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The Bioecological Model of Human Development

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    Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model of Human Development has four basic systems. These four systems include the microsystem, mesosystem, ecosystem and macrosystem. These bio directional systems are interactions the child experiences that are responsible for shaping their socialization process. In this paper I will identify all of the four systems and the influences that they have on a child’s development. I will explain how the systems in the model differ from one another. I will analyze the outside influences that impact a child’s development, and provide examples of the relationships and interactions for each of the four systems.

    Because of the impact the relationships and interactions have on a child’s development I will show the importance of the Bioecological Model of Human Development. The development of the ecological theories that shape development was theorized by Urie Bronfenbrenner. He described the four systems that contain settings and factors that influence a child’s development. His Bioecological Systems Theory, shows while biological changes in a child are the primary sources of development, the external factors are huge contributors as well.

    It is stated that the body supports and directs all body actions and operations influenced by the outward interaction with the environment. That explains why the child thrives with positive results with proper input or negative repercussions with negative input. “ James Garbarino states “ The child who is not adequately nurtured or loved , such as one who is brought up in an abrasive or dysfunctional family , may have developmental problems. ” (Berns,R 2012) The first system that influences development is the microsystem.

    The microsystem refers to the interaction and relationship that the individual has with significant figures in their life such as, family, peers, school, and the community (Berns, 2010). The microsystem has the biggest impact on the child because it is whom the child comes in contact with the most. How a child acts or reacts to these people in the microsystem will affect how they treat her in return. Each child’s special genetic and biologically influenced personality traits, or temperament, ends up affecting how others treat them. In the microsystem, relationships have impact in two-directions , both away from the child and toward the child.

    For example, a child’s parents may affect his beliefs and behavior; however, the child also affects the behavior and beliefs of the parents. Bronfenbrenner calls these bi-directional influences, and he states they occur among all levels of environment. The interaction of structures within a layer and interactions of structures between layers is integral to his theory. At the microsystem level, bi-directional influences are strongest and have the greatest effect on the child. However, interactions at outer levels can still impact the inner structures.

    An example of a positive microsystem would be a nurturing caring family, who gives their child opportunities to initiate activity and live in a language rich environment. The child feels security from parents that model desirable behaviors, so the child is confident to model them as well. An example of a negative microsystem would be the orphans in Romania under the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu who experienced Reactive Attachment Disorder. This is when the absence of a consistently available attachment figure or maltreatment of these babies caused severe social and emotional consequences later.

    It is likely there is a critical period for the development of neurological pathways underlying the organization of the attachment system and that early care experiences are central to this development. ( Chaffin M, Hanson R, Saunders B, 2006) This extreme disadvantage will persist and even worsen as the child progresses. This exemplifies why the microsystem period is so crucial. The mesosystem is an interrelationship and linkage between two or more persons in a microsystem that comprise of connections between immediate environments like a child’s home and school, or the family and peer groups.

    The impact on a child depends on the number of interrelationships and the quality. (Berns, R. 2012) The mesosystem, is the component that describes how the different parts of a child’s microsystem work together for the sake of the child. Bronfenbrenner’s example of the child who goes to school alone, and there’s no “linkage” such as values experiences and behavioral styles as experienced at home, there will be little achievement. If these links are strong and consistent there will be a desirable academic performance.

    The difference between the mirco (which means small ) and the meso which means intermediate systems are implicated in their names. These significant contexts of development are crucial and without a strong first link (like the family ) the second link cannot attach properly. Good example of a positive mesosystem experience would be the families participating in the parent committee meetings we have at my school. We plan cultural celebrations, for the families to gather, meet each other and network. Our Cinco De Mayo Festival last year demonstrated cultural pride, and excellent socialization by the adults for the children to model.

    A negative example would be children raised in separate homes where the co-parents, due to divorce don’t communicate. If the child is being raised with different parenting styles by both, it is detrimental to the linkage. The third system is the Exosystem which is a setting that children do not participate, but it does affect them in one of their microsystems. Also, their external environmental setting indirectly affects the development like a parent’s workplace or social support networks. A good example of this would be the dynamics of being raised by a minister, being the “preacher’s daughter. While it is the father’s vocation, is a heavy responsibility having to live up to the high moral standards and expectations. This has a big impact on the daughter. Children in the exosystem do not participate, but are affected by this component. The community helps children learn roles, and children are shaped by the system they are in. This can have positive and negative consequences. Military children are a special breed, they must understand when their parents receive their orders, and they must follow where ever the military tells them to go.

    Children of poverty whose family members are dependent on social programs have esteem issues dealing with this system. “Recent research consistently reports that persistent poverty has more detrimental effects on IQ, school achievement, and socio-emotional functioning than transitory poverty, with children experiencing both types of poverty generally doing less well than never-poor children. ” (McLoyd, V. 1998) These children experience consequence they had no control over with life time consequences. The link between ocioeconomic disadvantage and children’s socioemotional functioning appears to be mediated partly by harsh, inconsistent parenting and elevated exposure to acute and chronic stressors. It is clear other factors resulting from the poverty contributed to the negative outcomes and even lowered expectations from teachers. This is an extreme example of a negative bio-directional link.

    The macro system is the fourth structure, which is the society and subculture where a developing person belongs. Included in this system are certain beliefs, lifestyles, patterns of social interactions, and life changes. (Berns, R. 012) According to our text the macrosystem can also consist of a larger cultural context of national economy, political culture, and religion. Macrosystems are viewed as patterns or sets of instructions for the other systems to reside in. Because the range of the macrosystem, is large, as the name implies, it’s effects are vast. An example of this system according to our text states the demography in the United States is a macrosystem. Demography affects our work, which is an exosystem which in turn affects our schools and families which are microsystems. This is an excellent example of how all areas are linked and bio-directional.

    Because the macrosystem encompasses ethnicity and culture it is important that schools adapt to cultural differences to facilitate positive interactions. Family structure varies throughout different cultures and is changing constantly in ours. “The social power of the family is related to the institutional structure and values of the culture. Socialization of children by the family is related to ecocultural variables and family types and results in different psychological characteristics across cultures. ”(Garcia,E. 2000) Simply stated it is impossible to study family concepts in this context, without looking at the culture of the family.

    Dr. Bronfenbrenner argued that individuals develop not in isolation but within a system of relationships to family and society. His theory the ecology of human development is a fluid comprehensive model that helps us as educators, look at the whole picture and factors of development. The fifth system of chronosystems which emphasizes growth as a factor in changes or new conditions explains how these systems evolve as the child matures. Biology and genetics influence human development but thanks to Dr. Bronfenbrenner, we now know how important these systems are.


    Berns, R. M. (2012). Child, family, school, community: Socialization and support (9th ed. ). Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Cengage Learning. ISBN: 9781111830960 Garcia, E. (2000, September). Meeting the Challenge of Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in Early Childhood Education. Yearbook in Early Childhood Education Series, 6. Retrieved September 8, 2012 McLoyd,, V. (1998, February). Socioeconomic disadvantage and child development. American Psychologist, 53(2), 185-204. doi:10. 1037/0003-066X. 53. 2. 185 Walsh, F. (2006). Strengthening family resilience (2ndnd ed. ). N. p. : Guilford.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What are the 5 major components of bioecological theory of human development?
    Bronfenbrenner divided the person's environment into five different systems: the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, the macrosystem, and the chronosystemm.
    What are the main points of Bronfenbrenner's theory?
    Bronfenbrenner believed that a person's development was affected by everything in their surrounding environment. He divided the person's environment into five different levels: the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, the macrosystem, and the chronosystem.
    What is Bronfenbrenner's ecological theory of human development?
    Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory is one of the most accepted explanations regarding the influence of social environments on human development. This theory argues that the environment you grow up in affects every facet of your life.
    What is the bioecological model of human development?
    The bioecological model is based on the idea that the relationships children have with parents and caregivers impacts their development – and that these relationships are affected by their work, school, and community settings, which are in turn affected by broader social, cultural, and policy conditions.

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