Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory - Simply Psychology (2023)

Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory

By Olivia Guy-Evans, published Nov 09, 2020

by Saul Mcleod, PhD

Key Takeaways
  • Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory viewschild development as a complex system of relationships affected by multiple levels of the surrounding environment, from immediate settings of family and school to broad cultural values, laws, and customs.
  • To study a child's development then, we must look not only at the child and her immediate environment, but also at the interaction of the larger environment as well.
  • Bronfenbrenner divided the person's environment into five different systems: the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, the macrosystem, and the chronosystemm.
  • The microsystem is the most influential level of the ecological systems theory. This is the most immediate environmental settings containing the developing child, such as family and school.
  • Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory has implications for educational practice.

Background and History

American psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner was critical of previous theories of child development. He argued that studies of children in unfamiliar laboratory environments with one other person, usually a stranger, were ecologically invalid (See Mary Ainsworth’s 1970 experiment of the ‘Strange Situation’).

Bronfenbrenner (1974) claimed most earlier studies were ‘unidirectional’, meaning that the laboratory studies observed the influence of A on B (e.g. a stranger/mother with a child), rather than looking at the possible influence of the child on the stranger/mother, or any other third party’s influence.

Bronfenbrenner maintained that these laboratory features of research are not characteristic of environments that children actually live and develop in.

Bronfenbrenner recognized there are multiple aspects of a developing child’s life that interacts with and affects the child. His work looked beyond individual development, taking into account wider influencing factors and the context (or ecology) of development. He proposed the ‘Ecological Systems Theory’ based on these dynamic interactions that the environments have on the developing child.

Bronfenbrenner’s (1974) perspective has some resemblance to the works of Albert Bandua’s social learning theory and Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory in which the environment is explicitly or implicitly considered as a crucial mechanism in development.

The Five Ecological Systems

The Five Ecological Systems

Bronfenbrenner (1977) suggested that the environment of the child is a nested arrangement of structures, each contained within the next. He organized them in order of how much of an impact they have on a child.

He named these structures the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem and the chronosystem.

Because the five systems are interrelated, the influence of one system on a child’s development depends on its relationship with the others.

Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory - Simply Psychology (1)

The Microsystem

The microsystem is the first level of Bronfenbrenner's theory, and are the things that have direct contact with the child in theirimmediate environment, such as parents, siblings, teachers and school peers.

Relationships in a microsystem are bi-directional, meaning the child can be influenced by other people in their environment and is also capable of changing the beliefs and actions of other people too.

Furthermore, the reactions of the child to individuals in their microsystem can influence how they treat them in return.

The interactions within microsystems are often very personal and are crucial for fostering and supporting the child’s development.

(Video) Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory

If a child has a strong nurturing relationship with their parents, this is said to have a positive effect on the child. Whereas, distant and unaffectionate parents will have a negative effect on the child.

The Mesosystem

The mesosystem encompasses the interactions between the child’s microsystems, such as the interactions between the child’s parents and teachers, or between school peers and siblings.

The mesosystem is where a person's individual microsystems do not function independently, but are interconnected and assert influence upon one another.

For instance, if a child’s parents communicate with the child’s teachers, this interaction may influence the child’s development. Essentially, a mesosystem is a system of microsystems.

According to the ecological systems theory, if the child’s parents and teachers get along and have a good relationship, this should have positive effects on the child’s development, compared to negative effects on development if the teachers and parents do not get along.

The Exosystem

The exosystem is a component of the ecological systems theory developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner in the 1970s. It incorporates other formal and informal social structures, which do not themselves contain the child, but indirectly influence them as they affect one of the microsystems.

Examples of exosystems include the neighborhood, parent’s workplaces, parent’s friends and the mass media. These are environments in which the child is not involved, and are external to their experience, but nonetheless affects them anyway.

An instance of exosystems affecting the child’s development could be if one of the parents had a dispute with their boss at work.

The parent may come home and have a short temper with the child as a result of something which happened in the workplace, resulting in a negative effect on development.

The Macrosystem

The macrosystem is a component of Bronfenbrenner'secological systems theory that focuses on how cultural elements affect a child's development, such as socioeconomic status, wealth, poverty, and ethnicity.

Thus, culture that individuals are immersed within may influence their beliefs and perceptions about events that transpire in life.

The macrosystem differs from the previous ecosystems as is does not refer to the specific environments of one developing child, but the already established society and culture which the child is developing in.

(Video) Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems: 5 Forces Impacting Our Lives

This can also include the socioeconomic status, ethnicity, geographic location and ideologies of the culture.

For example, a child living in a third world country would experience a different development than a child living in a wealthier country.

The Chronosystem

The fifth and final level of Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory is known as the chronosystem.

This system consists of all of the environmental changes that occur over the lifetime which influence development,including major life transitions, and historical events.

These can include normal life transitions such as starting school but can also include non-normative life transitions such as parents getting a divorce or having to move to a new house.

The Bioecological Model

The Bioecological Model

It is important to note that Bronfenbrenner (1994) later revised his theory and instead named it the ‘Bioecological model’.

Bronfenbrenner became more concerned with the proximalprocesses of development, meaning the enduring and persistent forms of interaction in the immediate environment. His focus shifted from focusing on environmental influences to developmental processes individuals experience over time.

‘…development takes place through the process of progressively more complex reciprocal interactions between an active, evolving biopsychological human organism and the persons, objects, and symbols in its immediate external environment.’ (Bronfenbrenner, 1995).

Bronfenbrenner also suggested that in order to understand the effect of these proximal processes on development, we have to focus on the person, context and developmental outcome as these processes vary and affect people differently (Bronfenbrenner & Evans, 2000).

Critical Evaluation

Bronfenbrenner’s model quickly became very appealing and became accepted as a useful framework for psychologists, sociologists and teachers to study child development.

The Ecological Systems Theory provides a holistic approach which is inclusive of all the systems children and their family are involved in, accurately reflecting the dynamic nature of actual family relationships (Hayes & O’Toole, 2017).

Paat (2013) considers how Bronfenbrenner’s theory is useful when it comes to the development of immigrant children. They suggest that immigrant children’s experiences in the various ecological systems are likely to be shaped by their cultural differences. An understanding of these children’s ecology can aid in strengthening social work service delivery for these children.

A limitation of the Ecological Systems Theory is that there is limited research examining the mesosystems; mainly the interactions between neighborhoods and the family of the child (Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000). Therefore, it is unclear the extent to which these systems can shape child development.

Another limitation with Bronfenbrenner’s theory is that it is difficult to empirically test the theory. The studies investigating the ecological systems may establish an effect, but they cannot establish whether the systems are the direct cause of such effects.

Furthermore, this theory can lead to assumptions that those who do not have strong and positive ecological systems lack in development. Whilst this may be true in some cases, many people can still develop into well-rounded individuals without positive influences from their ecological systems.

For instance, it is not true to say that all people who grow up in poverty-striken areas of the world will develop negatively. Similarly, if a child’s teachers and parents do not get along, some children may not experience any kind of negative effect from this if it does not concern them.

As a result, people need to take care not to make broad assumptions about individuals using this theory.

(Video) Bronfenbrenner's Ecological system Theory// Childhood and growing Up

Bronfenbrenner’s theory in the 21st century

Bronfenbrenner’s theory in the 21st century

The world has changed a lot since this theory was introduced in terms of technological developments. However, it could still be said that the exosystem of a child could be expanded to include social media, video gaming and other modern-day interactions within the ecological system.

This could suggest that the ecological systems are still valid but will expand over time to include new modern developments.

Kelly and Coughlan (2019) used constructivist grounded theory analysis to develop a theoretical framework for youth mental health recovery and found that there were many links to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory in their own more recent theory.

Their theory suggested that the components of mental health recovery are embedded in the ‘ecological context of influential relationships’ which fits in with Bronfenbrenner’s theory that the ecological systems of the young person such as peers, family and school all help mental health development.

Classroom Application

Classroom Application

The Ecological Systems Theory has been used to link psychological and educational theory to early educational curriculums and practice. At the center of the theory is the developing child, and all that occurs within and between the five ecological systems are done so to benefit the child in the classroom.

  • To strengthen the development between the ecological systems in educational practice according to the theory, teachers and parents should keep good communication with each other and work together to benefit the child.
  • Teachers should also be understanding of the situations their student’s families may be experiencing, including social and economic factors that are part of the various systems.
  • According to the theory, if parents and teachers have a good relationship, this should shape the child’s development in a positive way.
  • Likewise, the child must also be active in their learning, engaged both academically and socially. They must work as a team with their peers and get involved in meaningful learning experiences to enable positive development (Evans, 2012).

Empirical Evidence

There are lots of studies that have investigated the effects of the school environment on students.

Lippard, LA Paro, Rouse and Crosby (2017) conducted a study to test Bronfenbrenner’s theory. They investigated the teacher-child relationships through teacher reports and classroom observations.

They found that these relationships significantly related to children’s academic achievement and classroom behavior, suggesting that these relationships are important for children’s development and supports the Ecological Systems Theory.

Wilson et al., (2002) found that creating a positive school environment, through a school ethos valuing diversity has a positive effect on student’s relationships within school. Incorporating this kind of school ethos influences those within the developing child’s ecological systems.

Langford et al., (2014) found that whole-school approaches to the health curriculum can positively improve educational achievement and student well-being, thus the development of the students are being affected by the microsystems.

About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans obtained her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her master’s degree in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in 2019. Olivia has been working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Bristol for the last four years.

How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

Guy-Evans, O. (2020, Nov 09). Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory. Simply Psychology.

APA Style References

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1974). Developmental research, public policy, and the ecology of childhood. Child development, 45(1), 1-5.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward an experimental ecology of human development. American psychologist, 32(7), 513.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1995). Developmental ecology through space and time: A future perspective.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Evans, G. W. (2000). Developmental science in the 21st century: Emerging questions, theoretical models, research designs and empirical findings. Social development, 9(1), 115-125.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Ceci, S. J. (1994). Nature-nurture reconceptualised: A bio-ecological model. Psychological Review, 10(4), 568–586.

(Video) ecological theory पारस्थितिकी मॉडल

Hayes, N., O'Toole, L., & Halpenny, A. M. (2017). Introducing Bronfenbrenner: A guide for practitioners and students in early years education. Taylor & Francis.

Kelly, M., & Coughlan, B. (2019). A theory of youth mental health recovery from a parental perspective. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 24(2), 161-169.

Langford, R., Bonell, C. P., Jones, H. E., Pouliou, T., Murphy, S. M., Waters, E., Komro, A. A., Gibbs, L. F., Magnus, D. & Campbell, R. (2014). The WHO Health Promoting School framework for improving the health and well‐being of students and their academic achievement. Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (4).

Leventhal, T., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2000). The neighborhoods they live in: the effects of neighborhood residence on child and adolescent outcomes. Psychological Bulletin, 126(2), 309.

Lippard, C. N., La Paro, K. M., Rouse, H. L., & Crosby, D. A. (2018, February). A closer look at teacher–child relationships and classroom emotional context in preschool. In Child & Youth Care Forum 47(1), 1-21.

Paat, Y. F. (2013). Working with immigrant children and their families: An application of Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 23(8), 954-966.

Wilson, P., Atkinson, M., Hornby, G., Thompson, M., Cooper, M., Hooper, C. M., & Southall, A. (2002). Young minds in our schools-a guide for teachers and others working in schools. Year: YoungMinds (Jan 2004).

How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

Guy-Evans, O. (2020, Nov 09). Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory. Simply Psychology.

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What are the 5 main points of Bronfenbrenner's theory? ›

Key Takeaways

Bronfenbrenner divided the person's environment into five different systems: the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, the macrosystem, and the chronosystemm.

What is the main idea of Bronfenbrenner's ecological theory? ›

Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory focuses on the quality and context of the child's environment. He states that as a child develops, the interaction within these environments becomes more complex. This complexity can arise as the child's physical and cognitive structures grow and mature.

What is ecological systems theory in psychology? ›

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.

How important is Bronfenbrenner's ecological theory to you as a student? ›

Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Model can be useful to help understand the student's learning environments and to establish quality learning environments.

What is an example of Bronfenbrenner's theory and how it operates in your own life? ›

An example of Bronfenbrenner's bioecological model would be the relationship between a child's home life and a child's relationship with their friends. If a child is raised in a home where they are neglected and are unloved then he may develop certain characteristics. He may feel as though it is hard to trust people.

What are the 4 components of the ecological systems theory? ›

Bronfenbrenner's theory identified four systems within which children exist that would combine to have an impact upon how they grow and develop. He uses the terms microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem and macrosystem.

What is Bronfenbrenner's ecological theory essay? ›

Urie Bronfenbrenner developed a model called the “Ecological Systems Theory” that attempts to explain what factors influence a person's behavior and which ones have the most impact. The model is broken down into five systems: the “Microsystem”, “Mesosystem”, “Exosystem”, “Macrosystem”, and “Chronosystem”.

What are the criticisms of Bronfenbrenner's ecological theory? ›

A critique of this model, however, from a childhoodnature stance, is that it ignores consideration of human-nature interconnections. Thus, it is a deeply anthropocentric model of human development that is at odds with emergent post-humanist thinking that seeks to de-center the human condition.

What is an example of ecological theory? ›

This system includes a child's parents and family, school, peer group, neighborhood, etc. Examples: Personality traits or behavior of parents, friends, their parents influence a child's development. The child builds his or her 'first perspectives' through the family and people who are close.

What is an ecological system very short answer? ›

Definition. An ecosystem (or ecological system) consists of all the organisms and the abiotic pools (or physical environment) with which they interact. The biotic and abiotic components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows.

What is ecological system Short answer? ›

All plants, animals and human beings depend on their immediate surroundings. They are also interdependent on each other. This relation between the living organisms as well as the relation between the organism and their surroundings form an ecosystem.

What is the main problem with ecological theory? ›

Limitations of the Social Ecological Model include:

Lack of motivation for change in the environment. Changing lifestyles can be extremely difficult. Not all diseases can be prevented. Many people are in denial and do not believe they are at risk.

How is Bronfenbrenner's theory used today? ›

Consequently, studies using Bronfenbrenner's ecological system concepts by clearly considering interactions between and within these systems can result in recommendations that are most useful for guiding public mental health policy and practice.

Why is it important to understand ecological systems? ›

Why is ecology important? Ecology enriches our world and is crucial for human wellbeing and prosperity. It provides new knowledge of the interdependence between people and nature that is vital for food production, maintaining clean air and water, and sustaining biodiversity in a changing climate.

How do an individual's experiences in Bronfenbrenner's? ›

Bronfenbrenner's Ecological model can apply to Ethics and Emotional Intelligence. In the macrosystem, the individual exposure to different experiences will provide him with life, school, and work values. It will give the individual rules and norms to follow, which apply to ethics.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the ecological systems theory? ›

Pros and Cons of Ecological Systems Theory
Pros of Ecological Systems TheoryCons of Ecological Systems Theory
1. It's holistic rather than reductionist.1. It is difficult to text empirically.
2. It has a wide range of applications.2. Its terms and categoriesare sometimes vague.
1 more row
31 Dec 2021

What is the main contribution of Bronfenbrenner's theory towards pedagogy? ›

He developed the Ecological System Theory to explain how everything in the child's environment influences the child's development, labelling different aspects or levels of the environment that influence this development. Microsystem. This is the small, immediate environment the child lives in.

What are the 3 types of ecological factors? ›

Ecological factors can be grouped into several categories including climatic factors, edaphic factors, biotic and topographic factors. Climatic factors include temperature, light, wind, water, and humidity. All these factors are needed in the optimal quantities for the proper growth and functioning of the organisms.

What are the 5 basic components that an ecosystem needs? ›

An ecosystem must contain producers, consumers, decomposers, and dead and inorganic matter. All ecosystems require energy from an external source – this is usually the sun. An ecosystem must contain producers, consumers, decomposers, and dead and inorganic matter.

What are the 5 basic components of an ecosystem? ›

The components of an ecosystem include producers, consumers, decomposers, abiotic factors, and biotic factors.

Is Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory nature or nurture? ›

In answering the nature versus nurture question, Bronfenbrenner suggests that the contributions of nature and nurture cannot be separated easily because they are part of a dynamic system, constantly influencing one another.

What is a common criticism of ecological systems theory? ›

A weakness of the theory is that there is not sufficient evidence that children are disadvantaged if they have poor environmental influences or lack a certain environment (Guy-Evans, 2020; Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000).

What are 3 ecology examples? ›

Some types are landscape ecology, population ecology, and behavioral ecology. Landscape ecology deals with spatial distribution, patterns, and behaviors across large geographical areas.

How is ecological systems theory used in social work? ›

The ecological systems theory in social work

The ecological systems theory—also known as human ecology theory or development in context—examines how individuals' environments shape them into who they are.

What are 4 examples of ecology? ›

The different types of ecology include- molecular ecology, organismal ecology, population ecology, community ecology, global ecology, landscape ecology and ecosystem ecology.

Which statement best describes an ecological system? ›

Answer and Explanation:

An ecosystem is all of the biotic and abiotic factors in a given area.

Which are the major components of the environment short answer? ›

  • Natural- Air, water, land, soil, animals.
  • Human- Individual, family, society, other such group of individuals.
  • Human Made- Buildings, parks, industries etc.

What is eco system explain its structure and function? ›

An ecosystem is a structural and functional unit of ecology where the living organisms interact with each other and the surrounding environment. In other words, an ecosystem is a chain of interactions between organisms and their environment.

What are the 3 most important threats to our ecosystem? ›

The five biggest threats to our natural world … and how we can...
  • Changes in land and sea use.
  • Direct exploitation of natural resources.
  • The climate crisis.
  • Pollution.
  • Invasive species.
14 Oct 2021

What is the root cause of ecological problems? ›

Population is the root of all environmental problems being experienced by today's society.

What are the negative effects of ecological? ›

Negative Impacts

The impacts that these have on the environment have become clear and include: Climate change including Global warming. Acid rain, photochemical smog and other forms of pollution. Ocean acidification.

Why is Bronfenbrenner important? ›

Urie Bronfenbrenner was one of the first psychologists to adopt a holistic perspective on human development via his Bioecological Systems Theory, which had a widespread influence on the way psychologists and other social scientists approach the study of human beings and their environments.

What perspective does ecological systems theory support? ›

American psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner formulated the Ecological Systems Theory to explain how social environments affect children's development. This theory emphasizes the importance of studying children in multiple environments, known as ecological systems, in the attempt to understand their development.

What is the essence of Bronfenbrenner's Bioecological system into the development of an individual? ›

Definition. The bioecological theory of development was formulated by Urie Bronfenbrenner and posits that human development is a transactional process in which an individual's development is influenced by his or her interactions with various aspects and spheres of their environment.

› ecological-systems-theory ›

Otherwise known as the Human Ecology Theory, the Ecological Systems theory states that human development is influenced by the different types of environmental s...
Urie Bronfenbrenner's theory on how the social environment affects human development has had a far-reaching impact on psychological research. His theory isn...
Ecological Systems Theory. Samsu Alam. Ecological Systems Theory (EST), also known as human ecology, is an ecological/ system framework developed in 1979 by Uri...

What are the 5 levels of the social ecological model? ›

The framework typically includes 5 levels of influence: (1) intrapersonal (eg, individual, athlete), (2) interpersonal (eg, athletic trainer [AT], coach, parent, athletic director), (3) organizational (eg, community, school), (4) environmental (eg, cultural norms, physical environment), and (5) policy (eg, state high ...

Why do you think that Bronfenbrenner's theory is important for teachers 5? ›

His theory is important for educators to understand because it allows the educator to build fundamental relationships with their students and create a communication rich classroom that involves the parents.

What is the most important ideas of Urie Bronfenbrenner? ›

Urie's Ecological Systems Theory proposed that human development unfolds in a nested set of systems, involving cultural, social, economic and political elements, not merely psychological ones. These systems and their interactions can nurture or stifle optimal development.

What is the main contribution of Bronfenbrenner's theory towards pedagogy? ›

He developed the Ecological System Theory to explain how everything in the child's environment influences the child's development, labelling different aspects or levels of the environment that influence this development. Microsystem. This is the small, immediate environment the child lives in.

What are the main ideas of social ecology? ›

The social ecological perspective open_in_new posits that many factors from our environment come together to create the unique circumstances that shape who we are, seeking to promote the idea that we are all interdependent and must handle society's issues in ways that consider all parts of a functional system.

What are the key concepts of social ecology? ›

Social ecology deals with energy and society, land use and food production, the metabolism of societies, and the environmental impacts of human activities. It offers a conceptual approach to society–nature coevolution that integrates historical and current development processes and future sustainability transitions.

What are the 5 systems of Bronfenbrenner's ecological theory and why is it so valuable? ›

The Five Environmental Systems. The ecological systems theory holds that we encounter different environments throughout our lifespan that may influence our behavior in varying degrees. These systems include the micro system, the mesosystem, the exosystem, the macro system, and the chronosystem.

How is Bronfenbrenner's theory used today? ›

Consequently, studies using Bronfenbrenner's ecological system concepts by clearly considering interactions between and within these systems can result in recommendations that are most useful for guiding public mental health policy and practice.


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