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Parade: What The Simpsons Can Teach Us About Siblings

When a second sibling comes along, the oldest no longer has all of his parents’ attention—he loses the throne, so to speak.

Parade magazine covered the research of SMU psychologist and Simpsons‘ expert Chris R. Logan, senior lecturer, who with SMU colleague and professor Alan S. Brown, co-authored and edited the book The Psychology of the Simpsons: D’oh! (Smart Pop, 2006).

Journalist Hannah Dreyfus quotes Logan in her June 22 article on Logan’s and Brown’s siblings research, “What The Simpsons Can Teach Us About Siblings.

The Psychology of the Simpsons examines family relationships through the context of the popular Simpsons American adult animated TV situation comedy show. The Simpson’s are a middle class family consisting of the dad, Homer, the mom, Marge, the oldest child and brother, Bart, the oldest sister, Lisa, and the baby, Maggie.

Read the full story.

By Hannah Dreyfus

What can America’s favorite yellow cartoon family—and this weekend’s cover subjects—teach us about family dynamics? To find out, we recently spoke with social psychologist, SMU social psychology professor and Simpsons’ expert Chris Logan, co-author and editor of The Psychology of the Simpsons: D’oh!.

PARADE: The oldest child is stereotypically responsible and overachieving—so what went wrong with Bart?
Ha! Funny question. Research about the importance of birth order is actually quite controversial — many psychologists don’t subscribe to the idea that birth order plays a dominant role when it comes to determining personality. However, psychologists who do think birth order is a dominant characteristic talk about an eldest child’s experience of being “dethroned.” When a second sibling comes along, the oldest no longer has all of his parents’ attention—he loses the throne, so to speak. How the parents handle this shift can affect the oldest child’s relationship to his/her new sibling.

In the case of Bart, the series also makes it pretty clear that he was born evil. I mean, he grabs a lighter and tries to light Homer’s tie on fire minutes after his birth. In a case this extreme, I’m not sure birth order will make that big a difference one way or another.

Let’s talk about Lisa, the precocious, independent child. How is she affected by having Bart as a brother?
Bart is clearly the child who demands primary attention. Research shows that in cases such as these, the “good” child becomes as independent and self-reliant as possible. This is certainly the case with Lisa—Bart’s continual antics push her to be even more responsible.

It’s interesting to note how Bart responds when Lisa is given attention. In one episode, Lisa develops her own Barbie doll and receives a lot of attention for her invention. Bart goes crazy and starts screaming, crying, and bouncing off the walls. Although it’s an exaggerated case, a child who grows accustomed to receiving the majority of the family’s attention might not take it well when that dynamic shifts.

And what about baby Maggie? What’s her impact on the dynamics between the two big kids?
It’s hard to say. The funny thing about cartoons is that the characters don’t age. Maggie is a baby who’s attached to Marge’s hip—and she stays that way. Still, one effect Maggie does have is she makes it even harder for Lisa to receive attention from her parents. Youngest children somehow have a way of doing that.

In this weekend’s cover story, we note that having siblings is a way for boys and girls respectively to learn about the opposite sex. What does Bart teach Lisa about men?
Siblings definitely can have an affect on how children interact with members of the opposite sex, and, later on in life, how they go on to build relationships.

Lisa is a very interesting case study. She’s attracted to the typical bad-boy. Even though Milhouse (Bart’s friend) has a huge crush on her and follows her around like a puppy, she wants nothing to do with him. Instead, Lisa is infatuated with Nelson, the stereotypical bully.

Read the full story.

By Margaret Allen

Senior research writer, SMU Public Affairs