Frequently Asked Questions about the SIBS Study


Can you remind me of what the original Sibling Interaction and Behavior Study (SIBS) was about?

The original SIBS study was conducted by Catholic Charities, Children’s Home Society, Lutheran Social Service, and the MN Center for Twin and Family Research at the University of Minnesota.  The purposes of the study were to understand:

How adoptive families are similar to and different from nonadoptive families; how siblings interact and influence one another; and how family environment impacts psychological health of adolescents.

What did you learn in that study?  Where can I find out about it?

We are currently in the process of analyzing and publishing data from the original intake study. We hope to have these findings available soon.

Though formal data aren't available, preliminary findings are accessible.  We analyzed data from the first 300 families that visited our study.  That information can be found in a recent edition of our newsletter (sent to all participating families in 2002) as well as in a feature article in the March/April issue of Adoptive Families magazine.

We’ve also done presentations at Catholic Charities, Children’s Home Society, and Lutheran Social Service.  Finally, some of our staff has presented preliminary findings at academic conferences. 

Why do a follow-up study?  What will you learn now that’s different?

Follow-up studies (also called longitudinal studies) address questions of how people change over time.  So often, we hear statements such as, “Adopted children do well until they go to school,” or “Wait until adolescence—that’s when issues [adopted or not] really hit.”  We also hear, “It’s only when they leave home and go off on their own that difficulties arise.”  Which of these (if any) are true?

Studying families comprehensively over time allows us to begin to unravel answers to such questions.  Is there a specific period in time that adoption or psychological issues become more important or harder to handle for adolescents and young adults?  For parents?  These are the kinds of questions we hope to answer.

How will the follow-up visit be different from the last time we were there?

Numerous aspects of the study have been changed. These changes are mostly to create more age-appropriate assessments, as the siblings in your family have grown older.  We’ve added questions about school and neighborhood environments, because research increasingly points to the importance of these in psychological development.  Our family interaction tasks have also changed to be more relevant to older adolescents.  We’ve also added a brief lab assessment, in which we take basic body measurements (e.g. height, weight) and obtain a DNA sample.  However, given that we don’t have to ask some of the same questions we asked before, the follow-up should not take any longer than the original assessment.

Our current assessment is being conducted completely over the phone to accommodate our adult siblings. This assessment consists of the interview portion only.

Tell me more about the DNA sample.  What’s that all about?

The DNA is drawn by taking three tubes of blood from each person.  Our lab technicians have drawn blood on thousands of participants and are highly trained in this process.  Exciting new developments in genetics have provided scientists with the opportunity to look directly at genetic material, or DNA.  Although this technology is still in its infancy, it holds great promise for helping us understand the role of genetic factors in human development. It also holds potential for helping us understand the nature of environmental influence.  Scientists now recognize that the effect of genes can vary markedly depending upon an individual’s environment.  Genetic information, along with the extensive environmental assessment completed when you first came in, will provide researchers with a unique opportunity to explore how environments and genes interact to influence complex psychological traits.

As part of a nationwide effort to better understand how genes influence behavior, we have been asked to join a consortium that is part of the United States National Institutes of Health.  The samples of blood will be stored in a lab at the University of Minnesota.  As geneticists identify genes, these samples will be used to determine whether and how these genes are related to psychological traits.  Please be assured, though, that the people who have the DNA will have no way of identifying whom it came from.  They have only numerical codes that identify how people are related to each other.

Is everyone who was in the original study being called to come back?

The current follow-up is being conducted via phone interview with every eligible sibling pair. Parents are not being asked to participate in this assessment.  

What if one (or both) of our children has moved away or doesn’t want to participate?  Can we invite another?

Unfortunately, the nature of a longitudinal study requires that the same people be studied over time.  Accordingly, we need to invite the original participants; other family members can’t be substituted. However, since this assessment is being conducted completely over the phone and through mailed questionnaires, we will be able to accommodate those family members who may live far away.

In a longitudinal study, you have to keep track of names, don’t you?  How will you safeguard our privacy?

A longitudinal study means we need to link a person’s data from time 1 to time 2. Importantly, however, all the same safeguards that were in effect when we first saw you still apply: data are kept confidential through code numbers that are assigned to each person and any reports generated will not use names. All data will be reported so that no individual or family can be identified.

Further, participants are not required to answer every question.  If something makes you uncomfortable, you can elect not to answer that specific question. 

Remind me again--what is the MN Center for Twin and Family Research?

The Center is located in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota.  For the past twenty-five years, the Center has conducted several studies of twins as well as the SIBS study. The MN Twin Family Study is one of the world’s best-known research studies.  Some of those same researchers are heading this study as well. 

What kinds of things will you ask?

We’ll ask about both strengths and challenges in your family.  Basically, we will focus on four areas of development:  (1) academic achievement, (2) relationships with family and friends, (3) mental health, and (4) substance use. 

Essentially, we want to see if anything has changed in these areas for you since the first assessment.  Remember, though, that what you or any other family member says to us is kept confidential and will not be disclosed to other family members or anyone outside the study.

Why are you studying adoptive families?

We’re studying adoptive families because you and your children share the same home but not the same genes.  Therefore, it is much easier to sort out what’s due to nature (genes) and nurture (environment) than in families where members share both.  We can learn how important characteristics, such as personality, develop.  Furthermore, we’ll improve our knowledge about causes and prevention of common but sometimes serious emotional and behavioral problems that many teens and young adults experience.  We know that many of these problems involve a genetic contribution; studying adoptive families allows us to learn more about factors in the environment that may affect their development. 

How much time is involved in participating?

It varies depending on the assessment. The current assessment is a follow-up phone interview that lasts approximately 1-1 1/2 hours. As always, participants are compensated for their time.

Who’s paying for this?

This study is funded by the National Institutes of Health, which is the research branch of the federal government. 

How will participating in this study benefit our family?

Each member who participates receives some monetary compensation.  We’ll also send you our newsletters and keep you up to date on the current research findings. Additionally, we hope to provide you with personality feedback based on one of the questionnaires you fill out.

Ideally, your participation will also be beneficial in giving feedback to agencies and other professionals who can improve post-adoption and counseling services.  The results of the study will also be made available to legislators, policymakers, and the general public, in hopes of correcting misconceptions that exist regarding adoptive families.

Finally, your participation will ultimately benefit society by allowing a better understanding of human behavior.


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The U of MN is an equal opportunity educator and employer. This page last updated: August 24, 2010 11:02 AM