Robert N. Bostrom

Department of Communication

University of Kentucky

Lexington, Kentucky 40506-0045

(606) 257-7800


J. Mark Prather

Department of Communication

Knoxville College

Knoxville, Tennessee

Nancy Grant Harrington

Department of Communication

University of Kentucky

Lexington, Kentucky 40506-0045

(606) 257-3676




While many individual characteristics of communicative behavior have been studied intensively in recent years, little is known of their etiology and internal dynamics. We tend to classify communication characteristics as personality "traits" in place rather than examining some of the possible causes of such traits. Birth order is one possible cause that seems to be importantly related to general tendencies to communicate. Early studies of birth order implicated feelings of power, locus of control, and affiliative tendency. In this study, birth order was shown to have important effects on the communicative characteristics of an individual. Specifically implicated are argumentativeness, talkativeness, and apprehension.

Birth Order and Communicative Behavior

People exhibit tremendous variety in frequency, types, and duration of communicative behavior --- some talk too much, others too little, and still others not at all. Explaining these tendencies is a challenge for most theorists. The general characteristics that make one person "approach" communicative situations and another "avoid" them are not completely understood (Giles & Street, 1994; Zorn, 1992).

Most of us agree with Anderson (1989) that human behavior is caused by "regularities" in biology, culture, personality, relationships, or cognitions. "Talking" is most often thought of as a "personality" variable, and as such shares the general assumption that there are important behavior patterns that differentiate among types of persons, and which are relatively well formed at an early age (Burger, 1990). Some contemporary accounts of personality differences depend more heavily on physiological factors, but most still rely on a view that individuals differ from one another in relatively consistent ways (Straube & Oades, 1992). Giles and Street (1994) list a number of "traditional" communicator "characteristics" that are thought to influence communicative behavior, including self-monitoring, extroversion, dominance, Machiavellianism, reticence, anxiety, cognitive complexity, field dependence, and need for affiliation.(1) They also list socio-demographic factors like gender, age, socio-economic status, culture, and others. Some of the "characteristics" are easier to classify as personality "traits," (such as extroversion) and others seem more like "variables" (such as self-monitoring).

Almost all definitions of personality rest on specific social "acts," and no one act is typically considered to be a sufficient indicator of any given personality by itself. In other words, any personality trait consists of a number of indicators. This "multiple act criterion" has been fruitfully applied to communicative behavior by Hewes and Haight (1980). They demonstrated that multiple act assessment is both intuitively and statistically desirable. In other words, we should try to find as many of the "acts" (or traits) that explain behavior as we possibly can.

There could be many traits associated with quantitative differences in communication behavior, but the most intensely studied has been "apprehension,." exploring the hypothesis that apprehension inhibits the amount of talking. The classification of apprehension as a part of personality is basically the one advanced by Daly (1978), stating that since personality underlies social behavior and "apprehension" is associated with avoidance of communication, apprehension or its absence can be thought of as a personality factor. More recently, Zorn (1992) defined "motivation to communicate" in the same way --- as a particular trait that might be invoked to explain differences in communicative behavior.

The general idea that personality factors determine behavior patterns is well established in the theoretical community, but runs dangerously close to circularity. If a personality "trait" is defined as a collection of behaviors, then it is unreasonable to say the trait caused the behaviors. The key is the assessment process. Bandura (1986) defends the notion that quite often it makes as much sense to say that behavior causes personality.(2)

Social behaviorists would generally assert that approach/avoidance types of human behavior result from reinforcement, that is, responses and rewards. Simple reinforcement (Bostrom, 1962; Verplanck, 1955) has been shown to have a strong influence on the frequency of communicative acts. Advocates of reinforcement, such as Mehrabian and Ksionzky (1974), contend that rewards and punishments can account for all significant social behavior. But a moment's reflection brings many other factors to mind, such as gender and power (Eakins & Eakins, 1978). The nature of these "other" influences is of great theoretical and practical importance.

Many researchers are examining more fundamental causes of behavior. One such group studies "behavioral genetics" --- looking at behavioral patterns that may have been inherited as part of our neurological systems. Many communication activities, such as nonverbal responses seem to fit in this category (Capella, 1991). The renewed interest in "social Darwinism" (Logan, 1995) has prompted reexamination of many of the more "basic" influences on human behavior. An emphasis on "automaticity" (Capella, 1991; Donohew, Nair, & Finn, 1987) stresses that many times behavior --- even communicative behavior--is not preceded by conscious, "planned" cognitive activity.

One important factor that may well help explain differential tendencies to communicate is the kind of communicative environment each of us experienced at a very early age. This environment is drastically affected by the position of siblings relative to one another --- in other words, birth order. A person born first interacts with parents primarily, and the second and third borns face an entirely different situation. If these different environments produce fundamental differences in communicative interactions, we might wish to take them into account when attempting to explain communicative activities.

General Effects of Birth Order

Birth order has been a popular subject in the study of individual differences, and has generated a good deal of research. Most of it has been confusing and contradictory, but only recently has some order emerged from the chaos. Frank Sulloway (1996), in investigating the characteristics that led scientists to accept or reject new ideas, discovered that birth order was strongly implicated in the process of acceptance and rejection. This led him to a careful investigation of birth order in the general population, and he discovered that few researchers had examined birth order as it interacted with family size. He conducted a metanalysis using data for family size when it was available, and discovered strong interactions between birth order and the number of siblings in the family. Sulloway's investigations have awakened new interest in birth order and its possible interactions with other social behavior.

Early Research in Birth Order. In 1927, Alfred Adler proposed that one of the "entrance gates to mental life" is the sibling relationship a child has experienced. Adler's interest resulted in birth order becoming a serious consideration in individual psychology (Orgler, 1973). Adler believed the child's ordinal position altered the situation in which the child develops, which in turn affected the behavior and perceptual patterns of children. According to Adler (1927), "We see therefore that the very position of the child in the family may lend shape and color to all the instincts, tropisms, faculties and the like, which he [sic] brings with him into the world" (p. 156). Adler believed that the first child is showered with joy and admiration by the parents and grandparents. Every action and growth behavior is heartily encouraged--that is, until "dethronement" occurs.

Adler's hypothesis goes on to state that when the second child is born, the center of attention is shifted; the eldest child is no longer the apple of the parent's eye --- the first child is "dethroned." The oldest child suffers through feelings of personal tragedy over this loss and may spend the rest of his or her life trying to regain this loss of power. The second child is never the exclusive center of attention, however. He or she is always behind in level of development and achievement to the first born and therefore either competes or gives up in frustration. The relative victories (determined by parental attention) between these two will always affect their personalities (Orgler, 1973).

Dethronement feelings for later children are felt as more children enter the family but not as dramatically as when the first rival appears. The birth of the last born child is also seen by Adler to be unique. Never having to suffer dethronement, the youngest is often pampered both by the parents and the other children. Adler believed that the youngest children are best capable of achieving extreme success in life if they feel confident within themselves or extreme failure if they feel helpless without constant support (see Adler, 1927; Orgler, 1973).

Adler's account, like so many other entertaining narratives, is interesting, but does not fit very well with the results of careful observation. Many subsequent investigations have concluded that birth order has been overrated as a possible antecedent for personality of development. The investigations of birth order and "affiliative" tendencies is typical of the way this variable has been studied.

Birth Order and Affiliation. Stanley Schacter (1959) was one of the first to suggest that birth order could be a possible determinant of a "need to affiliate." In a now classic experiment, he created a situation where individuals were told that they were going to be tested to assess their "pain thresholds." Then respondents heard a series of shrieks from the next room, and were led to believe that the noise was the result of the test that they were about to take. Some simply left. Schacter was satisfied that those remaining were indeed anxious, or at least fearful. He then observed affiliative behavior of these anxious persons and found that first borns and only children were more likely to affiliate with others. Schacter (1959) and Elms (1972) suggested that this greater need to affiliate when fearful stemmed from the high levels of comfort parents give to first borns and only children when they are hurt or frightened. Later born children, they reasoned, are given less attention and therefore do not rely on other people for sources of comfort. Schacter (1959) also cited supporting evidence that, as adults, first borns are more likely to get help from psychologists and psychotherapists and later borns are more likely to turn to alcohol abuse.

Ernst and Angst's (1983) review of the direct replications of Schacter's experiment cited three studies that supported the idea that first borns are more likely to exhibit affiliative behavior during feelings of anxiety (Darley & Aronson, 1966; Gerard & Rabbie, 1961; Zimbardo & Formica, 1963). Other studies, however, failed to support Schacter's conclusions (Barthell, 1971; Haywood, 1969; MacDonald, 1970).

Related Affiliation Measures. This line of research focused on affiliative tendencies, but other psychological characteristics related to affiliation were suspected to mediate the effect. In a test of empathy, Stotland, Sherman, and Shaver (1971) suggested that first borns model themselves after their parents and later borns are more sibling oriented. Later borns are, therefore, apt to be more flexible in their interaction with others and able to empathize with peers more easily than first borns. Eysenck and Cookson (1969) used the Eysenck Personality Inventory to test 4,000 British children for extroversion and found that birth order was independent of extroversion. McGurk and Lewis (1972) reported that second born children studied in an experimental setting were more likely to seek help and attention from adults.

Studies using paper and pencil studies of affiliation have yielded mixed results. Dember (1964) used the TAT need-affiliation scale (Heyns, Veroff, & Atkinson, 1958) and found that first borns had higher scores than later borns. Conners (1963) used the same scale and found the opposite, however. Questionnaire and experimental research by Mehrabian and Ksionsky (1974) found significant relationships between birth order and affiliation. Contrary to expectations from Schacter's (1959) results, the later-born expressed a more intimate attitude than the first born by assuming a position of closer physical proximity --- among the first born, females reported being more prone to talk to strangers than the males. Thus, the sparse results obtained for birth order were quite disappointing and yielded two effects which did not help clarify the already contradictory evidence relating birth order to affiliation. These confusing results led Mehrabian and Ksionsky (1974) to conclude that birth order has been given "undue emphasis in affiliation research" (p. 145).

Birth Order and The Acceptance of New Ideas. Frank Sulloway (1996) was struck by the tendency of some scientists to resist a new idea. He noted that when Darwin presented the first outlines of a theory of evolution, many noted scientists rejected the hypothesis out of hand. After investigating many other characteristics of scientists, he found that birth order was one of the most dramatic predictors. First borns simply did not accept new ideas, and later borns did. These differences were not simple ones, depending on socio-economic status and other factors. However, the effects were strong ones.

These strong differences led Sulloway to investigate previous research on birth order in the general population. He conducted a careful interactive metaanalysis examining the effects of birth order in previous studies. He noted that most previous research has failed to test the interactions among birth order, family size, and other chacteristics such as socio-economic status (1996, pp. 70-76). His analysis used the data of Ernst and Angst (1983), and found effects due to birth order on five different personality variables: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, and Extroversion. Sulloway insists that birth order effects are strong ones and previous researchers have simply been looking in the wrong places. His work has attracted the attention of a wide variety of researchers, including the "behavioral geneticists" (Logan, 1995).

Birth Order and Communication. Communicative activity may well be one variable overlooked by traditional studies of birth order. In many earlier studies, affiliative tendency was defined in terms of communicative behavior, not in expressions of affiliation. For example, in Schacter's studies, those who talked to others were classified as seeking affiliation.(Mehrabian and Ksionzky, 1974; Schacter, 1959). Indeed, when one reviews the studies of birth order and affiliation, one finds stronger evidence for an association if "affiliation" is defined in communicative terms. Schacter's assumption that communicative behavior indicated affiliation is not necessarily correct. But the relationship he observed between birth order and communicative tendencies is as interesting as any of the "personality" variables. However, no systematic study has given us any of the details about how such a relationship might occur.

It is clear, both from Schacter's research, and several subsequent studies, that birth order and communication are related to one another in some fashion. In Schacter's studies, first borns talked more. While it is true that this talking occurred during stress, it was still a strong difference. The description of that behavior as "affiliative" caused subsequent researchers to explore personality and other affiliation measures, to little effect. It is quite possible that there are other reasons why the first borns tended to talk more, and some of them may be grounded in explanations relating to talk, not affiliation. Some of these may be peripherally related to other personality factors, but individual characteristics more specifically related to communication would seem to be a better place to look. In Schacter's (1959) study, individuals experienced heightened anxiety before the differentials in communicative behavior appeared. Whether the difference in talking was due to the anxiety alone or whether a fundamental relationship exists between birth order and communication would seem to be extremely important. If such a relationship exists, it might exhibit itself in a number of communicative characteristics. Sulloway's research, however, indicates that other factors may well interact with such effect. Two of the most important may be locus of control and self-esteem. For example, it seems highly unlikely that someone who has a negative self-image would be inclined to control the flow of conversation.

"Locus of control" (Rotter, 1966) is a characteristic which would seem to be implicated in communicative behavior. Rotter's scale measures the extent to which individuals perceive themselves as having control over their environments. Persons with an internal locus of control consider themselves to have power over the events in their lives, and to be responsible for any rewards or failures they experience. Those with an external locus of control believe that they are at the mercy of forces outside themselves, that any effort on their part to control events is pointless. A large body of research exists concerning locus of control and a variety of issues [e.g., reflectivity (Ayabe, 1979), anxiety (Ollendick, 1979), authoritarianism, (Lefcourt, 1982; Surlin, 1976)].

Development of self-esteem appears to be a problem for the first born, both compliants and aggressives. They attempt to become adult too fast; they realize they cannot handle the expectations (many times self-inflicted) and perfectionistic tendencies take over. To complicate the situation even more, the second born tends to view the elder sibling as a role model, experiencing crises vicariously through the first born, and depending on the first born for daily interaction (Thompson, 1974). Self-esteem differences within birth orders may prove to be important.

Enough evidence exists to convince most researchers that some relationship exists between birth order and the incidence of communicative behavior. In this study, therefore, we chose to test the following hypotheses:

H1: Birth order will influence tendencies to engage in communicative behavior, including self-descriptions of increased talkativeness, weaker reports of apprehension, and greater instances of argumentativeness.

H1a: These differences will be mediated (interact with) locus of control and self-esteem. In other words, both locus of control and self-esteem will ameliorate these effects.

H2: Birth order will also influence secondary communicative characteristics such as rhetorical sensitivity and attitude, in that first borns will be weaker in these chracteristics than later-borns.

H2a: These differences will also be mediated by locus of control and self-esteem. Both locus of control and self-esteem will ameliorate these effects.


Participants. Two hundred twenty-eight undergraduates enrolled in lower division communication classes at a major Midwestern university took part in this study. One hundred seven were male and 121 were female. Ages ranged from 17 to 46, with 94% age 25 or younger. Participation was voluntary and students were given extra credit for their participation. Each participant was told that the study concerned future curricular development at the University and that specific information concerning communicative habits and practices was important to the development of new courses. In addition to other demographic data, participants responded to a questionnaire which included a section in which the questions, "How many children were there in your family?" and "What was your position in the family?" presented with a series of responses "first," second," going on to "sixth" and "other."


The "communicative characteristics" that have been studied previously can be roughly divided into two categories: direct reports of behavior and self-reports of related characteristics. Direct reports are those dealing with actual communication, or very closely related to the activity. Secondary characteristics would be those that have been shown to have a mediating role in communicative behavior. Measures reporting talkativeness, argumentativeness, and apprehension are examples of direct reports, while attitudes and rhetorical sensitivity are secondary assessments.

Measures of Talking. Communication apprehension, shyness, and reticence, have all been assumed to constitute a significant social and educational problem (Daly & McCroskey, 1984). Recently "willingness" to talk has been studied as an indication of the "inclination" to talk in a variety of settings (McCroskey & Richmond, 1987; Richmond & Roach, 1992). This willingness to communicate is viewed as being caused by different cognitive structures, such as "behavioral intentions" (Richmond & Roach, 1992, p. 99) rather than affective responses. Not much is known of its basic cause.

For our measure of talkativeness, we selected the Predisposition toward Verbal Behavior scale (Mortensen et al., 1977).(3) The Predisposition toward Verbal Behavior (PVB) assesses the extent to which persons report that they have actually engaged in talk. Specifically, it is a self-report which measures the respondents' direct description of their own behavior. Mortenson and his coworkers originally constructed an inventory to assess the extent to which persons actually engage in talk, and reported five factors which accounted for 56.2% of the variance in the test: "conversational dominance," "maintenance," "frequency," "engagement," and "perceived fluency." Subsequent research with this inventory provide strong evidence of correspondence among such self-reports of behavioral tendencies, levels of verbalization, and subsequent impressions of verbal behavior (Mortensen et al., 1977).

Communication Apprehension is the best known of our dependent variables. Historically the most common indication of affective responses to communicative situations, apprehension (McCroskey, 1970, 1977, 1978) has been shown to be correlated with introversion and verbal reticence, both traits which are inherently opposite to talkativeness. Daly's (1978) comparison of communicatively oriented affect measures clearly indicated that the McCroskey measure is the best indicator of these traits. While apprehension studies focus on communicative reticence, a small portion of apprehension scaling also describes positive affect. Apprehension scales have been shown to be strong predictors of volunteering behavior in communicative situations (Bostrom, 1970).

Another specific communicative characteristic that might well be implicated in birth order is argumentativeness. Argumentativeness (Infante & Rancer, 1982) measures the extent to which individuals adopt positions, defend those positions, and attack others who may disagree with them. As such, it provides a good measure of actual speaking behavior, albeit a specific genre of speech. In other words, while argumentativeness and talkativeness are not theoretically isomorphic, they both indicate a type of verbal tenacity, and as such, should be closely related. Some previous research points to a possible connection between argumentativeness and birth order. Miller and Sperry (1987) studied extensively socialization of anger and aggression with respect to the child's response to interactional context as well as to the caregiver's past experiences and child-rearing values. By the age of two and one half, the girls studied had adopted understanding that one needs to have justification for her anger in reference to the instigating act. Obviously, this was based on a specific and small population, but it does stress the important role the parents take in child-rearing, thus formulations of communications the child carries for life.(4)

Related Assessments. Talkativeness, communication apprehension and argumentativeness should all be affected by birth order, but the existence of differences in these three characteristics certainly may well be mediated by other factors closely related to the incidence of talking.

A sensitivity for receiver's needs and interests has long been considered an important characteristic of communicative competence. One interesting measurement of this characteristic (as a trait) has been the description of "rhetorical sensitivity" (Hart & Burks, 1972; Hart, Carlson, & Eadie, 1980). Rhetorically sensitive persons are those who are "an undulating, fluctuating entity, always unsure, always guessing, continually weighing" (Hart & Burks, 1972, p. 91). However, more recent research with the sensitivity concept has broken it into three characteristics, "rhetorical sensitivity," "noble selves" and "rhetorical reflectors." The rhetorically sensitive person would respond "yes" to the question, "In an argument, I can get my point across without hurting the other person." The "noble self" is assertive, and agrees to the statement, "Most of the time, I express my opinion, even if it bothers others." The "rhetorical reflector" is truly other-oriented, agreeing with the statement, "Pleasing the other person is an important goal for me in most conversations." However, the relationship among the varying types of sensitivity and other communicative characteristics has not always been strong (Bostrom, 1990).

As Sulloway noted, an important problem with earlier studies of birth order is that researchers usually sought differences attributable to being first-born, second-born, and so forth. In some of these studies, only children were classified as first-born. While it is true that an only child is indeed, "first-born," it should be obvious that an only child has a very different environment than does a first-born with three younger siblings! In addition, a moment's reflection will convince us that two-sibling families are quite different from three sibling families, obviously because of the presence of the middle child. Family size, therefore, is clearly an important part of the definition of "birth order." In this study, we defined birth order in terms of both position and family size.

Self-esteem was measured with Rosenberg's (1965) scale. Research using this measure indicates that persons who have high self-esteem are inclined to feel comfortable with others, are not afraid of others' reactions, and are able to defend themselves against negative comments of others (Hamachek, 1982). Persons who have low self-esteem feel threatened by others, are sensitive to possible negative reactions, and have difficulty defending themselves against others' negative comments (Hamachek, 1982).

Locus of Control was assessed with Rotter's scale (Rotter, 1966). This scale measures the extent to which individuals perceive themselves as having control over their environments. Persons with an internal locus of control consider themselves to have power over the events in their lives, and to be responsible for any rewards or failures they experience. Those with an external locus of control believe that they are at the mercy of forces outside themselves, that any effort on their part to control events is pointless. Rotter's scale has proved to be an important predictor in a number of studies (Ayabe, 1979; Lefcourt, 1982; Ollendick, 1979; Surlin, 1976). All of these measures were reproduced in a questionnaire and presented to respondents.


First we examined the factor structure of the PVB scale, hoping to replicate the five-factor structure discovered by Mortenson and his co-workers (1977). We could not defend a five-factor structure in this data set. When a five-factor solution was forced, two of the resulting factors had only one item. We therefore settled on a three-factor solution as the best description of the test. With data of this kind, oblique analysis is more useful than principal components analysis (Poole & McPhee, 1994), so that is the approach we used. The resulting factors seemed to us to describe "frequency," "dominance," and "inhibition." These three factors accounted for over 60% of the variance in the table, which is more than the five factors reported by Mortenson did. Table 1 presents the items for each of these factors and their factor loadings.


Table 1 about here


Analysis of Means by Birth Order. The respondents were sorted into groups according to family size: only children, two-sibling families, three-sibling families, and so forth. First, we discarded from analysis those who were only children, since the fundamental hypothesis involved in birth order studies depends on the presence of siblings. In addition, we had so few respondents from families of four siblings or more (11), that we discarded them from our analysis as well. This left us with respondents from two- and three-sibling families only. Following Sulloway's procedures, we analyzed these separately. We wished to see if the reports of verbal behavior differed as a result of birth position. The means for two-sibling families are presented in Table 2. First we performed a 2 x 9 "within subjects" analysis(5), since all measures had been repeated by each of the respondents. This did not produce a significant interaction (Wilks' lambda = .5185). We therefore proceeded to examine the differences in the separate tests for birth order. For the two-sibling families, only the dominance scale was significantly different (F = 3.75, df = 1,76, p < .06, 2 = .04). First-borns reported less dominance scores than first borns. Three-sibling families were different. Third-borns reported that they took more time than the other groups (F = 2.82, df = 2,58, p < .07, 2 = .03). First-borns were more argumentative (F = 2.78, df = 2,58, p < .06, 2 = .03), while third-borns were more "rhetorically" sensitive (F = 3.12, df = 2,58, p < .05, 2 = .04). Table 2 presents all the means for both two-sibling families and three-sibling families.


Table 2 about here


Interaction Analyses. Following these more direct comparisons, we performed interactive analyses to see if birth order interacted with self-esteem, as well as locus of control. In this analysis, we divided respondents into "high" and "low" groups based on the median of the collection of scores. First we examined two-sibling families. When self-esteem was examined as an interactant with birth order, a three-way interaction was observed (F = 3,12, df = 8,592, p < .002, 2 = .08). The presence of this interaction indicates that the various two-way interactions should be considered separately. The means for these interactions (two-sibling families arranged by high and low self-esteem (are presented in


Table 3 about here


Table 3. For the "time-taken" scale, the interaction of birth order and self esteem was significant (F = 3.58, df = 1,73, p < .06, 2 = .03). When self-esteem is high, second borns reported talking longer; when self-esteem is low, first borns took less time. A stronger interaction appeared when the "dominance" scale is analyzed (F = 9.15, df = 1,74, p < .003, 2 = .11). Low self-esteem first borns reported the highest dominance scores. Another interaction appeared in the "inhibition" scales (F = 5.68, df = 1,74, p < .02, 2 = .05). This interaction was due to the different scores reported by the high and low self-esteem first borns. First borns with low self-esteem were much more inhibited than first borns with high self esteem. The argumentativeness scores showed no interaction effects. The apprehension scales showed that first borns with high self esteem were less apprehensive than anyone else (F = 3.36, df = 1,74, p < .07, 2 = .02). This is certainly not a strong difference, however. If one ignores this weak interaction, the main effect for self-esteem shows strong differences in apprehension scores, as we might expect. Another weak interaction appears in the attitude scores (F = 3.51, df = 1,74, p < .07, 2 = .02). Low self esteem produces lower attitude scores, but the effect is mitigated, in that the second borns do not exhibit the difference to the same degree much of it. The rhetorically sensitivity scores show only a main effect for self-esteem (F = 6.39, df = 1,74, p < .01, 2 = .04). High self-esteem respondents reported higher sensitivity scores. No effect appeared in the "noble selves" scales, but a similar main effect for self-esteem appeared in the rhetorical reflection scale. No other differences appeared except for a weak main effect for the "noble selves" scale (F = 4.31, df = 1,74, p < .04, 2 = .03) .

The interaction analyses for birth order and self-esteem are somewhat different in three-sibling families. These means are presented in Table 4. The overall interaction was not significant in this group.


Table 4 about here


Several more specific comparisons are interesting, however. For the "time taken" measure, an interaction would appear to be present, but in fact was not. First-borns and third-borns took more time than second borns when self-esteem was low. With high self-esteem, the effect was reversed. Only main effects for self-esteem and order were present. Third-borns were the most talkative (F = 2.90, df = 2,58, p < .06, 2 = .02) while high self-esteem respondents were the most talkative (F = 3.61, df = 1,58, p < .06, 2 = .02). No main effects or interactions were present for the dominance score or the inhibition in this three-sibling group. A main effect for birth order was present in the argumentativeness scores (F = 2.73, df = 2,58, p < .06, 2 = .02). First-borns are the most argumentative, followed by third-borns, while second-borns are the lowest scorers here. No differences appeared in apprehension, but a main effect for communicative attitudes was apparently caused by birth order (F = 3.66, df = 2,58, p < .03, 2 = .07). This main effect is due to the second-born respondents who scored lower than either the first-borns or the third-borns. No other effects appeared in these comparisons.

Next we examined how the varying measures might have interacted with "locus of control," an assessment of how much each individual felt in control of their world. In the two-sibling families no three-way interactions were present, nor were there any interactions for the various measures of talk and locus of control. Several interesting main effects did appear. These means are presented in Table 5.


Table 5 about here


Externals reported taking more time than internals (F = 4.99, df = 1,74, p < .02, 2 = .04), but also reported that they were less dominant (F = 5.14, df = 1,74, p < .02, 2 = .04). They also reported that they were more inhibited (F = 8.22, df = 1,74, p < .005, 2 = .08). No differences appeared due to argumentativeness, but internals were much more apprehensive (F = 11.62, df = 1,74, p < .001, 2 = .09). This is certainly a consistent finding. No differences were present that could be ascribed to attitude, but externals reported that they were more sensitive than internals (F = 7.76, df = 1,74, p < .006, 2 = .08). No differences appeared in the "noble selves" scales or the rhetorical reflectors.

In the three-sibling families, no three-way interaction appeared, nor were there any two-way interactions. In many of the subsidiary analyses, there were main effects for birth order, but they were the same as the ones appearing in the analysis for self-esteem (obviously, since the same data were used).

These means are presented in Table 6.


Table 6 about here



Sulloway's contention that birth order effects are dependent on family size is supported by these measures of communicative behavior. It is also immediately apparent that birth order affects our tendency to talk. However, these effects are far from simple. Sulloway's procedure (examining two-and three--sibling families separately) proved to be a useful way to examine these effects on communicative behavior. When generalized birth order effects were examined, two-sibling groups showed differences in dominance only, and when three-sibling groups were examined, differences appeared in time taken, argumentativeness, and rhetorical sensitivity. These effects show clearly that birth order has an effect on communicative behavior.

When order effects are examined as they interact with other psychological predispositions, they become more prominent. In two-sibling families, birth order interacts with self-esteem in time taken, dominance, inhibition, and apprehension, and birth order produces main effects in sensitivity and noble selves. In three-sibling families, the only significant interaction appeared in time taken, with main effects for order for argumentation and attitude. When birth order was examined in interaction with locus of control, few effects were observed.

To answer the question "does birth order affect communicative behavior?" we would respond by noting that communicative behavior can be defined in a number of ways, but that in measures of "talking," order effect do appear. Second borns are more dominant in two-sibling families, and third-borns in three-sibling families take more time. In these three-sibling families, first borns are more argumentative. In short, there are many birth order differences in communicative behavior, but, by and large, the are not general ones, but depend on family size, method of assessment, and degree of self-esteem.

Self-esteem and Locus of Control as "Mediators." One question that arises immediately is the possibility that self-esteem and locus of control might well be affected by birth order and that their status as "mediators" would therefore be compromised. This question can only be answered by examining the means of these two variables for the varying conditions. These means are presented in Table 7.


Table 7 about here


All statistical tests for differences among these means resulted in nonsignificance, but the locus of control measure in three sibling families seems to be smaller for second borns, indicating that this group feels that they have less control over their lives than do the other groups. Tempting as this interpretation might be (it might well explain the disappointing results in the analyses using this measure as an interactant), the fact is that the comparison yielded an F of 1.56 with a probability of .224. Table 7. Indicates that these two indices are probably independent of birth order.

Limitations. We are certainly aware of the many difficulties inherent in this study. First, the assessment of birth order was cruder than we would have liked. A two-sibling family in which the siblings are separated by ten years or more is quite different from a two-sibling family where siblings are only a few years apart. We did not assess this important variable, which might well have resulted in different findings. Power is also a significant problem in these data analyses. Using Feldt and Mahmoud's ' calculation, we concluded that power was less than .4 in most of these statistical tests (Feldt & Mahmoud, 1958). Nonetheless, we are encouraged by the differences that did appear.

Conclusions. It is obvious that none of us can change our birth order; few of us would want to if we could. But understanding the potential effects of this nurturing variable is quite important. Previously, birth order has been shown to be linked to assertiveness training in prosocial behavior development (Kohn, 1990). However, where assertiveness training stresses exerting one's own rights, prosocial behavior training is more relative to empathy and altruism, "the giver" not necessarily getting anything in return. Children's reasoning about their own prosocial behavior has stages through which they chronologically progress (Eisenberg, 1982). Sharing behavior first begins with egocentrism (selfish, confuses self with others), emerging around age seven. At approximately nine years of age, sociocentrism is apparent, or obedience to socially appropriate rules. Maintenance of interpersonal relationships and empathic behaviors appear around age ten and one half. As Eisenberg summarizes, motives children use concerning their helping/sharing behaviors become more altruistic with increasing age. First borns have a strong need for recognition and approval; many have a lack of self-esteem due to perfectionistic tendencies and loss of parent's attention. Lochman and Lampron (1986) discovered a lack of self-esteem in aggressive boys as compared with nonaggressive boys. This study discovered less frequency of verbal assertions in aggressive children than nonaggressive children and more "direct action efforts." Situational differences were found as well: The "direct action" occurred in the more hostility provoking conflicts, including authority situations involving teachers.

It is clear that Schacter's (1959) conclusion that communication behavior and affiliation are synonymous is incorrect. Our results indicate that only first borns in families with smaller sibling size tend to be more argumentative and talkative. Adler (1927) indicated that first borns are innately interested in power and structure due to the trauma of dethronement. It is possible that first borns argue more and speak more to orient themselves to the power structures in their immediate environment. They are applying their communication skills in order to discover the "pecking order" among their peers. Obviously, this is only a speculation based on our exploratory research. The two communication styles correlated with first borns that Leman (1985) discussed, compliant and aggressive, seem to fit well with this "testing the water" notion.

Whether or not the effects discovered in this study could be exacerbated by anxiety would seem to be the next logical step in birth order research. In addition, birth order and gender orientation might seem to be a productive set of interactive variables. It is possible that masculinity and feminity produce different associational patterns for first and second borns. It is clear that associations with factors such apprehension and talkativeness are affected by family position.

In a practical sense, many of us intuitively feel that communicative characteristics are modifiable as a result of various types of communicative training are applied. Clearly research shows modifications in apprehension to some degree, as do some of the other factors. However, if some of these characteristics are the result of relatively deep-seated and fairly permanent personality characteristics, then training is either futile or at least should take some other tack. Whatever the case, it is clear that birth order is an important factor in the formation of the way we approach our communicative behavior.


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Table 1


Scales for the Various Factors in the PVB Test



I II III I. Frequency.

.844 .439 -.257 3. When I am with other people I generally talk often.

.793 .501 -.384 7. In most social situations I generally speak quite frequently.

.695 .405 -.502 14. I generally find that I express myself quite freely.

.690 .289 .270 23. I prefer to keep my comments brief (negative).

.785 .315 -.303 24. I probably speak for shorter periods of time than the average person


II. Dominance.

.465 .654 -.055 2. I have a tendency to dominate informal conversations with other people.

.533 .678 -.213 4. In most social situations I tend to direct the course of conversation.

.298 .718 -.149 10. In most social situations I tend to come on strong.

.345 .610 -.108 15. I try to take charge of things when I am with people.

.452 .765 -.215 17. I would describe myself as dominant in social situations.

.218 .616 .082 18. When I am with others I am inclined to talk forcefully.

.397 .648 -.317 20. In one-to-one conversations I tend to talk more than half the time.

.397 .648 -.399 21. In most social situations I tend to speak for long periods of time.

III. Inhibition

-.257 -.409 .542 1. I am inclined to let other people start conversations.

-.688 -.548 .602 5. When I am with others it generally takes me quite a while to warm up.

-.541 -.377 .741 6. I generally rely on others to keep conversations going.

-.301 -.055 .723 8. I tend to hesitate when I speak.

-.033 .098 .645 11. I find myself pausing often when I speak.

-.470 -.208 .719 13. I tend to feel inhibited when I talk to others.

Table 2

Measures of Communicative Behavior (z-scores) in Two-Sibling

and Three-Sibling Families Arranged by Birth Order


Time Dominancea Inhibition Argumenta- Apprehen Attitude Sensitivityc Noble Selves Reflectors

tivenessb sion

0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd

First Born .17 (0.94) -.29 (1.15) -.01 (1.22) -.04 (1.19) -.22 (1.17) .62 (1.07) -.10 (1.12) .14 (1.08) -.15 (1.07)

Second Born .04 (1.05) .16 (0.90) .06 (.99) -.21 (0.89) .14 (1.02) -.06 (1.01) .05 (.97) -.16 (.89) .16 (.90)

a p <.06 b p <.07 c p<.05


Timea Dominance Inhibition Argumenta- Apprehen Attitude Sensitivityc Noble Selves Reflectors

tivenessb sion

0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd

First Born -.12 (1.12) -.16 (1.29) .16 (.83) .52 (1.05) -.05 (.96) .19 (.93) -.05 (1.12) .31 (.82) -.56 (1.07)

Second Born -.38 (.68) .39 (0.77) .09 (.71) -.26 (.91) .18 (.78) -.36 (.60) -.21 (1.15) -.56 (1.06) .19 (.99)

Third Born .23 (.73) -.04 (0.79) -.03 (.80) .06 (.92) .07 (.95) .33 (.96) .04 (.72.) .06 (1.11) -.19 (.93)

a p <.06 b p <.07 c p<.05

Table 3.

Measures of Communicative Behavior (z-scores) in Two-Sibling

Families Arranged by Birth Order and Self-esteem


Timea Dominanceb Inhibitionc Argumenta- Apprehen- Attituded Sensitivitye Noble Selvesf Reflectorse

tiveness siond

0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd

First Born .55 (.83) -.08 (1.12) -.64 (.98) -.02 (1.19) -.83 (.86) .37 (1.05) .30 (.83) .24 (1.11) -.37 (.94)

Second Born .07 (1.09) .16 (0.84) -.11 (.99) -.08 (.87) -.14 (.99) -.11 (1.03) .14 (1.03) -.13 (.89) -.38 (1.04)


Timea Dominanceb Inhibition Argumenta- Apprehen Attitude Sensitivityc Noble Selves Reflectors

tivenessb sione

0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd

First Born -.34 (.84) .41 (.77) .83 (.99) -.06 (1.25) -.59 (1.02) -.35 (.98) -.64 (1.24) .00 (1.06) .25 (.81)

Second Born .07 (1.02) .11 (1.00) .27 (.99) -.36 (.93) .48 (.97) -.00 (1.01) -.06 (.89) -.20 (.90) -03 (1.05)

aInteraction significant, p<.06 b Interaction significant, p <.003 c Interaction significant, p <.05 d Interaction significant, p<.07

e Main effect for self-esteem, p <.01 f Main effect for self-esteem, p <.04

Table 4.

Measures of Communicative Behavior (z-scores) in Three-Sibling

Families Arranged by Birth Order and Self-esteem


Timea Dominance Inhibition Argumenta- Apprehen Attitudec Sensitivityc Noble Selves Reflectors

tivenessb sion

0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd

First Born .18 (1.16) -.60 (1.23) .05 (.84) .24 (1.04) -.30 (1.17) .39 (1.10) .02 (1.03) .44 (.99) -.59 (.94)

Second Born -.11 (.59) .30 (0.59) -.18 (.62) -.06 (.87) -.0 3 (.88) -.34 (.44) .28 (1.12) .42 (.92) -01 (.86)

Third Born .31 (.58) .05 (.081) -.01 (.88) .09 (1.00) .10 (1.09) .06 (1.09) .39 (.60) .33 (1.21) -.38 (1.02)


Timea Dominance Inhibition Argumenta- Apprehen Attitude Sensitivityc Noble Selves Reflectors

tivenessb sion

0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd

First Born -.42 (.84) .28 (1.28) .27 (.85) .79 (1.06) .19 (.69) .01 (.74) -.13 (.93) .18 ( .66) -.53 (1.26)

Second Born -.72 (.68) .52 (1.00) .45 (.69) -.59 (.93) .46 (.57) -.40 (.80) -.86 (.86) -.74 (1.27) .45 (1.14)

Third Born .13 (.90) -.16 (.80) -.18 (.71) -.03 (.83) .03 (.78) .66 (.67) -.41 (.64) -.27 (.91) .03 (.80)

a Both main effects, p <.06 bMain effect for order, p <.06 c Main effect for order, p<.07

Table 5.

Measures of Communicative Behavior (z-scores) in Two-Sibling

Families Arranged by Birth Order and Locus of Control


Timea Dominancea Inhibitionb Argumenta- Apprehen Attitude Sensitivityb Noble Selves Reflectors

tiveness sionc

0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd

First Born .08 (.76) -.02 (.83) .30 (.84) -.38 (1.22) .25 (1.05) -.16 (1.10) -.32 (1.15) -.07 (1.09) .12 (1.0)

Second Born -.23 (.98) .35 (0.83) .35 (.85) -.22 (.87) .40 (.77) -.21 (.96) -.24 (.87) -.27 (.88) .26 (.81)


Timea Dominance Inhibition Argumenta- Apprehen Attitude Sensitivityb Noble Selves Reflectors

tiveness sionc

0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd

First Born .08 (.76) -.02 (.83) .30 (.84) -.38 (1.22) .25 (1.05) -.16 (1.10) -.32 (1.15) -.07 (1.09) .12 (1.0)

Second Born .57 (.99) -.21 (.94) -46 (1.04) -.19 (.97) -.36 (1.21) .19 (1.09) .60 (.92) .04 (.89) -.03 (1.05)

a Main effect for Locus, p <.02 bMain effect for Locus, p <.005 c Main effect for Locus, p<.001

Table 6.

Measures of Communicative Behavior (z-scores) in Three-Sibling

Families Arranged by Birth Order and Locus of Control


Time Dominance Inhibition Argumenta- Apprehen Attitude Sensitivity Noble Selves Reflectors

tiveness sion

0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd

First Born -.41 (1.14) .23 (1.41) .55 (.90) .63 (1.19) .16 (1.03) .11 (.72) -.32 (1.03) .18 (.71) -.10 (1.09)

Second Born -.12 (.55) .02 (0.83) .29 (.60) -.15 (.89) -.22 (.75) -.21 (.96) -.25 (1.31) .22 (1.03) -.28 (1.10)

Third Born .11 (.83) -.18 (.73) -.14 (.95) -.02 (.90) .31 (.86) .59 (.92) -.18 (.82) -.05 (.99) -.07 (.95)


Time Dominance Inhibition Argumenta- Apprehen Attitude Sensitivity Noble Selves Reflectors

tiveness sion

0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd 0 sd

First Born .10 (1.12) -.47 (1.18) -.14 (.65) .43 (.99) -.22 (.93) .26 (1.10) .03 (1.22) .42 (.93) -.91 (.97)

Second Born -.47 (.72) .52 (0.75) .03 (.75) -.31 (.95) .32 (.78) -.42 (.48) -.22 (1.15) -.82 (1.03) .35 (.94)

Third Born .36 (.61) .12 (.86) -.02 (.62) .10 (.95) -.18 (1.00) .05 (.95) .28 (.53) .18 (1.26) -.33 (.94)

Table 7. Locus of Control and Self-Esteem Arranged by

Birth Order and Family Size

Self-Esteem Locus of Control

First Borns 8.63 (5.61) 11.00 (3.33)


Second Borns 9.08 (4.83) 11.60 (3.80)

First Borns 8.19 (5.33) 10.93 (4.79)

Three Siblings Second Borns 7.41 (5.75) 8.87 (3.54)

Third Borns 8.64 (4.39) 10.96 (3.78)

1. Whether these "characteristics" are personality "traits" is not clear from Giles and Streets' discussion. They use the term "traits" separately, but not in any systematic way. Burger (1990) described one of the more traditional definitions of personality as consisting of the sum of the traits that an individual exhibits in social situations, in contrast to other, more holistic approaches to the definition of personality. By any definition of "traits" (unique to an individual, relatively stable, and enduring behavioral tendency) the "characteristics they list do qualify.

2. People in jobs that generally are associated with unpleasantness (IRS auditors, for instance) may well develop behavior patterns that are indistinguishable from other kinds of personality characteristics. Bandura calls this a "triadic reciprocal determinism" which holds that personality, environment, and behavior interact reciprocally rather than individually. In other words, many times the situation and the particular behavior influence personality rather than the other way around. Many forms of behavior are coerced, automatic, or mindless and can have a profound effect on personality.

3. Possible alternatives include the "Willingness to Communicate" Scale (McCroskey & Richmond, 1987), its opposite, an "unwillingness to communicate" scale (Burgoon, 1976) and varying other attitudinal measures related to approach (Bostrom, 1990). The PVB, however, is clearly a self-report of actual communicative behavior. Items are phrased this way "When I am with other persons, I generally talk often" and "I generally find that I tend to talk quite freely." The distinction between a behavioral intention and a description of actual behavior may seem to be a narrow one, but is quite important. McCroskey and Richmond (1987) dismiss the PVB on the grounds of its supposed isomorphism with apprehension. This is based on Mortensen's report of a .67 correlation of PVB with apprehension. Other studies (Bostrom, Grant, Davis, & Einerson, 1990) report lower figures (.61) but it is clear that apprehension and behavioral reports are closely related. Being closely related is certainly not the same as being the "same," however. The WTC is also related to apprehension (r =.51; McCroskey & Richmond, 1990).

4. The connection between argumentativeness and "aggression" is obviously not an accurate one. In addition, some researchers suggest that not all first borns exhibit the same kinds of aggressive behavior. Leman (1985) contends that there are basically two types of first borns. One type is the compliant. These first-borns are the "model children," always wanting to please others. They have a strong need for the entire world to approve of their talk, actions, everything. They tend to "bite the bullet" when confronted with conflict, with stoic self-thinking, "like it or lump it." Dethronement to them is just as real, but they tend to withdraw into their own world, just biding their time until the unpleasantness goes away, or letting the unresolved conflicts build up and "venting" in one grand explosion. The other type is the strong willed/aggressive. These are hard-driving personalities, characteristically stubborn and overachieving. They will let the sibling (or the parents) know immediately what they think or feel. Screaming and hitting are meshed in their daily behavior. Either type seem to be good candidates for future argumentative behavior.

5. The 'within subjects" analysis (Lindquist, 1956) is the same as a multiple analysis of variance but provides different subsidiary analyses of the varying interactions.