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Bioecological Model of Human Development


Many scholars in the psychology field define child development as biological, psychological and emotional transformation of a child from birth until when he or she reaches late teenage-hood, where he or she can make wise uncompelled decisions. Genetic factors and external happenings during pregnancy and before birth significantly affect these developments, thus it is vital to take account of them in this study. Uri Bronfenbrenner, a Russian-American psychology researcher, will be remembered for his broad research in human development.

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Through his tireless research, he invented a theory that helps in understanding the process of child development. Because the ecological situation of each child is distinct, Bronfenbrenner developed this theory to study the influences of biological and environmental factors in a child’s development process. In his theory, he suggested four major systems, or levels that help in understanding the biological and the environmental factors that influence a child’s development. The systems are inter-linked, and an alteration in one process affects the development of a child significantly.

Main Body

In his theory, Bronfenbrenner explained the complexity of the four environmental layers and their impact in a child’s development. The four layers cum systems are as microsystem, mesosystem, the exosystem and macrosystem.


This is the initial system and is nearest to the child. In it, there are structures that the he or she comes into direct contact. Moreover, it entails the bond a child has with his/her immediate environment. In this environment, the significant driving forces are the child’s parents, age-mates, school and immediate neighborhood. The behavior of the people in close contact with the child significantly affects his/her growth. Additionally, the child is actively shaping his/her understanding and environmental locale. The reaction of the child to the people in microsystem will influence the manner in which people around him/her treat him/her.

This may be caused by character traits that the child genetically acquires from his/her parents. Besides, the child’s temperament has a positive or negative impact on caregivers and peers. One example of this is, if a child is short-tempered, it may cause a conflict between his/her mother and father. On the other hand, if the parents are merciful and caring, the child will naturally acquire these traits. Moreover, the agents of influence in this level may be permanent or temporary. Besides, the impact of these agents may be minor or profound, and as a result, they may dictate a child’s future.


This is the next layer and illustrates how dissimilar units of the child’s microsystem co-ordinate to shape up the character of the child (Kail, & Cavanaugh, 2008). Besides, the well-built supportive relations of microsystem will enhance proper child development. On example, if the teacher-parent relationship is excellent, the child tends to have high grades in school, as the parent will monitor the child’s academic work and the teacher will encourage the child to work hard. Conversely, if the parents are negligent, his/her academic performance will deteriorate as there are no motivational factors. Additionally, the child may be affected by observing the way the teachers interact or how they treat other fellow pupils. Moreover, if the parents are financially disabled, the community helps in a child’s education by intervening through donations (Berns, 2009).


In this layer, the larger external environment dictates the child’s behavior but the child does not actively interact with it (Rathus, 2007). Additionally, the child has no control over the influential factors of development in this level. The people influencing his/her behavior are not within his/her reaching. An example of this is the parents’ occupations, which might influence the well-being of the child. If the parents work on long-hour shifts, it may affect the child emotionally at home and school. This will in turn negatively affect the child’s behavior at school and thereby affecting the teachers and peers. Additionally, if a providing parent, say father, has conflicts with the boss and thus loses his job, it will significantly affect the child. This will act as constrain to the child’s development. On the other hand, if the parents have secure jobs and create time for the child, his/her development is optimized.

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Sequentially, this is the larger outermost layer in the surroundings of the child. However, though it is not a particular structure, it entails state rules and regulations, cultural norms, traditions among other aspects of the society (Levine & Munsch, 2010). The impact of the bigger principles of the macrosystem has a rippling effect, all through the interaction of the other systems. For instance, the state government can set laws that can have an indirect trickle-down impact to the child. In the above example, the government may decide to divide a county into separate sub-counties. Consequently, the child is forced transfer school. Moreover, cultural beliefs of a society may affect the development of a child, either positively or negatively.


Lastly, Bronfenbrenner came up with chronosystem, which consists of all the attributes of time and their effects on child development. Though not a part of the original four layers, it has significant impacts in the life of a child. In it, a series of transitional events occurs during the time of development of a child. Parents’ separation, for example, might occur untimely, thereby affecting the life of a child for a short time, after which the child gets used (James, 2008).

Differences between the systems

Despite the fact that the layers of child development are interrelated and embedded to one another, their differences are noteworthy in the development of the child. In the levels of microsystem and mesosystem, the kid comes into direct contact with the agents of development, while in exosystem and macrosystem, the child is not directly in contact with development forces. As a result, the child may influence the way people treat him or her in the first two levels, but the child’s influence in the exosystem and macrosystem is negligible. In addition, in view of the surroundings, from the microsystem to the macrosystem, the environment keeps growing bigger and bigger, and thus their impacts to the development of the child increase significantly (Saraswati, 2003). Moreover, in the first two layers, the child cannot develop into his/her full potential, since the facilities for development are limited as compared to exosystem and macrosystem.

External Factors influencing a child’s development

It is clear that the factors affecting a child’s development are mainly hereditary and environmental. Among them is the family, the fundamental unit from where the kid learns his or her first habits. A family that lives united will up-bring a confident child with better moral values. On the other hand, when the parents separate, the child is affected negatively by promoting divorce later in his or her adult life. Moreover, the parents act as a role model to the growing child. In addition, the family’s economical position will influence a child’s normal development. Parents in high social class are more likely to nurture an all-round child, as opposed to the less fortunate ones.

In addition, the physical surroundings of a child will influence a child’s development. If a child lives in a clean, safe environment, the child’s proper development, both socially and physically is enhanced. Moreover, if the child lives in a peaceful society united with love and desired moral values, the child’s proper growth is significantly enhanced. Moreover, playthings such as toys foster the development of a child as he or she amuses him or herself. In addition, a child in an environment with responsible people who are ready to respond to his or her inquisitive and curious behavior, the child’s cognitive development is significantly enhanced. Furthermore, a child who lives in an environment with minimum social restrictions is likely to develop high self-esteem and have confidence in him or herself.

Besides, cultural values and attitudes play a vital role in shaping the behavioral development of the child. More so, children who live in states with political unrest will live in fear at home and even in the classroom and their self-confidence is seriously damaged. Some aspects of cultures in varied society may not be suitable for the development of a child. For instance, in some African countries, the boy-child is given preference over the girl-child in when it comes to education opportunities.

On the other hand, a society with rich and diverse cultural practices optimizes a child’s physical and cognitive growth considerably (Thomas, 2001). For instance, the western countries have a culture of nurturing talents, inventions and innovations of people from childhood. Besides, government policies have profound impacts on the development of a child. Societies with policies that safeguard children rights provide a suitable environment for a child’s all-round growth.

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On the other hand, technology has direct impacts in the social development of a child. Currently, children watch TV more often and if left uncontrolled they may watch programs intended for adults, and this may have a negative impact in the development of the child’s social growth. Additionally, most children in developed and developing countries have unlimited access to the internet and some of the sites they visit are harmful to them. Moreover, children spend loads of quality time playing different types of video games, some of which are obscene, instead of involving in useful activities like studying and engaging in physical exercises.

Examples of the relationships of the four layers

Mary, a young girl aged six, lived with her parents in the countryside of a certain state. Besides, she has two brothers. Unfortunately, Mary’s parents separated, and her mom went to live in the urban side of the state. However, both parents took part in raising her and her two siblings. In this instance, Mary’s parents and her siblings form part of her microsystem. Besides, she goes to a nursery school where she studies and is a member of the piano class, thereby expanding her microsystem. She also occasionally visits her dentist for check-up, adding to the tally of her microsystem. As Mary grows, her Microsystems continue to increase as she meets new people and moves to new environments.

Mary’s dad frequently goes to her school to monitor her academic progress. Besides, her mom is the one who takes her to the dentist. Mary occasionally goes to stay with her mum when school closes. When these Microsystems come together, they form part of Mary’s mesosystem. These interactions provide a suitable environment for Mary’s development. Conversely, her parents’ separation negatively affects her emotionally, since they sometimes quarrel in her presence.

Mary’s extended family meet quarterly every year, where they interact and socialize. Additionally, Mary’s dad is involved in a community organization that supports the less fortunate in the society and is concerned with security. This forms a part of Mary’s exosystem. Though Mary is not directly involved in the community organization, it has an impact in her development by providing a safe neighborhood.

On the other hand, Mary lives in a peaceful, democratic state with no civil upheavals. Her country is economically stable, with an excellent government structure and indiscriminating culture. Thus, as Mary grows she will learn better social norms of the country and become a patriotic citizen later. Furthermore, Mary’s home has a TV set that influences her behavior as she learns a lot from it. This accounts for her macrosystem.

Impacts of the relationships of the systems on a child’s development

The interactions of the four layers may have positive or negative effects on a child, and the magnitude of these impacts may be minor or weighty. When the microsystem and mesosystem interact, the child opens up to a bigger environment. For instance, when a child begins schooling, he or she begins to experience different types of people. These may be his/her teachers, and classmates. If a child’s peers are rude, the child may become unruly, a trait that he or she never had before.

On the other hand, if a child is in good company, his or her character improves. Another example macrosystem-mesosystem impact may be in the view of family-job interaction. Some parents delegate duties to a child to make him responsible and to teach him life skills. Conversely, some parents may bring up a child without any responsibilities, and this will have a negative impact to the child later in life.

Community, being part of the exosystem, affects the development of a child significantly. The presence of proper infrastructure, excellent housing and green non-polluted environment will greatly enhance the development of a child. Additionally, children living in rich neighborhoods have better chances of fast development, as opposed to the ones living in slums. Moreover, availability of social amenities such as a community library enhances a child’s cognitive development. On the other hand, better relations of the parents and the neighbors serve as an excellent example for the children.

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In addition, culture is influential agent in the macrosystem of a child. Children are members of a society, and thus different aspects of culture will have trickle down effects in the development of children. Moreover, countries have varied ways of upbringing their children. Government, on the other hand, may set rules that will influence a child’s mesosystem – family, thereby affecting the child. The government may decide to shift people from one settlement to another. In the process, the family is forced to change schooling of the child. The child will thus have new environment and learn new aspects of life.


Uri Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory, consisting of the four basic systems, has significant impacts in the development of children from zero years old to late teenage-hood. The four layers are the microsystem, mesosystem, the exosystem and the macrosystem (Thomas, 2001). In microsystem, as the name ‘micro’ suggests, the child’s influential agents are limited and consist of the child’s nuclear family and immediate neighbors. Besides, two or more agents of microsystem come together and form the mesosystem, the second layer in the theory. The third layer is the exosystem, which, though the child is not in direct contact with the factors of influence, it still affects his/her development.

The fourth and the outmost is the macrosystem. This level entails the larger environment of the child, such as cultures, government policies that may indirectly have significant effects on a child’s development. Additionally, there is the chronosystem, which though not part of the four its impacts on a child’s development cannot be overlooked. It entails a pattern of occurrences and their evolution over time. Moreover, these factors may interact and embed to provide varied results in child development.

On the other hand, these systems have their impacts, which may be long lasting or short term. Due to these outside forces, the child’s character may either improve or deteriorate. In addition, the child’s reactions to these factors may also affect other people who may be close to him/her.


Berns, R. (2009). Child, Family, School, Community; Socialization and Support. Belmont, CA. Cengage Publishers.

Kail, R. & Cavanaugh, J. (2008). Human Development; A lifespan view. California, CA: Wadsworth Publishers.

Rathus, S. (2007). Childhood; Voyages in Development. California. CA: Thomas Learning Inc.

Saraswati, T. (2003). Cross-cultural perspective in human development; Theory, Research and Application. New Delhi, ND: Sage Publication Inc.

Thomas, R. (2001). Recent theories of human Development. California, CA: Sage Publication Inc.

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