children’s behavior emerge in a complex network of interactions between the innate characteristics of each individual as well as in the social relationships between parent and child.

If parenting styles play a role in the dynamic relationship between parents and children, it is worth exploring how parents come to enact certain patterns of behaviors in rearing their children. Research demonstrates a direct relationship between parents’ personality and their parenting styles and behaviors (Huver et al. 2010), including how parental personality can influence the use of differential parenting (treating one child more positively or negatively than other children) (Browne et al. 2012). Indeed, in the case of children’s behavioral problems, research confirms not only that parental personality predicts parenting behaviors but that parenting behaviors mediate the relationship between parental personality and children’s problem behavior (Oliver et al. 2009; van Aken et al. 2007). For example, parents who are more conscientious found it easier to set limits on their children’s behavior and this in turn predicted lower levels of externalizing behavior problems (Oliver et al. 2009).

Beyond how parent’s characteristic shape family dynamics, research suggests that both parental personality and children’s temperament impact the emergence of particular patterns of behavior in parent child interactions (Wilson and Durbin 2012), and children’s temperament may in some situations moderate the relationship between parental personality and parenting behaviors and quality (Coplan et al. 2009; Laxman et al. 2013). For example, Coplan et al. (2009) found that mothers who were high in neuroticism were only more likely to be overprotective when their children were shy. Further, a child’s temperament can influence their sensitivity to parenting behaviors, as infants with difficult temperaments appear more susceptible to negative parenting, but also benefit more from positive parenting (Slagt et al. 2016). It appears that children thrive when parents recognize and support their individual differences, as research on strength-based parenting suggests that parenting that recognizes and celebrates a child’s unique personality, talents, abilities, and skills can positively impact academic achievement via increases in the child’s perseverance (L. E. Waters et al. 2018).

Attachment Styles

Beyond the developmental literature on parenting styles, attachment theorists have long speculated that infant-caregiver relationships produce lasting impacts on children’s development (Ainsworth et al. 1974), and these parent-child relationships create a template for children’s understanding of the self and others (Bowlby 1969). More specifically, Bowlby (1969) theorized that infants seek a sense of safety and security from proximity and closeness to a primary attachment figure. Building on Bowlby’s theorizing, Ainsworth developed the Strange Situation test that enabled the classification of children as having a secure, insecure avoidant, or insecure resistant (anxious-ambivalent) style of interaction when their caregiver left and then returned (Ainsworth et al. 1978).

Beyond the foundational bonds of infant and caregiver, attachment research has explored the way in which the templates formed early in life may guide relationship relevant behavior later in life, including romantic relationships (Hazan and Shaver 1987). Measures of adult attachment have moved beyond the three styles originally identified by Ainsworth et al. (1978) to recognize that attachment varies along two continua, from high versus low attachment-related anxiety and high versus low attachment-related avoidance (Brennan et al. 1998). Not surprisingly, research has also revealed functionally similar dimensions for infant attachment as well (Fraley and Spieker 2003). A meta-analysis tracking five decades of work on the connection of early attachment relationships to socioemotional development revealed that attachment appeared to play a larger role than temperament in indices of developmental adaptation (or maladaptation) and this persisted through early adolescence (Groh et al. 2017). Thus, as a construct, attachment, whether in infancy to adulthood, appears to be a robust construct with implications for how individuals form close bonds with others.

If attachment styles form early in relation to caregiver-infant bonds, forming templates for later relationships, then one would want evidence of stability across time. Results from retrospective studies suggest that securely attached adults recall more positive relationships with family and caregivers in early life (Feeney and Noller 1990; Hazan and Shaver 1987). However, stronger support comes from longitudinal work. In a 20-year longitudinal study, 72% of young adults received the same classification as either secure or insecure as they had in the strange situation as infants (E. Waters et al. 2000), demonstrating relative stability across time. Waters et al. (2000) noted that those who had experienced a relationship relevant negative life event (i.e., loss of parent, parental divorce, life-threatening illness of parent or child, parental psychiatric disorder, or physical or sexual abuse by a family member) were more likely to have changed their attachment style than those who had not. Further, it appears that attachment styles remain relatively stable across adolescence, as a 5-year longitudinal study found support for a prototype dynamic of development (rather than a revisionist dynamic), suggesting that early attachment experiences shape a latent factor that includes “nonlinguistic representations, procedural rules of information processing, behavioral strategies, and physiological regulatory processes that emerged within early interactions with attachment figures” (Jones et al. 2018); p. 872).

The support for a prototype dynamic of attachment indicates that early life experiences are consequential in guiding attachment later in life, highlighting the importance of early caregiver child relationships. Thus, it is important to understand the role that parenting behaviors play in the development of children’s attachment. Indeed, observed parental behavior is predictive of later observations of infant attachment (Ensink et al. 2016), and observational work confirms a link for parenting behavior and child attachment in preschoolers as well (Dexter et al. 2013). However, rather than being a simple direct link, much of this work highlights the ways in which existing characteristics of either the child or caregiver impact this relationship. For example, an index of infants’ vagal tone modified the relationship between their mothers’ negative parenting behaviors at 6 months and children’s attachment assessed during the strange situation 6 months later (Holochwost et al. 2014). Moreover, for mothers with a history of childhood trauma, the ability to reflect more objectively about their own childhood and attachment experiences led to less negative parenting, and in turn, less negative parenting predicted more secure and organized infant attachment 10 months later (Ensink et al. 2016). Thus, the attachment relationship that children form with their parents emerges from a complex dynamic of stable characteristics of each member of the dyad, as well as the enacted behaviors of the caregiver. However, twin studies confirm that attachment appears to emerge primarily from shared and non-shared environmental influences, rather than any roots in genetics, suggesting that the environment is key to the development of attachment to the caregiver (Roisman and Fraley 2008). Further, there is some evidence that interventions can improve maternal sensitivity and attachment security in caregiver-infant relationships (Mountain et al. 2017), highlighting that rather than a product of existing stable person factors, purposeful changing of the infant caregiver dynamic can bring increased infant security in attachment relationships.

In sum, parents have significant influence on their children’s personality and characteristic behaviors. This influence is often heavily genetic in nature but also emerges from responsive parenting and the development of attachment relationships to their children. It is clear that both parents and children enter the parent-child dyadic interaction with preexisting characteristics that shape the way the interaction unfolds, and thus personality and stable individual differences in children represent a complex array of influences from their parents, both inherited and developed through sustained contact with caregivers. In the next section, we turn to the ways in which children shape their parents.

Children’s Influence on Their Parents

The transition to parenthood is a momentous event in an individual’s life, and this transition impacts new parents in profound ways. Sadly, new parents often experience decreases in personal happiness (Clark et al. 2008) as well as declines in relationship satisfaction with their partner following the birth of a child (Doss et al. 2009). Despite high marital satisfaction during pregnancy, women, in particular, showed dramatic drops in marital satisfaction following the birth of their first child and this pattern of decline continued gradually over the following years and subsequent births (van Scheppingen et al. 2018). Indeed, men and women experience changes in well-being differently across different domains of life, with women experiencing greater shifts in their work and leisure satisfaction and men showing marked decreases in their life satisfaction (Bernardi et al. 2017). In part, drops in marital satisfaction following the birth of a child may center around the expectances versus reality of shifting childcare and household responsibilities (Hackel and Ruble 1992). Indeed, divergent contributions alone did not predict declines in marital satisfaction, as the effects of childcare contribution on marital satisfaction appear to be moderated by gender, with high level of relationship dissatisfaction among women who contributed little and men who contribute heavily to childcare tasks (Fillo et al. 2015).

In addition to these indices of well-being, parents’ attitudes, behaviors, and aspects of the self-system may shift during the transition to parenthood, and these changes may be quite different for men and women. For example, across the transition from pregnancy to 6 months post-partum, women experienced nonlinear drops in self-control, whereas men did not (Scheppingen et al. 2018). With regard to self-esteem, women may have a momentary increase in self-esteem following the birth of a child (van Scheppingen et al. 2018); however, after the first 6 months, mothers’ self-esteem declines gradually over the years following the birth of a child (Bleidorn et al. 2016; van Scheppingen et al. 2018), and this decline in self-esteem appears to be more pronounced in mothers than fathers (Bleidorn et al. 2016). Additionally, mothers demonstrate a shift toward values of conservation, as opposed to openness to change, and mothers reported a similar assessment of father’s shift in values, but this pattern was not seen in fathers’ self-report of their own values (Lönnqvist et al. 2018). The differential impact of having a child may stem in part from the adoption of more traditional gender role attitudes and behaviors following the birth of a child among both mothers and fathers, with these shifts being more pronounced for women and during the birth of a first child (Katz-Wise et al. 2010). Thus, men and women’s responses may diverge following the birth of a child because their actual behaviors and ideologies about the proper role for men and women within the context of relationships shift.

Within the political science literature, considerable evidence supports a shift in political attitudes and ideologies following the birth of a child. For example, parents tend to hold more conservative views on issues of drug enforcement and greater support for police and military than non-parents (Goodyear-Grant and Bittner 2017; Greenlee 2010). Although motherhood may have a liberalizing effect on political attitudes related to government’s role in job creation, spending, healthcare, and social welfare programs, fatherhood appear associated with more conservative views in these areas (Elder and Greene 2006, 2012; Goodyear-Grant and Bittner 2017). Thus, becoming a parent may codify an adherence to gender roles that stress a mother’s role as nurturing and a father’s need to provide security. However, a growing body of research highlights that beyond mere parenthood, the gender of a child can impact parent’s attitudes and behavior. Even before the birth of a child, Pogrebna et al. (2017) demonstrated that once parents learn their baby is female, they became more risk averse than before learning the sex of their baby, whereas those carrying male babies showed very little risk aversion at any point. Indeed, cross-nationally, having a daughter is associated with more liberal partisanship while having a son is associated with support for more conservative parties (Oswald and Powdthavee 2010), and in Canada, parents with female children have much stronger feminist views than those with male children (Warner 1991). Even in looking at behavior, for male Members of Congress each additional female child is associated with a more liberal voting record, particularly with respect to reproductive rights (Washington 2008), and judges who have daughters vote in a more “feminist fashion on gender issues” compared to those with only sons (Glynn and Sen 2015, p. 37). Thus, having children, and the gender of those children, appears linked to particular political ideologies and behavior.

Despite the evidence that parenthood can impact attitudes, behaviors, and assessments of the self, there is little evidence that becoming a parent dramatically changes one’s personality (Galdiolo and Roskam 2014; Neyer and Asendorpf 2001; van Scheppingen et al. 2016). When changes in personality over transition to parenthood did emerge, there was little consistency in findings across studies. For example, studies have found that the transition to parenthood increases emotionality (Jokela et al. 2009), decreases conscientiousness (Specht et al. 2011), and decreases extraversion for father, but not for mothers (Galdiolo and Roskam 2014). In terms of predicting likelihood of becoming a parent, individuals high in extraversion and low in openness, as well as women who are high in conscientiousness appear more likely to become parents (van Scheppingen et al. 2016). Moreover, the dynamic interaction of parents’ personality can impact the transition to parenthood, as having one partner high in neuroticism and the other low in agreeableness led to poor adjustment in the transition to parenthood (Marshall et al. 2015). Thus, personality may be more likely to predict aspects of parenthood than be impacted by parenthood.

Finally, across disciplines, social scientists have begun to note the various ways that children have come to shape their parents. For example, rather than an exclusive top down process from parent to child, transmission of cultural knowledge and practice is often bi-directional, with children reciprocally influencing their parents (Lobet and Cavalcante 2014). From language learning (Morales and Hanson 2005) to computer skills (Sharma 2016), children aid acquisition of relevant cultural knowledge and skills. The tendency for children to shape their parents attitudes has been particularly documented among immigrant families, in which children operate as both literal and figurative translators for parents, thus leaving them uniquely positioned to participate in a process of “reverse socialization” (Bloemraad 2006; Bloemraad and Trost 2008; García-Castañon n.d.; Portes and Rumbaut 2001). The field of psychology could benefit from future investigation into the ways in which children may reciprocally influence their parents’ attitudes and behavior.

Family Dynamics Effect on Family Members

As noted above, the dynamic of becoming a parent influences several aspects of parent’s attitudes, behavior, and sense of self (if not personality). However, other dynamics exist in family relationships that can influence individual family members. In this section, I explore how marriage, divorce, and partner relationship quality impact family members, and finally turn to sibling relationships and birth order effects.

Relationship Quality, Marriage, and Divorce

It seems clear from work on well-being that, around the world, people who are married are happier than those who are not (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005; Mastekaasa 1994), and especially in more collectivistic cultures, satisfying romantic relationships contribute meaningfully to subjective well-being (Galinha et al. 2016; Galinha et al. 2013). However, marriage itself does not create lasting increases in life or relationship satisfaction, and divorce only creates a temporary drop in well-being (Luhmann et al. 2012). Thus, links between marriage and subjective well-being may be more apt to suggest that happier people are more likely to get married than marriage making people happy (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005).

Beyond well-being, the transition in life of forming a meaningful long-term partnership appears consequential to personality as well, with individuals who move from single status to partnership demonstrating increased conscientiousness, extraversion, and self-esteem, while their neuroticism and shyness decreased (Neyer and Asendorpf 2001). As Neyer and Asendorpf (2001) explain, their longitudinal study demonstrated that beginning a partnership was associated with individuals becoming “more integrated, adjusted, and healthy” (p. 1200). Indeed, the tendency for individuals’ personality to become more “mature” (i.e., more agreeable, more conscientious, and less neurotic) as they age appears tied to social roles in a given society, as cross cultural investigations demonstrate that cultures where people transition into adult roles (e.g., work, marriage, parenthood) earlier experience these personality changes earlier (Bleidorn et al. 2013). Marriage itself may shift the dynamics of personality, as in one 18 month longitudinal study, newlywed spouses became less agreeable, husbands became less extraverted but more conscientious, and wives became less open and neurotic (Lavner et al. 2018).

In addition to relationships impacting personality, personality may in fact predict relationship trajectory and dynamics. For example, people who are stayed single throughout an 8-year longitudinal study demonstrated higher levels of neuroticism and shyness as well as lower levels of self-esteem, conscientiousness, and extraversion (Neyer and Lehnart 2007). People who are higher in neuroticism and lower in agreeableness and conscientiousness are more likely to get divorced (Roberts et al. 2007), which may be unsurprising given that agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability all contribute meaningfully to family investment (Lodi-Smith and Roberts 2007). Beyond relationship transitions, personality has been shown to correlate with relationship satisfaction (Malouff et al. 2010) as well as marital infidelity (Altgelt et al. 2018). Thus, personality plays an important role in guiding the trajectory of romantic relationships.

Beyond the impact on individuals within the romantic relationship, the dynamics of romantic relationships can have an impact on other family members, specifically children. For example, investigations on the impact of marital relationship quality’s impact on parent’s relationship with their children demonstrated support for the spillover (as compared to compensatory) hypothesis, suggesting that negative relationship quality among parents leads to more negative parent child relationships (Erel and Burman 1995). Further, parent’s relationship satisfaction was positively related to sibling closeness and communication in young adults (Milevsky 2018). Meta-analyses on the impact of divorce on children confirm that divorce has a negative impact on children across many domains (e.g., academic achievement, conduct, relationships with mother/father, psychological adjustment) (Amato and Keith 1991; Reifman et al. 2001). However, mean effect sizes for these impacts are weaker for more methodologically sophisticated studies, and testing of various theories suggests family conflict, as opposed to parental loss or economic explanations, account for the negative impact of divorce on children (Amato and Keith 1991). Thus, not surprisingly, research confirms the impact of parental relationships on the outcomes of children.

Sibling Relationships and Birth Order

In an attempt to reconcile decades of research on birth order, historical accounts of science, and evolutionary theory, Sulloway (1996) proposed that whereas first born children conform to existing norms and expectations, later born children are more likely to rebel. A review of birth order research by Ernst and Angst (1983) highlights the inconsistency of birth order effects, and although the studies may provide some very weak support for birth order’s relationship to the Big Five (Sulloway 1995), these results are far from demonstrating clear and consistent support for the premise that certain characteristics are evolutionary conditioned on the basis of birth order (Jefferson et al. 1998). Indeed, large-scale studies investigating linkages between birth order and personality highlight that for both the Big 5 (Damian and Roberts 2015) as well as more narrow traits (Rohrer et al. 2017), birth order effects are negligible or nonexistent. Harris (2000) suggests that birth order has little systematic link with personality because differences in personality may be context specific, and siblings may only display behavior in the family context.

Beyond mere birth order effects, investigations on sibling relationship quality highlight that positive relationships with siblings can have benefits later in life. For example, having low levels of sibling hostility predicted lesser depressive symptoms 7 years later (Finan et al. 2018), and sibling relationships in early life predicted depression in mid adulthood better than relationships with parents (Waldinger et al. 2007). Moreover, a study in adolescent development found that perceptions of more positive sibling relationships were predictive of later increases in self-esteem and better friendships, along with less loneliness, depression, and substance use (Yeh and Lempers 2004). In terms of siblings influence on conduct, a 3 year cross-lagged model suggested that indeed sibling relationship quality influenced individual conduct, and individual conduct played a role in sibling relationship quality (Pike and Oliver 2017). Substantiating this work, a meta-analysis confirmed that more sibling warmth, less conflict, and less differential treatment lead to decreased internalizing and externalizing behaviors (Buist et al. 2013).

In terms of how siblings factor into identity and personality development, research investigating the developmental trajectories of personality in friendship and sibling dyads, found that developmental changes in personality of one member was completely independent of the other for both friends and siblings (Borghuis et al. 2017). However, research on the formation of identity (exploration and commitment) found that older siblings serve as models for younger siblings identity formation process (Wong et al. 2010). However, rather than sibling relationship quality impacting identity processes as predicted, a five wave longitudinal study demonstrated that individual identity predicted sibling relationship, but not the other way around (Crocetti et al. 2017).

In sum, the dynamics of sibling relationships, from birth order to sibling relationship quality, appear to have limited impact on identity development, but the quality of relationships predicts later conduct and externalizing behavior. Thus, whether one has a sibling may be less important that the quality of one’s relationships.


In reviewing a range of literature, families emerge as an important influencer of individual personality. Perhaps most prominently, genetic influences play an outsized role in shaping personality. However, rather than a construct that remains stable across the lifespan, important life transitions, including entering into a long-term partnership, can impact personality, and in turn, personality traits predict tendencies toward certain life transitions. Although parenting practices and sibling dynamics may be less influential in shaping personality than once thought, the quality of family relationships can have enduring impacts on individuals’ characteristic behavior and identity. Finally, more research is needed to better understand how children potentially shape their parents and how sibling relationships shape identity formation, as there is little existing literature in these areas.



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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rhode Island School of DesignProvidenceUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Virgil Zeigler-Hill
    • 1
  1. 1.Oakland UniversityRochesterUSA