The Only Child Syndrome: Do Siblings Hinder Creativity?

“Being an only child is a disease in itself,“ said Granville Stanley Hall, a pioneer in child psychology.

This is a common perception, or should we say misconception, not only among acquaintances of only children but among the scientific community as well. The only child has often been called an oddball and permanent misfit – descriptions that have trickled down from the 1896 study called Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children. Simply put, onlies are often misconstrued as the not-so-friendly type.


It is important to note that a number of studies have opposed this statement, suggesting no difference in sociability on account of the presence or absence of siblings.1

An Only Child Has More Time And Resources To Develop Intellect

Only Children Do Not Face Resource Dilution


Let’s bring to light the advantage of belonging to the singleton niche. Parents can focus all of their time and money for the development of one child without having to divide them among other children. Resource dilution or the sharing of parents’ resources does not exist if you are their only heir.

Because of this, kids with no siblings often show greater inclination to indulge in intellectual and artistic activities.2 They’re very comfortable with alone time, and even prefer it, giving them plenty of scope to explore their creative, thinking side.


Looking to delve deeper into understanding the impact of growing up with siblings, a research group in China conducted a study.

Perceptions About Only Children May Have A Neural Basis

 Only Children Have Different Brain Structures


A study was done to find out whether differences in intelligence, creativity, and personality traits between only children and those with siblings can be traced back to differences in brain structures.3 Yes, it can. Gray matter volumes in parts of the brain responsible for these qualities were different for singleton kids compared to those with siblings.

Only Children Are More Creative But Less Compliant

Only Children Are Less Compliant


The study was done on 250 university students. About half of them were an only child. Standard IQ, creativity, and personality tests were carried out.

In agreement with previous social assumptions and hypotheses, higher levels of flexibility (as a measure of creativity) and lower levels of agreeableness (as a dimension of personality type) were found in only children in comparison to those with siblings.


So, do siblings hinder creativity? According to this study, they possibly do.

Volumes Of Gray Matter In Only Children Are Different From Those With Siblings

In addition, brain scans were done on the test subjects to measure the volumes of gray matter in differrent parts of the brain. The absence of siblings did affect the parts of the brain responsible for creativity and agreeableness. Differences were seen in the following brain structures:

  • Supramarginal gyrus: Responsible for flexibility, imagination, and planning skills
  • Medial prefrontal cortex: Responsible for agreeableness and emotions
  • Parahippocampal gyrus: Responsible for emotions and moods

As is evident, the brain structures responsible for flexibility and agreeableness were affected.

The Caveat: The Study Focused On One Component Of Creativity

While the study suggests the influence of family size on the architecture of our brain, there are loopholes:

  • There are 3 components of the Torrance creativity tests. Only one of these tests was done in the study, namely the flexibility test.

The 3 components are: originality (how rare an idea is), flexibility (how many types of ideas are generated), and fluency (how many well-interpreted, relevant ideas are expressed). Originality is a more convincing indicator for creativity and outweighs flexibility. So, the conclusion about creativity in only children is not completely reliable.

  • Furthermore, the scores of a written test cannot accurately predict what a person is capable of doing in a real-life situation. The very essence of creativity is spontaneity and that is missing in an exhaustive list of questions.

That said, this study open doors for more comprehensive research on how siblings help mould our adult personalities.