Ecological Theory of Bronfenbrenner

Ecological Theory of Bronfenbrenner

The Ecological theory Bronfenbrenner is based on the idea that to fully understand development, one must take into account the way in which the child's unique characteristics interact with that child's environment.

The environment is considered as a series of nested structures that extend from the closest frame of the home through other contexts in which the child spends his life, such as school and neighborhood, and reaching the most remote of the broadest culture.

It is suggested that each of these levels (represented graphically as concentric circles) has a powerful impact on the child's development.


  • 1 Bronfenbrenner Ecological Theory
  • 2 Assessment of the Bronfrenbrenner Ecological Theory
  • 3 References

Ecological Theory of Bronfenbrenner

The microsystem

The innermost level is called a microsystem. and refers to the activities, roles and relationships in immediate contexts to the child (the child in the family, in school, with peers, in the neighborhood, in the church, etc).

These relationships change over time and with the development of the person. Traditionally, child development specialists emphasize the effects of adults on the child when they study the relationships between two people at the microsystem level.

Bronfenbrenner points out that not only adult agents affect the child's behavior, but the child also influences the behavior of adults. In other words, all dyadic relationships are bidirectional and reciprocal.

Today, many investigations recognize the impact of the child's characteristics in the way others react to him. The dyadic interaction is also indirectly influenced by the presence of third parties.

For example, when fathers encourage mothers regarding the care of their children, they are more effective in tasks such as feeding the child. On the other hand, tension and marital conflict is associated with more inept children regarding food skills. So, Children's development must be understood in terms of these complex interactions.

The mesosystem

The second level of the Bronfenbrenner Ecological Theory is the mesosystem. It refers to relationships between microsystems such as home, school or neighborhood.

The author maintains that the child's development is facilitated through the interconnections between these frameworks. Thus, for example, the child's ability to learn to read can depend not only on the learning activities that are carried out in primary school, but also on the degree to which these activities are carried out and stimulated at home.

The mother's interaction with her child can be affected by the child's relationships with their caregivers in the nursery and vice versa. Mother-child and caregiver-child relationships can favor the child's development when there are links between these contexts, for example, in the form of mutual visits and exchanges of information between the home and the center.

Research that is at the level of the mesosystem attempts to capture comparatively the influences of several of these frameworks on behavior. One of the recurring concerns in this area has been that of show the influence that parents and peers have on different aspects of children's behavior.

The Exosystem

The exosystem refers to the social frameworks that do not specifically contain the child, but that affect their experiences in their immediate frameworks.

Exosystems can be formal, such as the parents' workplace or community health services. They can also be informal as the network of social relationships of parents with friends or with the most withdrawn family, which provides support and advice on child-rearing practices.

Bronfenbrenner emphasizes the importance of goals and activities within the exosystem as they influence the well-being and development of the child. Thus, for example, the flexibility of work schedules, the possibility of maternity leave and leave for parents whose children are ill are ways that can help parents in their roles, and indirectly stimulate the child's development.

Research has also demonstrated the potentially negative impact of a breakdown of activities in the exosystem. Thus, for example, families that are socially isolated, that is, have few personal or community relationships, or families affected by unemployment show a higher incidence of child abuse.

The macrosystem

The outermost level of the Bronfenbrenner Ecological Theory is the macrosystem. This is not a specific environmental context, since refers to the ideology, values, laws, regulations and customs of a particular culture.

The priority granted by the macrosystem to children's evolutionary needs is especially crucial in determining their experiences at the lower levels of the environmental structure.

Thus, for example, in those countries where it occurs priority to the development of high quality standards regarding the care of children and that they allocate public funds to ensure that the promulgated criteria are met, children are more likely to experience stimulating interactions with their peers, caregivers and adults.

Assessment of the Ecological Theory of Bronfrenbrenner

In recent years, evolutionary research that has integrated the environment into their analysis has proliferated. The emphasis given to the environment has multiple reasons, among which the reaction to the predominance of individualistic approaches (such as Freud and Piaget) in the study of development since the middle of the century should be noted. These approaches have been criticized by proponents of more contextualist perspectives such as ecological.

As criticisms of ecological orientation, it can be noted that, with the exception of Bronfenbrenner's proposal, this approach is characterized by the absence of a unifying and coherent theory that directs studies that rethink the role of the environment in development.

Thus there is a multiplicity of empirical studies that, although they care about the environment, do not constitute theoretically novel proposals. On the other hand, many of the ecological studies analyze the influence of the environment in a global and external way without being interested in the psychological process, and it must be taken into account that only this process can account for the way in which the subject interacts with the environment .


  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994). Ecological models of human development.Readings on the development of children2(1), 37-43.
  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (1992).Ecological systems theory. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • Ryan, D. P. J. (2001). Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory.Retrieved January9, 2012.
  • Stiling, P. D. (1996).Ecology: theories and applications (Vol. 4). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.