Super Bowl Sibling Rivalry

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 3, 2013    •    599 Views

Can a sibling’s success add to your self-esteem? It depends.

Sometimes you can feel better about yourself when your brother or sister does something fantastic. However, if your self-esteem relates to excelling at whatever your sibling does, then you might not feel so great.

And that takes us to the Harbaugh brothers.

With John the head coach for the 49ers and Jim the head coach of the Ravens, at today’s Super Bowl, each might be experiencing “self-evaluation maintenance.” Self-evaluation maintenance involves how good we feel about ourselves when someone close to us does something special. For siblings, the more similar their professions, the tougher it is to enjoy the other’s success. Why? Your own status gets relatively worse when a brother or sister gets better at something.

Summing up when siblings add to each other’s self-esteem, one NPR commentator referred to the three Manning brothers. For Peyton and Eli, both football players, one’s success might not elevate the other’s “self-definition.” However, Cooper Manning, a stockbroker, could be enjoying the reflected glory of every tackle and touchdown his brothers make.

The economic connection? Comparisons matter. In one study of a Chinese village and another in Great Britain, workers expressed more job satisfaction when their wage was relatively high in terms of co-workers. Indeed, how we judge ourselves frequently relates to reference points that are based on the people around us.

Sources and Resources: My thanks to NPR for their segment on sibling rivalry, the Manning example, and the great Smothers Brothers’s “Mom Always Liked You Best” dialogue. That took me to University of Georgia scholar, Abraham Tesser’s research on SEM in this book excerpt and finally to economic happiness research.

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