Monday, November 17, 2008

Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory of development

Discuss how Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory of development has made a contribution to the field of human development. Specifically refer to research that has made use of Bronfenbrenner’s framework.

Traditionally, psychology has developed more tools for analysing individual than tools for analysing behaviour in environment context (Pervin & Lewis, 1978, as cited in Sugarman, 2001). It was usually either focus on people or environment as the locus of the developmental psychology essential. For example, there is endless debate about which factor is more important in the question of nature vs nurture (Sugarman, 2001).

Bronfenbrenner’s (1986) bioecological systems theory suggests that human development can only be understood within the various systems in which a person is surrounded. Guided by Bronfenbrenner’s perspective, Chang and Fine (2007) examined mothers’ perceptions of parenting stress. It was stated that mothers’ capacity for adjustment is influenced by not only within themselves but also between people, i.e. by their children and their ecological context. The result revealed that maternal personal resources (i.e., self-efficacy and maternal depression) are important in predicting the stress experienced by low-income young mothers. Besides, maternal personal resources, child characteristics, and contextual influences explained differences between the chronically high and decreasing factors. More specifically, positive correlations were reported between difficult child temperament and parenting stress. Therefore, it was concluded that interventions programs are needed to assess maternal, child, and contextual in order to give/provide better attention to the unique needs of young mothers (Chang and Fine, 2007).

Lohman and Billings (2008) employed bioecological theory to examine protective and risk factors associated with rates of sexual related behaviors among adolescent boys from poor background. Based on the macro bioecological theory, the development of adolescents are influenced by various faceted environmental systems. Align with this, the characteristics of three microsystems: the family, school, and neighborhood, and also behaviors of adolescents were included in the study. As supported by bioecological perspective, individual behaviors, school functioning, and the family environment were key predictors of these sexual behaviors. Adolescents’ academic achievement and parental monitoring served as important protectors in influencing early risky sexual behaviors and initial sexual experience by preventing the negative behaviours, e.g., drug-alcohol use and school problems (Lohman and Billings, 2008).

On the other hand, Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems theory can also be used to outline the complex environmental processes that influence social support received by pregnant adolescents. The article identified macrosystem, mesosystem and microsystem in the pregnant adolescent’s context. For example, the microsystem includes stable characteristics of the adolescent that she brings to the negotiation of social support. This includes her personality, social and communication skills, age, level of stress and health. It was suggested that the bioecological model can also be used to guide mental health assessment of pregnant adolescents. Social support is a powerful strength in preventing negative outcomes among pregnant adolescents, and can be derived from several sources in the environment (Logsdon & Gennaro, 2008).

In short, the contribution of the Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems theory lies in demonstrating the interaction of individuals and environmental factors. Meanwhile, the theoreotical model of bioecological system continues to be the ideal framework with a high degree of explanatory power in developmental psychology.


Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: traditional and contemporary theories. Pearson Education, New Jersey.

Chang, Y., & Fine, M. A. (2008). Modeling parenting stress trajectories among low-income young mothers across the child’s second and third years: Factors accounting for stability and change. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 584–594.

Lerner, R. M. (1995). Developing individuals within changing contexts: Implications of developmental contextualism for human development research, policy and programs. In T. A. Kinderman & J. Valsiner (Eds.) Development of personcontext relations. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlaum Associates.

Logsdon, M. C., & Gennaro, S. (2008). Bioecological model for guiding social support research and interventions with pregnant adolescents. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 26, 327-339.

Lohman, B.J., & Billings, A. (2008). Protective and risk factors associated with adolescent boy’s early sexual debut and risky sexual behaviours. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 37, 723-735.

Sugarman, L. (2001). Life-spam development; Frameworks, accounts and strategies. (2nd ed.). New York: Psychology Press.

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