It’s All Relative

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 27 2014 @ 11:47am


How are you related to all those supposed cousins of yours, anyway? Nathan Yau created the above chart to have you covered at family gatherings:

Here’s how it works. Figure out the common ancestor between two relatives. Then select the relationship of the first relative to the common ancestor in the top row. Move down to the row that corresponds to the relationship of the second person to the common ancestor. The result is the relationship of the second person to the first.

For example, say the first person is the grandchild of the common ancestor, and the second person is a great-grandchild. Therefore, the second person is the first cousin once removed from the first.

Meanwhile, Jessica Goldstein recently investigated how closer familial connections play out during the holidays. She talked to Frank Sulloway, author of Born to Rebelabout how birth order affects family dynamics into adulthood:

“The biological fact that you’re first, second, or third, it doesn’t have any causal influence. What’s causal is, if you are first, you’re bigger, older, stronger, and you have certain privileges you don’t have when you’re younger,” he said.

Time for more fun with stereotypes:

“If firstborns act more, within the family context, as the surrogate parent, not only are they viewed stereotypically as more responsible and harder working — what we’d call conscientious — but they actually are behaving that way with reference to their siblings and the family environment. And also within the family, typically, younger siblings are rated as being more agreeable, which basically means, more cooperative, kindly, less aggressive, less bossy.” If you’re an older sibling, with size and power on your side, “if you want something, in theory you can just take it, and sometimes older siblings just do. And if you’re younger, you have to be more careful about how you behave with a bigger person. You tend to be cooperative, like, ‘I’ll give you this if you give me that.’”

But here’s the funny thing about those differences — and, I think, why family gatherings seem to exacerbate these variances in personality: these differences are much larger within the family context than they are outside of it. … Sulloway has a very Hunger Games-y explanation for this phenomenon. “I like to think of it as, in childhood we develop a little Darwinian toolkit of strategies for dealing with our siblings and basically getting out of childhood alive. … But we don’t go around in adulthood taking stuff out of that toolkit all the time. If you did all the stuff to your friends that you do to siblings, you’d have no friends. So it makes sense that there’s a muting of effects but a continuity of effects.”