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Study: Only Children Are More Creative

No siblings? No problem. Here’s what that means for your creativity.

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BY Betsy Mikel - 11 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Only children get a bad rap. But the lack of siblings isn't all that bad for kids. In fact, being an only child might make you more creative.

This conclusion comes from a study published in Brain Imaging and Behavior. Researchers wanted to know how family dynamics might affect brain development and personality.

When comparing only children and kids with siblings, researchers found some drastic differences.

Scoring high on the creativity scale

Researchers studied two groups of Chinese college students. (Keep this in mind. All participants were from a single country and attending college, making for a pretty homogenous sample size.) Half the participants were only children, and the other half grew up with siblings. Participants performed a series of activities to test their creativity, such as brainstorming creative uses for a cardboard box and making improvements to a toy. Researchers scanned their brains, too.

The only children scored higher on the creativity tests, but that's not all. Researchers also noticed something interesting in their brain scans. The sibling-less participants had more grey matter in certain areas of the brain that are associated with creativity. "The researchers speculated only children's apparent superior creativity may be related to the greater contact they'd had with their parents," Dr. Christian Jarrett, the editor of BPS Research Digest wrote, "and perhaps their parents' having heightened expectations for them."

But only children aren't so agreeable

The researchers also ranked participants' agreeableness. The only children didn't score so well on this personality trait. The only children ranked low in agreeability, meaning they were less concerned for others.

Once again, the brain scans backed up this finding. The students who grew up without siblings had less grey matter in their prefrontal cortex; that's the part of the brain associated with social behavior, among other personality development traits.

Researchers Junyi Yang and Xin Hou concluded that family size can play an important role in personality development and brain structure. Do you agree with the results of this study? As an only child, do you find yourself to be more creative that your peers with siblings?