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Urie Bronfenbrenner is one of the most well-known psychologists alive. Into his eighties, he was still actively engaged in an extremely long and productive career. Bronfenbrenner is most famous for his views on ecological psychology. Very briefly, he suggests that:
• interactions with others and the environment are key to development,

• we all experience more than one type of environment, including

    •  the microsystem - such as a family, classroom, etc is the immediate environment in which a person is operating,
     •   the mesosystem - which is two microsystems interacting, such as the connection between a child’s home and school,
    •  the exosystem - which is an environment in which an individual is not involved, which is external to his or her experience, but nonetheless affects him or her anyway. An example of an exosystem is the child’s parent’s workplace. Although a child may never have any role in the parent’s workplace, or, in fact, never even go there, the events which occur at the child’s place of employment do affect the child. For example, if the parent has a bad day at work, or is laid off, or promoted, or has to work overtime, all of these events impact the child, and finally,
    the macrosystem - or the larger cultural context.
Each of these systems are characterized by roles, norms (expected behavior) and relationships. For example, an individual usually acts differently within his or her own family than within a classroom. The person may speak more often at home, be less goal-oriented, and, almost certainly, will not sit at a desk for hours on end. Other things being equal , according to Bronfenbrenner, when the relation between different microsystems is a compatible one, development progresses more smoothly. A common example of this is the relationship between home and school. When role expectations are similar in both settings, e.g., try your hardest, do your own work, be on time, etc., children will be expected to perform better than if role expectations differ substantially from one setting to the next.

 The above is just a very brief, simplified introduction to Bronfenbrenner’s theory. In my opinion, it is one of the most interesting theories in psychology and one that includes the largest percentage of truly important concepts (e.g., your relationship with your mother, cultural expectations for women in your society, the national economy, your socioeconomic status and much more). Obviously, it is also a very complex theory that has only been touched upon in this discussion.

A good place to start learning more about ecological psychology is

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 To be truthful, the average student just starting out in psychology will probably have some difficulty grasping all of Bronfenbrenner’s theory reading this book just once. It is not that the language is that difficult, but rather, that he introduces so many concepts in one book. You should, if you are planning on majoring in psychology, try to find time to read it at some point.

Return to reading the introduction to developmental psychology page Click here to return to the page on middle childhood.

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