Like mother, like daughter… or perhaps not so much?
While some of us couldn’t be more like our parents, others are left to wonder if they’re even related at all. But is it nature or nurture that causes these similarities and differences between children and their parents?
It’s a question as old as time, but a new study has at least been able to identify the personality trait that parents are most likely to pass on to their children.
And the result?
That’s right… nice people make nice little people.
A collaborative study from Royal Holloway, University of London and the universities of Westminster, Vienna, and Bern assessed 418 German and Swiss families to see which parents most strongly transmitted their values to their children.
The participants were shown pictures of adults and children with statements about their values next to them. They were then asked to rank the images in the order with which they related to them. The parents were also asked how much they wanted their child to grow up to be like the person shown to them in the picture.
The researchers found that children whose parents prioritised pro-social values – for example, wanting their children to value helping, supporting and caring for others – rubbed off on their children more than those parents who promoted striving for power and achievement.
Scientists explained: “The more parents wanted their children to endorse values of self-transcendence and the less parents wanted their children to endorse the opposing values of self-enhancement, the more similar their children were to them.”
Analysing the results, the researchers went on to reveal that parents who prioritised kindness may be more empathetic and less authoritarian in their parenting style, resulting in a close emotional bond between parents and children which strengthened the transmission of the parents values, including those beyond the scope of kindness.
It was also suggested that these parents are likely to be more sensitive to others’ needs and goals and may therefore be better at at promoting their children's awareness and understanding of values.
Finally, the researchers concluded that as children understand how important helping and support are to their parents, they are more likely to accept and identify with their parents’ values.
“This research really shows that where parents nurture positive, supportive and altruistic values their children will also take these characteristics to heart. Where being ‘the best’ is among the dominant interests of the parents, children tend not to express such connection to their parent’s values”, said Professor Bardi of Royal Holloway.
“This research brings a positive message to the world: pro-social parents breed a pro-social next generation, but parents who endorse selfishness do not breed a selfish next generation.”
Well, that’s good news for the future.