Why some siblings thrive whereas others struggle: A within-family study on recollections of childhood parental bonding and current adult depressive and anxiety symptoms

Marie Louise J. Kullberg, Charlotte C. van Schie, Eleonore D. van Sprang, Catharina A. Hartman, Albert M. van Hemert, Brenda W.J.H. Penninx, Bernet M. Elzinga

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Background: Brothers and sisters growing up together share a large proportion of their genes and rearing environment. However, some siblings thrive whereas others struggle. This study investigated family-wide childhood bonding experiences with mother and father, in addition to individual-specific recollections, in relation to current depressive and anxiety symptom levels in adulthood. We examined whether extraversion and internal locus of control (iLoC) had a protective effect in this. Methods: The sample consisted of 256 families with at least one lifetime depressed or anxious person (N = 596; ages 20–78). Multilevel modeling with cross-level interactions was used. Results: Adult siblings showed moderate to high agreement in their childhood parental bonding (PB) recollections. Over-and-above the association between individual-specific recollections of PB and adult internalizing symptoms, family-wide poor PB was additionally linked to elevated symptom levels. Within families characterized by poor maternal bonding persons with an iLoC were relatively less anxious (but not less depressed), whereas extraversion was not protective in this context. Limitation: Although evidence exists that poor childhood PB has an impact on (adult) psychopathology, causality cannot be determined and possible recall bias of PB should be noted. Moreover, next to their moderating effects, extraversion and LoC may also act as mediators. Conclusions: Our findings extend prior work by demonstrating the importance of siblings’ childhood PB experiences next to a person's own recollections when investigating adult internalizing symptoms, while also elucidating individual differences within families.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413-421
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of affective disorders
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2021


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Extraversion
  • Locus of control
  • Parental bonding
  • Siblings

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