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Education Science

Firstborn Get the Brains 467

Posted by Zonk
from the as-an-eldest-sibling-i-find-this-research-quite-accurate dept.
Dekortage writes "Eldest children have higher IQs than their siblings, according to a recent study by Norwegian researchers. The study focused on men, particularly 'on teasing out the biological effects of birth order from the effects of social status,' but indicates that the senior boy in a family (either by being firstborn, or if an elder brother died) has an average IQ two or three points higher than younger brothers. As noted in the New York Times coverage, 'Experts say it can be a tipping point for some people — the difference between a high B average and a low A, for instance... that could mean the difference between admission to an elite private college and a less exclusive public one.'"
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Firstborn Get the Brains

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  • 2 or 3 points? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ecklesweb (713901) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:25AM (#19607187)
    And what is the standard error on the particular IQ test they used?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JamesRose (1062530)
      They used the records of around 250 000 people, mmmmkay?

      The standard error pretty much disappears at that sort of number of participants.
      • Re:2 or 3 points? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mypalmike (454265) on Friday June 22, 2007 @09:22AM (#19607923) Homepage
        If you try to apply the results of the study to a specific situation, standard error certainly does come into play. For instance, if the error in an IQ test is 5 points, and my older brother gets 3 more points than I do on that test, you can't claim that the study predicted that particular spread.
        • Re:2 or 3 points? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Friday June 22, 2007 @09:59AM (#19608501) Homepage Journal
          What you're talking about is standard deviation, not standard error. SE = SD/sqrt(n), and given that in this case SD = 15 (by definition of IQ) and n = 241310, we have a standard error approaching 0.

          It's a little more complicated than that, of course, since the "n" here has to be applied to each group separately; for the sake of argument, let's assume the sample was equally divided between first-, second-, and third-borns, that means about 80000 in each group, which means the SE is about 0.053. This is plenty to detect the kind of differences they're talking about.
          • by einnar2000 (985070) on Friday June 22, 2007 @11:33AM (#19609877)

            ecklesweb : And what is the standard error on the particular IQ test they used?
            Second son.

            Daniel Dvorkin : What you're talking about is standard deviation, not standard error. SE = SD/sqrt(n), and given that in this case SD = 15 (by definition of IQ) and n = 241310, we have a standard error approaching 0. It's a little more complicated than that, of course, since the "n" here has to be applied to each group separately; for the sake of argument, let's assume the sample was equally divided between first-, second-, and third-borns, that means about 80000 in each group, which means the SE is about 0.053. This is plenty to detect the kind of differences they're talking about.
            First son.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Furry Ice (136126)
      Standard error for this test? That would be file descriptor 2.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by porcupine8 (816071)
      I can't believe you got modded Troll. Seriously, IQ tests have a margin of error of about 3 points or so, AND even a real, reliable difference of 1-3 points doesn't have any practical significance anyhow, you don't see practical differences until you get to around ten points, AND ones from the 60s were quite a bit worse than today's in terms of general usefulness. This study is meaningless.

      Besides, from everything I've read, if there's a difference due to birth order it's more on motivational factors, whi

  • by illeism (953119) * on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:25AM (#19607197)
    Zonk!!!! - "as-an-eldest-sibling-i-find-this-research-quite-a ccurate" - as the defender of little brother everywhere that's NOT NICE!!!

    ...the senior boy in a family... has an average IQ two or three points higher than younger brothers... Experts say it can be a tipping point for some people
    Well, that explains why I'm a network admin instead of the CIO.
    I also wonder if being a middle child has any effect on IQ...
    I wonder if I will get those extra IQ points if I eat his brains...
  • the teacher (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Speare (84249) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:26AM (#19607199) Homepage Journal
    It wouldn't surprise me, as the act of teaching while learning tends to reinforce the learning. The oldest kid, whether consciously or not, ends up demonstrating any new knowledge and capabilities to the younger kids in the family or neighborhood.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Vancorps (746090)

      A valid idea except for the fact that the older kid starts out ahead of the younger kid so the younger kid spends his/her energy catching up. Usually the younger kid has more time for such things.

      I also think it depends on the atmosphere and age difference. If the kid is 8 years older than the younger then the order probably makes no difference. An even more extreme circumstance is my cousin's girlfriend. She has a daughter who is 26 and 24 years later she had twins. I'm willing to bet the experience she g

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pato101 (851725)
      I agree.

      Also oldest kid is given more attention during first years and she will be more stimulated by her parents than younger siblings coming afterwards. When younger siblings born, parents are focussed in older son as well, so they not have all the resources (time) they "spent" on the first son.
      At least, this is my experience. With 3 children@home, I'm pretty run out of time lately...

    • I don't know if "reinforced learning" necessarily equates to higher IQ, but I think the experience itself stimulates the mind and forces it to grow in areas it would not otherwise. I think the mind itself will grow when it adapts to dispense information, not just absorb it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I suspect it has more to do with amount and type of parental attention. Having watched several of my friends raise their multiple children, I have noticed that parents(especially fathers) tend to spend more time teaching things to the eldest child than to succeeding children (although the oldest of either gender gets more attention, even if they aren't the firstborn). I am the youngest of a large family and by every measure the smartest of them (including my siblings own statements). However, there is a gap
    • "It wouldn't surprise me, as the act of teaching while learning tends to reinforce the learning. The oldest kid, whether consciously or not, ends up demonstrating any new knowledge and capabilities to the younger kids in the family or neighborhood."

      So THAT'S what my brother was doing? I though it was called fighting. I didn't know he was teaching me!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by coren2000 (788204)
        Thats because you didn't ask you ungrateful whelp.

        I think your older brother should give you some more schooling!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I remember learning in Psychology that the oldest child tends to have the highest IQ but the youngest child tends to have the next highest, indicating that it's the parents' time that's the major factor.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rolgar (556636)
      I would speculate that when the parents have just the oldest child, he gets all of the attention that they are willing to give to their children. With the next one, that attention has to be divided between teaching the youngest, and teaching the older one, keeping him out of trouble, dealing with him acting out because he no longer gets all the attention, etc. Basically, it could be that this study affirms that, intellectually, only children and first children have the advantage of the largest share of th
  • Who cares..? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 3p1ph4ny (835701)

    that could mean the difference between admission to an elite private college and a less exclusive public one.
    Who gives a shit? In most science/engineering fields, going to a public school for undergrad is the same education you get at an "elite" school, for $30,000 less in tuition.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ihlosi (895663)
      Clueless HR people definitely will. Even if it's just the criterium the decides between to otherwise equally suitable candidates.
    • by DrDitto (962751)
      Very true. Not many of the elite "Ivy League" schools are any good at engineering. There are obvious exceptions including MIT. But compare most to, say, a UC-Berkeley when it comes to Computer Science and Engineering.
    • by Bigby (659157)
      It looks like they used the opportunity to take a hit at public schools. Large public schools are far better than 99% of the private schools out there. Look at what the large public schools of the major athletic conferences do for the country and world. These are major research Universities, many of which are only outdone by MIT.
    • Re:Who cares..? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cowscows (103644) on Friday June 22, 2007 @10:10AM (#19608645) Journal
      For a large majority of the people and jobs out there, the name of your college will cease to really matter after you get your first real job. Education is great and all, but if you've got a couple years of decent work experience under your belt, where you went to school is only a minor footnote.

      It might make a bit more of a difference right out of school, where they employers don't have much else to go on. But in that case, your best bet is get a job through personal connections, relying on your school's name probably isn't your best bet.
  • Wow man (Score:5, Funny)

    by spellraiser (764337) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:26AM (#19607205) Journal

    Firstborn Get the Brains would be an awesome name for a zombie movie!

    (Pardon my stupid ramblings - I'm not an eldest son, you see)

  • How does the eldest sibling being a girl effect this?

    Sounds to me like this study is meaningless anyway. They focus on men from one country, an affluent country with little liklihood of malnutrician being a factor, and all at the same point in their lives, being during compulsary military service. That carries with it the further distorting factor that none of these men were disqualified for reasons of physical/psychological disability, and to be honest, if you're educationally sub normal, you ain't getting
  • IQ != Intelligence (Score:4, Informative)

    by h2oliu (38090) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:29AM (#19607255)
    In spite of what some would like to tell you, IQ is not a measurement of intelligence. It could be considered a measurement of knowledge and training. Admittedly those who are "More intelligent" in theory could learn better, but these things are so screwy that this is essentially meaningless.

    Maybe first born are just home bodies, and thus spend more time studying.
    • actually.... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      While I agree that often times an IQ test does not mean much with respect to a person's success in life, IQ tests are generally designed to test aptitude and ability to learn...NOT training and knowledge. Whether or not these tests successfully do this is a matter of debate, of course...but the intention IS to test aptitude not knowledge.
    • IQ is a measurement of intelligence, but not of total intelligence; it just measures a particular subset of it. I read something once where there are multiple areas of intelligence.

      I do think people with higher IQ can learn new material faster and easier, but the 2 to 3 points difference mentioned is insignificant on a individual basis.

      There is probably a significant "nurture" factor. First borns are an only child for awhile and get more attention. Once they do have siblings the environment can help stimula
    • by metlin (258108) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:53AM (#19607549) Journal
      I have a bone to pick with that statement.

      IQ may not be the *only* thing that corresponds to intelligence, but it definitely is an objective measure of some factors that we consider to be the hallmarks of an intelligent person.

      Now, there may be other measures and metrics (objective and subjective) that may correspond to intelligence - good language skills, good social skills, good game playing skills and so on. However, that does not necessarily mean that good quantitative and problem solving skills is also not a good measure.

      A quarterback who can gauge how the field looks at a given moment and decide upon a particular action is just as intelligent (in a different way) as someone who is excellent at arithmetic. Similarly, someone who has excellent social skills (i.e. read emotions) is just as intelligent as someone who has a prodigious memory. A marketing person is just as intelligent as a computer programmer in a different way, and a tennis player is just as intelligent as a musician, in a different way.

      But none of that means that IQ is *not* a measure of intelligence - it is. It just is not the *only* measure of intelligence.

      I think there is a difference. A subtle difference, that's for sure, but a difference nevertheless.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Chandon Seldon (43083)

        A quarterback who can gauge how the field looks at a given moment and decide upon a particular action is just as intelligent (in a different way) as someone who is excellent at arithmetic. Similarly, someone who has excellent social skills (i.e. read emotions) is just as intelligent as someone who has a prodigious memory. A marketing person is just as intelligent as a computer programmer in a different way, and a tennis player is just as intelligent as a musician, in a different way.

        "Intelligent" does actu

      • by Lord Ender (156273) on Friday June 22, 2007 @09:30AM (#19608041) Homepage
        It sounds like you think everyone is equally intelligent. That shows how smart you are.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by at_slashdot (674436)
        "A quarterback who can gauge how the field looks at a given moment and decide upon a particular action is just as intelligent (in a different way) as someone who is excellent at arithmetic."

        It would be interesting to see how well those quarterback qualities correlate with IQ scores, I would assume there's a good correlation...
  • by PrescriptionWarning (932687) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:30AM (#19607265)
    I can say that my older brother's high IQ is severely hampered by severe lack of common sense :P
  • Girls (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The Queen (56621) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:30AM (#19607267) Homepage
    I'd be more interested in seeing a study that not only includes girls, but breaks down as such:

    Family of only boys
    Family of both with boy as eldest
    Family of both with girl as eldest
    Family of only girls

    For my experience, I am the first born (girl) with one younger sister; I'm a graphics/web designer/computer geek and she's a scientist who works in a lab with dangerous chemicals. If there is a difference between us it's slight. I'd wager that would hold true for most girl siblings regardless of pecking order.
  • Due to the earth being warmer, people may be getting smaller brains over time.
  • by dmayle (200765) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:32AM (#19607299) Homepage Journal

    but... that can't be true, I'm not the first born in my family, and my older sister... frist post!!! GNAA!!! In Soviet Russia...

    Oh wait, ok, I guess I can kind of see their point...

  • by John3 (85454) <john3@NospAm.cornells.com> on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:32AM (#19607301) Homepage Journal
    Interesting study and the stats seem to back up their theory. However, the IQ difference is so subtle that I wonder how much difference it really makes. Does an IQ of 102 really provide that much of an advantage over someone with an IQ of 100?

    Based on personal experience raising two daughters, I'm sure that part of the reason the second child lose two points of IQ is that the parents just start getting tired. :) Your first child gets all your energy, and you try out interesting things, go to interesting places. The arrival of the second child means you now divide your time and energy and so the second child will tend to lose out. When the first child leaves the house the second child is nearly full grown anyway.

    I wonder if they looked at homes where the children were very far apart in age? Suppose one child was 10 when the second child was born. By that time the parents are comfortable with the progress of child #1 and might devote more time to child #2 than they would have if the children were only a year or two apart.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KokorHekkus (986906)
      Some facts in the article certainly could support your hypothesis that it might be down to less stimuli while young:

      The average IQ of first-born men was 103.2, they found.
      Second-born men averaged 101.2, but second-born men whose older sibling died in infancy scored 102.9.
      And for third-borns, the average was 100.0. But if both older siblings died young, the third-born score rose to 102.6.

      Another related thing I read about (some years ago) was about that truly bilingual (using both languages at home) yo

  • ... on their parents for at least nine months, and receive all the attention during that time. And for an infant, play/attention equals learning. All following kids will have to deal with parents who are already stressed out by their firstborn. ;)
  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:33AM (#19607319) Journal
    I wuz born sevunteenth you insensuhtive Claud!
  • Evolution? (Score:2, Funny)

    by rajats (891347)
    So isn't this theory anti-evolution? The younger children are less smarter than the oldest one.
  • by tylersoze (789256)
    A whole 2 or 3 points on a test that completely accurately gauges a person's intelligent and future success. Amazing! Take that kid brother, with your 131 IQ compared to my 133. Fucking retard! Have fun working a McDonalds while I complete my Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics!

    Well I guess now that study is complete they can move on to less important things like curing cancer.
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:40AM (#19607385) Homepage Journal
    better than public? Not really. For example, in CS you have places like UC Berkley, University of Maryland, University of Washington that are competitive with places like MIT and CMU. All those schools are public(though they might as well be private for students out of state, but I digress)

    A lot of people like denigrating public universities, but I don't really understand why. To be honest, they are some pretty bad public universities, but there are also bad private schools as well (Patriot University, Regent University etc)
  • by WarwickRyan (780794) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:41AM (#19607393)
    So you can probably tell that I'm a firstborn, otherwise I'd be 'doing' something interesting instead of posting on /.
  • ... to those us who are firstborn males. We knew it all along, but out of pity for our poor dumb siblings agreed to keep it between ourselves.

    Then again how do you explain this first-born male? [mindfully.org]
  • Data points (Score:5, Interesting)

    by garoo (203070) on Friday June 22, 2007 @08:46AM (#19607469)
    Just to commit a plural of anecdotes error:

    Einstein was the older sibling, as I think is Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler and Robert Oppenheimer - doing fine so far. On the other hand (and merely AFAIK), Blaise Pascal was the second son, Dirac was the second son, Niels Bohr was the second of three, Faraday appears to have been well into the plurals and Ernest Rutherford was the fourth-born child. Van de Graaff had three older brothers, all of whom were into football rather than physics.

    All of which may go to suggest only that seventh sons don't necessarily need to sell their scientific calculator and resign themselves to brainless toil quite yet.

  • George W Bush, eldest son of George H W Bush.

  • But did they take into consideration where the second born came along in a later marriage and raised alone? I was my mom's second-born and my dad's first-born. Out of my immediate family, I'm the only one who graduated from community college twice (General Ed in 1994 and Computer Programming in 2007), and working in the technology field. Everyone else is still working in the blue-collar field.
  • Ah, yes...another case of "how to distort the truth with statistics".

    Statistically, when you have a large number of individuals in your study (e.g., 250,000 is a huge number) you have a large amount of statistical power to detect minor differences.

    In this case, while they detected a significant difference in IQ scores (whether or not IQ scores measure actual intelligence is subject of a different post), the difference may not have any practical meaning - "2 or 3 points" on a scale that has a standar
  • Yes, I know, personnal examples are very weak proof...

    In my father's family (5 boys and two girls), only two kids went to high school: my oldest uncle and my dad, who is the youngest of the family but also the only one who went to an university. The thing is that he is 15 years younger than his youngest brother, so he was technically raised as an only child.

    I also see my two nephews (8 and 6), and it is clear that the youngest one is smart, but also lazy so he always try to have his brother help him (or, to
  • I am in the wrong line of work.

    I envy "researchers" who can come up with this sort of neo-darwinistic crap, rummage through some I.Q. scores and tell the world "If you aren't a first born son, forget about it."

    I can here the session at the bar now:

    RESEARCHER ONE: I never thought it would get published. Honest, it was just a joke.
    RESEARCHER TWO: You fool! We'll just have to play along with it or our careers are over.
    RESEARCHER ONE: I'll never underestimate the public's stupidity again. (sob)
  • Does this mean that China's one child policy is creating a race of Han superchildren? Unless, of course, you fail to have a son the first time, then you can try again.
  • I'm an identical twin, you insensitive clod!

    Well, I am the older, but only by 7 minutes...
  • As the second born, I'm obviously doomed. I guess I'd better hand back my PhD.
    Also, in the UK, a "Public School" is a very posh private school. State schools
    are where scum like me end up.
  • This particular type of study is old news -- on average "older children" have slightly more advanced problem solving skills than their younger siblings precisely because of birth order -- because the oldest child is taught their problem solving skills directly from an adult, no "just barely older but still a kid" filter in between. So they got one or two more questions right on a paper test that only measures certain kinds of problem solving ability and other skills not at all.

    I can't put my hands on the exact set of studies right now so this will only be anecdotal evidence, but there are examples of "quite young" siblings being quite brilliant compared to next older siblings precisely because there was just enough age difference between the youngster and an older (teenage plus) sibling that was close enough to an adult to provide direction in problem skills at a nearly adult level AND still be young enough and close enough to how a little kid thinks to teach those skills in a way that makes sense to littler kid at their lower developmental level.


    What I am really saying is that an article built around an averaging statistic like those quoted are useless news, not stuff that matters.

  • by natoochtoniket (763630) on Friday June 22, 2007 @09:25AM (#19607965)

    Clearly, the first born gets all of the parents attention for some period of time, before the second is born. The second gets only (roughly) half of the parents attention. I would be very surprised if parental attention at a young age does not have a large effect on the child. Giving one child twice as much parental attention as the other, for the first year or two of their respective lives, seems likely to give the one an advantage over the other. A small difference in communication or learning skills acquired during that first year might make the first born better able to learn other things later in life.

    The observation that first-born children score higher on standardized tests does not speak to the cause of that difference. A correlation does not imply a cause.

    Coincidently, I am the first-born of three. I have a Ph.D., the middle sibling has a masters, and the youngest has a bachelors.

  • by AeroIllini (726211) <aeroillini@@@gmail...com> on Friday June 22, 2007 @10:28AM (#19608903)
    I'm a firstborn zombie.

    Braaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiinnnnnssss....
  • by Green Light (32766) on Friday June 22, 2007 @11:09AM (#19609503) Journal
    Neither of my two older brothers are as smart as I am.
  • Biological? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rikkards (98006) on Friday June 22, 2007 @12:26PM (#19610633) Journal
    either by being firstborn, or if an elder brother died)
    Well then it isn't biological if the death of someone older occurs. It means that the parents paid more attention to the child. This isn't something new. My wife and I were looking into overseas adoption and the person we were talking to said that with infants you find about 1 month delay for every 3 months in an institution aka orphanage. She said that she saw this with both of her adopted children and the remarkable thing was that they did catch up at a remarkable rate once they were in their home. Almost like going from crawling to walking in mere days.

    I would be more interested in a study showing the learning rates between children with a parent who stays home compared to ones who are in daycare part-time, full-time and the sad cases where they spend majority of a 24 hour period in daycare cause mom and dad need a new Beemer.

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