Bronfenbrenners Ecological Theory Of Development Psychology Essay

This literature review discussed about one of theory of life span development. The theory that is being focused on is Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory. In order to understand this theory more, the author researched on the biography of Urie Bronfenbrenner to understand him more. The author proceeds to explain every key system that is included in the Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory. Journals are being analyzed to understand the context of the key elements more and the summary of the journal articles are provided for further understanding. Every journal is being summarized and briefly explains for further understanding of the readers. The literature review continues with personal evaluation on Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory. It explains on how well the theory explains the life span development and how the five key systems directly affect the life span development of an individual.

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Life-span development is an attempt to know the development on an individual throughout their life. Traditional approach suggested that development would stops once the individual reaches the level of early adulthood while modern approach suggested that development occurs throughout the life. Development starts during pre-birth and continues to old age. The life-span perspective states that development as a lifelong process, multidisciplinary, multidimensional, plastic, multidirectional, and contextual (Baltes, 1987, 2001; Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 2006 as cited in Santrock, 2011). The main theories in explaining the human development are psychoanalytic theories, cognitive theories, behavioral and social cognitive theories, ethological theory, ecological theory, and eclectic theoretical orientation. 3

Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory of Development

Urie Bronfenbrenner developed the ecological theory of development. He introduced 5 key systems in developing the individual throughout the life. He recognized the importance of the environment in shaping the individual. The 5 key systems are microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. Each of the key system has own roles in shaping and developing the individual. The ecological theory helps people to understand why an individual is grown up that way and what is the future that the individual hold. Bronfenbrenner included biological influences in the ecological theory and named it as bioecological theory (Santrock, 2011). Nonetheless, environment and ecological still plays the biggest role in the theory as compare to biological influences.

Life of Urie Bronfenbrenner

Urie Bronfenbrenner was born in Moscow, Russia on 29th April 1917. He was the son of Dr. Alexander Bronfenbrenner and Eugenie Kamenetski Bronfenbrenner. His father was a clinical pathologist and research director in the New York State Institution of Mentally Retarded. He was migrated to United States of America at the age of six and after a short stay in Pittsburgh, they settled down in Lecthworth Village. After his high school graduation, he enrolled in Cornell University. He accomplished double major in psychology and music during 1938. He continues to graduate in developmental psychology and accomplishing an M.A in Harvard University. He proceeds to persuade a Ph.D. at University of Michigan in 1942. Shortly after the end of World War Two, he was accepted to work as Assistant Chief Clinical Psychologist for Administration and Research for the Veterans’ Administration. After a brief period, he then begins his work as Assistant Professor in Psychology at the University of Michigan. Urie Bronfenbrenner received a professorate in Human Development, Family Studies, and Psychology at Cornell University. During 1960 to 1970, Bronfenbrenner acts as a faculty-elected member of Cornell’s Board of Trustees. Urie Bronfenbrenner ties the knot with Liese and had six children. Bronfenbrenner serve as the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Human Development and of Psychology in the Cornell University College of Human Ecology during the last period of his life. He died in his house due the complications as the result of diabetes in 2005 at the age of 88 (Urie Bronfenbrenner, 2008).

Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory of Development


Urie Bronfenbrenner describes microsystem as the direct setting of an individual where they experience every day life and communication with the persona in the direct setting (Leu, 2008). The basic microsystem of an individual is the family that the individual grow up with. The other microsystems of an individual are peers, teachers, and more. They are the person that the individual looks up to on how they should act or behave. For instance, the individual will follow the behavior of the parent on how should they act or behave. If the father of the individual is a policeman, the child may be inspired to become a police like the father.


Bronfenbrenner define mesosystem as the relationship between two or more microsystem that contains the individual (Bronfenbrenner, 1994 as cited in Liao & Hong, 2010). One microsystem may affect another microsystem; therefore mesosystem is the interaction between two or more microsystem. For instance, a child that was rejected by the parent may have problem interacting with their peers. They feel that they will be rejected too and tend to stay on the safe side. They will distance themselves from the peers and withdraw from the society so that they will not get hurt anymore. The interaction between the parent and child affects the interaction between the child and peers.


Exosystem consists of relationships between two or more intercommunication and surroundings where the individuals are not affected directly (Hong, Huang, Sabri, & Kim, 2010). The individual of an exosystem acts as a passive recipient as they are not directly affected by the exosystem but someone in that exosystem. For example, relationship between a parent and a child may be affected by the parent’s working environment. Stress level that increases in the parent’s working environment will result in hot temper while communicating with the child and the relationship will turns out badly. This will directly affect the child even though the child does not exist in the working environment of the parent.


Bronfenbrenner defines the macrosystem as the cultural background for the social hierarchy and activities in the other four systems of the theory (Liao & Hong, 2010). The difference in cultural background of an individual will lead to a different interpretation of the situation. For example, is it illegal to have a slave? Some culture accepted slave and it’s not illegal for them but some may have different views. They may view that having a slave is against the law and the act shall be demolished. This varies based on own cultural background and cultural experiences. The ecological theory points out that the effect of bigger society on how the family interprets themselves and how they see themselves (Schweiger & Brien, 2005).


Chronosystem is the changes made by the environmental events and life-turning events that happened in the individual’s life, as well as history that involves social factor that has an impact on the individual’s life (Santrock, 2011). For instance, the marriage of a child’s parent that end on a bad note and it results in divorce. It may affect the child psychologically. They may not believe marriage as they believe it will end on a bad note like what happened to their parent. They will find it hard to believe in the other half and this will result in the increasing population of unmarried individuals. The chronosystem of this example will be the divorce of the parent that affects the development of the child.

Synthesis of Journal Articles

Child Maltreatment in South Korea: An Ecological System Analysis

The main thesis of the article is how the context of ecological theory related to the risk factor of children maltreatment in South Korea (Hong, Lee, Park, & Faller, 2011). In the context of microsystem, negative relationship between parent and child is the main problem of child maltreatment in South Korea. Besides that, intergenerational transmission of abuse and dosmetic violence is under microsystem too. For mesosystem, the relationship between parent-child affects the relationship between teacher-child. This is because child spends most of the time in school and teacher should be able to identify the child maltreatment cases. They found out that even though teacher are aware of child maltreatment but they were unlikely to interfere with the problem. The exosystems are mother’s employment and parent’s socioeconomic status. When the mother is facing pressure in her work place, she is more likely to become easily irritated. Therefore, they will start to have violence acts on their children. This applies to the parent’s socioeconomic status (SES) because violence is more likely to happen in family where the SES is lower. The drinking culture, corporal punishment, and Confucianism act as the cultural background and are named the macrosystem. When a person is drunk, they are more likely to exert violence on the person around them. South Korean’s drinking culture is very strong that they drink on every event. Therefore, this leads to the rise of child maltreatment in South Korea. Finally, the chronosystem is the economy crisis in South Korea is very severe. This leads to bankruptcy and therefore weakening of family ties but there were no empirical evidence that link economy crisis with child maltreatment (Hong, Lee, Park, & Faller, 2011).

Maltreatment of children with developmental disabilities: An ecological system


This article discusses about the how the risk factor of child maltreatment with developmental disabilities was being influenced by the ecological theory (Algood, Hong, Gourdine, & Williams, 2011). The microsystems are parent-child relationship and domestic violence. The weakness in parent-child relationship and the occurrence of domestic violence contributes to the increasing number of child maltreatment cases. Parenting stress, parents’ social support, and area of residence are under the context of exosystems. When the parents are facing stress, they couldn’t face the child calmly moreover a child that has developmental disabilities. They will be easily irritated and that’s when violence will happen. Social support is crucial when raising a child with developmental disabilities. If the society rejects the child, the parent will be affected by the society and they too will that the child is useless. Cultural plays a big part in the cases of maltreatment. Different cultural background sees developmental disabilities differently. Some may see them as useless person but some may not. Therefore, if the culture of someone sees child with developmental disabilities as a useless person, they are most like to neglect them and even mistreat them if they irritate the parent.

Special needs adoption: An Ecological Systems Approach

This article reviews about the adjustment of special needs children and family to adoption (Schweiger & Brien, 2005). It discussed on how the five systems affect the adjustment of special needs children to adoption. Children with pass abusive experience or being neglected by their own biological parent will have problem adjusting to adoptive family. Families that chose to adopt a child are automatically exposed to the social services system where it indirectly has impact on the child. It has a permanent affects on their view and behavior about adoption and it affects on how they see the adoption as. Besides that, it also affects the way they treat the adopted child. The article clearly explains on how the five systems affect the adjustment of special need children into the adoptive family.

Child Labor in People’s Republic of China: An ecological system analysis

This article was written about the increasing problem of child labor in China and the risk factor that was related to the ecological theory (Liao & Hong, 2010). The chronosystem that leads to increase of child labor is that usage of child labor has a long history in China. Therefore, it is normal for child labor to be used in China since it is like a tradition that was bring pass down by the ancestors. The cultural values of obedience and filial can be explain in the context of macrosystem that leads to the usage of child labor. It is stated that a lot of child labor is used to help their family in the family business. They will fell that they are not filial if they do not help up their family business. For the context of exosystem, local government that ignores the problem when it comes in contact with business and money (Liao & Hong, 2010). Lack of access to proper schooling is in between the context of mesosystem. Child that grow up in under privilege area do not have chance to have proper education and the way of earning money is by working as child labor. Family poverty (microsystem) contributes to the problem of child labor, as child labor is a way of earning income of the family.

An Analysis of Bronfenbrenner’s Bio-Ecological Perspective for Early Childhood

Educators: Implications for Working with Families Experiencing Stress

The article discuss on how Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory helps families that are experience stress effectively (Swick & Williams, 2006). The strong relationship between the parent and child effectively help reduce conflicts that will happen when someone is facing stress. Therefore, having a healthy microsystem is essential in strengthening the relationship between family members and it can help ease the stress of the family members too. As for exosystems, the child can feel the stress of the family member even though they are not present at the direct setting. When someone brings the stress back home, the child can sense it and they will behave in a way to avoid any argument to happen. Therefore to help familes to cope with the stress, the five key system of ecological theory need to be emphasize. For instance, understanding of the elements that stresses out the family members will help us in being a good helper in easing the stress of our family members (Swick & Williams, 2006).

Substance abuse among Asian American youth: An ecological review of the


The purpose of the article is to review how the five key system of Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory influence or curb substance abuse of young Asian American (Hong, Huang, Sabri & Kim, 2010). Age, race, gender and genetics play a big role in influencing on the individuals that have substance abuse. For instance, individuals whom parent is a drug addict are most likely to become a drug addict as well as they were brought up in that environment. They were likely to influenced by their peers as well. Besides that, low academic achievement of the individuals will more likely to be a substance abuser. The stress they are facing will leads them to take some substance that will temporary help them forget the problem they are facing. Cultural influences exposed the danger of substance abused to young Asian Americans. Some cultures have strong drinking histories and this leads them to have alcohol abuse. This proves that environment does a big part in developing the individual.

Early Childhood Music Education in Taiwan: An Ecological Systems Perspective

The researcher researched about early childhood education of music using Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory (Leu, 2008). It explains how the factor in microsystem level that develop the musical talent in child by using the context of perception of the adults and interactions between adult and child. Besides that relationship between child, parent and teacher are crucial in helping the music development. Good relationship will results in better music development as both parties are supportive at the music talent that are developing in the child.

Understanding suicide among sexual minority youth in America: An ecological

system analysis

The author researched on risk factor of suicide among the sexual minority youth through Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory (Hong, Espelage, & Kral, 2011). The minority being researched on are heterosexual youth and homosexual youth. Homosexual youth are more likely to commit suicide as compared to heterosexual youth (Hong, 2011). This is because of the five key systems that affect their decision on committing suicide. The rejection parent falls under the context of microsystem. The most crucial thing for youth is the approval and support from parent. Lack of interaction between youth-teacher and youth-peer is in the context of mesosystem. Teacher sometimes promote negative interaction between youth-peer as they own have discrimination towards homosexual youth. As for exosystem, the rejection of parent may lead to destruction of parent-child relationship as their distance between each other become further and further. The macrosystem is the cultural views on homosexual. Homosexual is views as wrongdoings and they will reject homosexual youth. Youth that are physically, verbally and sexually abused helps in promoting suicidal thoughts among the youth (Hong, et. Al. 2011). When all five key systems begin to act on the youth, the thought of suicide becomes stronger than ever and youth will choose to commit suicide so they can escape from all the rejection that they are facing.

Evaluation of Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory

Personal opinion on Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory

My personal view on Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory is that I strongly agree with the theory. After analyzing the journal articles, I was convinced that the ecological theory is very accurate in describing and predicting the life span development of an individual. Instead of focusing on the age group like what the other theory did, this theory focus on the ecological factor that plays a big part in the development of an individual. The relationships between the individual and the environment setting do have an impact on the development. I do agree that environment plays a big role in the development of an individual and personally thinks that every individual acts in a certain way was because of the environment in where they were brought up and it eventually have impacts on their life. For instance, if a child was neglected by their own parent will find it hard to approaches someone else like their teachers and peers. This will leads to social withdrawal of the child because they were afraid the peers and teachers would neglect them just like what their parent did. Different environment that the individuals are brought up will result in different development of the individuals. The difference in environment makes every individual different from each other. This is why every individual has his or her own perspective, behavior, and beliefs.


Microsystem plays a role in the development of an individual because is the direct setting of the individual like the family. The interactions in the microsystem context including the individual and people around them whom they interact with in the direct setting, which will always affects the individual (Hong, Huang, Sabri, & Kim, 2010). Interaction between parent and child is very prominent in the development of the individual. Parent is the most important person in an individual’s life. Individual takes their parent as their role model in life. For instance, neglection by the parent will lead to social withdrawal of an individual. I personally think that microsystem is very important in the development of an individual. It directly impacts the individual socially and psychologically and it may create problem for the individual in the future.


Mesosystem is the interaction between two or more microsystems in which the individual live. Interaction between microsystems is very essential in the life span development based on the ecological theory. Experiences in one microsystems may have impact on another microsystems (Eamon, 2011 as cited in Hong, Lee, Park, & Faller, 2011). Interaction of children in the school microsystem may affect the ones in the home microsystem. Many individuals are people that are very easy being influenced. The problems faced by an individual in the school may affects the mood and they will bring it back home and this affects the relationship with famiy members. Therefore, I agree with how the mesosystem level shapes the development of the individuals.


Exosystems are the things we been through indirectly but it affects us directly (Swick & Williams, 2006). For instance, individuals feel the stress that was faced by the parent while working without being present in the work place of the parent. Humans are very sensitive when it comes to senses. We can sense what is wrong when someone is acting differently. When this happen, the exosystem will affects how we think and how we should act. For instance, when we feel that our parent is stress because of their work, we will behave in a way where we will not make our parent more stress than they already are. This is how exosystem affects an individual’s life span development. This system clearly explains how an individual is being affect by the situation and the environment around them. It changes the way they are behaving when the environment around them changes as well.


Macrosystem is view as the cultural setting of the individual and how it affects the individual. Every individual are brought up in different cultural background and settings. This influences the way they perceive and interpret things. Different culture sees thing differently and this leads to the difference in interpreting things. I was brought up in Chinese family therefore the way I see things might the different from the on that are being brought up Malay and Indian family. Eating with hands may seem inappropriate for me but normal for the Malay and Indian family. Therefore, cultural background becomes one of the aspects to explain the developments of an individual on how will the individual become in the future.


Chronosystem is more likely the early experiences of an individual that have an impact on the individual’s life. Every individual are influenced by his or her early experiences during their childhood days. Things that happened during childhood is so important that it is imprint in the mind of the individual. The early experiences act as the starting point on how the individual will grow up to be and why did the individual behave in certain ways. Every individual have his or her own way of behaving mostly because of the chronosystem. For instance, individuals that are being abused when they were young were more like to be anti-social as they withdraw themselves from the society. Chronosystem acts as the basic context to be examined when it comes to the development of an individual throughout the life span as it has direct impact on the process of development.



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