Urie Bronfenbrenner is one of the most well-known psychologists alive.
Now in his eighties, he has had 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.
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