Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory

  • 10 Pages
  • Published On: 07-10-2023


Research on Bronfenbrenner declares that socialization and development are strongly influenced by various circles (radius) of the environment in which a person actively inter-relates. There are several assumptions in Bronfenbrenner’s theory. Firstly, the person is identified as an active player. The environment has great influence on the person’s behaviour. Secondly, the environment expects the person to adapt. The person has to adapt to both conditions and restrictions. Thirdly, the environment is broken into several entities. These entities can be placed next to each other. They are broken into sized entities called micro-, exo-, meso- and macro- systems. Here is a quick overview:


By definition, the microsystem represents a collection of interpersonal relations, activities, and roles. These are experienced by the person involved in a direct, face-to-face setting. There is direct social interaction and this happens between both materialistic and physical features. Indeed, the relationship happens between people with different beliefs, personalities, and temperaments. Studies by Berk (2000) reveal that microsystems are the closest environment for little ones. This is where children have the freedom to make direct contacts.


More studies say that relationships happen in two different ways: one from the child and the other to the child! Interaction can be broken into several levels and layers are the key to microsystems. When it comes to children, relationships in the beginning are more dyadic. With time, children learn how to handle several interactive relationships. This is a natural and a slow process.

Bronfenbrenner’s definition for microsystems was very accurate. The study focused on different belief systems that effect the development of children. The use of belief systems is flawless. This is because an individual’s belief system covers many environments and can be found in places apart from the person’s mind too. Microsystems depend on the person’s nearest surroundings like friends, relations, dear ones, and neighbours. The microsystem model comprises words and arrows that describe how the entities are related. The microsystem model is capable of studying reciprocal relationships too.

Based on the Bronfenbrenner theory, researchers like Sage (1998) made up simple classroom system models. Here, the child was considered as the prime target. The entire model revolved around relations between the child to his/her classmates, teacher, interns and parents. All these entities make up the child’s entire microsystem.

The Mesosystem

The definition of mesosystem has remained unchanged for a very long time. It has survived the statements revealed by Bronfenbrenner. The mesosystem represents a series of links. These links happen between two or more environment settings. In simpler terms, mesosystem is a collection of several microsystems. The person’s individual microsystems do not function independently as it is interconnected. Layers in the microsystem help in establishing a strong connection between children in the microsystem (for example, the interaction between a child and his/her teacher or the bond between a child and a church father (Paquette and Ryan, 2001)).

Microsystems are capable of supporting each other. People who are a part of the microsystem can have clashing pressure. However, they know how to handle expectations and other obligations. This is how inter-microsystem relationships work. This opens a new range of research concepts.

The Exosystem

In general, the exosystem is built with processes and links that happen in several settings (two or more). And, research believes that there would be at least one setting where the target is not considered. This raises the need for immediate settings that focus on process with the developing person, for instance, a child’s relationship with a parent’s office and home; or for a parent, his/her relationship with the school and neighbourhood. In this level, the person is not an active participant.

There are many wrong definitions and interpretations of the exosystem. This is because interactions in a single system can be expressed in several forms. This leaves room for confusion and conflicts. Exosystem results in an observation where several environments are taken into consideration. In some of these environments, the developing person is treated as a participant (they are not considered as members (Härkönen, 2007)). Likewise, exosystem gives researchers the freedom to study several environments simultaneously. This is when many questions regarding the definition of an exosystem arise. Some believe that exosystem is the relationship between several environments. There are significant ways a person can influence his/her environment. Namely, the final link depends on the reciprocal of processes, connections, and relations between environments in the exosystem.

The Macrosystem

Bronfenbrenner changed the overall definition of macrosystems. The Vygotski Theory was the first to change the idea behind macrosystems. Most studies see macrosystems as a part of a huge sociocultural environment. These studies use concepts like personal properties, which can increase the rate of development and introduce life to conceptual systems.

By definition, macrosystems comprise many overarching patterns. These patterns hail from exosystems, mesosystems, and microsystems. The characteristics prove a broader view into the subculture, culture, and social context. Macrosystems place strong reference on belief systems, opportunity structures, resources, life styles, social interchange patterns, life course options, and hazards (Bronfenbrenner, 1989). Macrosystems can be treated as a strong blueprint for a culture, subculture or society. Conceptual models and behaviours of a macrosystem can be transferred across generations. Cultural institutions like offices, schools, neighbourhoods, and congregations play an important role in the transfer. These institutions tend to intermediate the entire workflow behind socialization.

With respect to a child, the macrosystem forms the outermost layers. There are no frameworks to express the laws, cultural values, and traditions of a macrosystem. The influence of macrosystems can be seen through the layers. For example, the behavioural patterns of a child are influenced by his/her culture and upbringing. The actual impact of macrosystems can be seen only when entities from various societies are analysed. Bronfenbrenner gives a comprehensive account of how children from different societies like the USA and the Soviet Union behaved. Sooner, researchers concluded that Bronfenbrenner’s model of the macrosystem speaks about cultures and subcultures. It has very little to do with the society as it is set around the culture of the person. Indeed, Bronfenbrenner’s definition for the macrosystem has a clear account of cultural aspects and social principles. This gives scope for newer studies and interesting concepts.

The Chronosystem

Bronfenbrenner’s original theory did not have an account of the time system. This theory was introduced into the ecological study after a very long time. What astonished researchers was that Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory was all about human development. And, time plays an interesting role in the flow of development! This is where the chronosystem comes into the picture.

As suggested by its name, the chronosystem is an account of the development, evolution, and stream of growth of various external entities with respect to time. The chronosystem is scaled to long- and short-time durations. The time change is modelled in several ways. Time and transition is characterized using terms like history, change, a target’s life and development (Sage 1998 a, b, c). The system comprises rules and roles that can have a strong impact on the overall development. Conversely, there are very few sources to depict the relationship between actions, roles, and relations during a development cycle.

Design of System Patterns

It is quite interesting to note that Bronfenbrenner has not designed a successful system to prove his theories. However, other scientists have filled this gap with clean designs and models. Saarinen et al. (1994) has one of the finest patterns to describe Bronfenbrenner’s theory. This pattern holds lots of information about mesosystem jumps. It shows how mesosystems are formed by several microsystems. Hujala et al. (1998) was one of the very few researchers who came across many educational issues. This was when he presented the contextual growth model. The model focused on how a child grew up in a family and a day care centre. When compared against many system definitions, Hujala’s model was simple.

Kettukangas (2007) invested on educational models. He designed models that focused on the experiences and ideas of parents who depend on day care centres. Another researcher who focused on educational partnerships would be Toivomaki (2007) and Vesa (2005). Vesa’s model describes small schools as an ideal environment for social bonding.

Indeed, there are many studies based on the Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system. Most of them focus on an individual aspect that should be expanded further.

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With time, the Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system theory was known as the bio-ecological systems theory. The theoretical study focused on human development. It articulated the way human socialization works. Bronfenbrenner’s model has helped researchers understand more about human development models. The theory depends strongly on different environment sizes and levels. It takes into consideration cultural and social factors. And, the entire study focuses on distinct systems called micro-, meso-, exo-, maxo- and chrono- systems. To sum this up, Bronfenbrenner’s theory describes how the characteristics of the external environments in which the child is brought up in and finds himself/herself to be in influences their growth and development.

Bronfenbrenner’s theory is modified extensively. There are several models describing how the theory can be altered and improved. Some authors recommend the understanding of objects distinctly. Authors make use of original data and a wide range of resources for their studies. This is because there are many incomplete or insufficient interpretations. Bronfenbrenner’s theory is not a simple one. It requires lots of deep thought, research, and care. It needs room for deeper thinking systems that are very important to understand how we interact and bond with one another. As a result, the theory can be used to understand social factors of human development and tips towards the psychology of individuals in various systems.


  • Berk, L. E. (2000). Child Development (5th ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon, pp. 23-38.
  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (1989). ‘Ecological systems theory.’ Annals of Child Development. Vol. 6, pp. 187-249.
  • Härkönen, U. (2007). ‘The impact of theories on the early childhood education culture – The impact of the new systems theory on the early childhood education culture.’ Article in U. Härkönen & E. Savolainen (eds.) International Views on Early Childhood Education. Ebook. University of Joensuu. Savonlinna Department of Teacher Education.
  • Hujala, E., Puroila, A-M., Parrila-Haapakoski, S. and Nivala, V. (1998). From Day Care To Early Childhood Education. Jyväskylä: Gummerus.
  • Kettukangas, T. (2007). ‘It is reserved an arms for my baby – Opinions and experiences of kindergarten’s parents on partnership in Mikkeli city.’ Master’s Degree Thesis on Early Childhood Education. Savonlinna Department of Teacher Education. University of Joensuu.
  • Paquette, D. and Ryan, J. (2001). Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory. Available at .
  • Saarinen, P., Ruoppila, I. and Korkiakangas, M. (1994). Problems in Educational Psychology. University of Helsinki: Lahti’s Centrum of Education and Research]
  • Sage, N. A (1998c) The Classroom System – Teacher Target: Illustrated (On –Line). Available at
  • Sage, N. A. (1998a) The Family System – Child Target: Illustrated (On –Line). Available at .
  • Sage, N. A. (1998b) The Classroom System – Child Target: Illustrated (On-Line). Available at
  • Toivomäki, A., (2007). ‘Early childhood intervention experienced by kindergarten teachers.’ Master’s Degree Thesis on Early Childhood Education. Savonlinna Department of Teacher Education. University of Joensuu.

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