Bioecological Systems Theory Explained


People develop within their environments. This development creates a sense of individuality, but it also creates predictable outcomes. By examining how children and adults react to the development processes in specific environments, it becomes possible to understand how biodirectional influences shape individuals into the people they become.

This process was first proposed by Urie Bronfenbrenner and has heavily influenced the field of developmental psychology. Its model is still relevant today and is widely practiced.

What Are the Systems of the Bioecological Systems Theory?

When Bronfenbrenner first laid out his theory, he identified four different environmental contexts that could modify a person’s development.

  • Microsystems. This is the environment that is closest to the individual. It includes their intimate relationships, direct interactions with their surroundings, and close interpersonal contacts.
  • Mesosystems. This environment includes relationships that those who are within an individual’s microsystem have with others. A child’s best friend has a parent or guardian, so the parent of that child and the parent of the best friend would be part of the mesosystem for each person. The relationship of the children influences the relationship of the parents.
  • Exosystems. This environment does not affect an individual directly. It is the structures that encompass what can happen within a microsystem. If a parent lost their job, then this action would affect a child because it would require them to change how they live in some way.
  • Macrosystems. This is the outer circle of the original systems theory and it includes social, economic, or cultural ideologies that can affect a person’s environment. A government decided to pass and enforce new laws would be an example of this type of environment.

As Bronfenbrenner looked at his original theory, he began to recognize that other key factors could influence a person’s development as well. In 1986, he would shift his theory from ecological systems to bioecological systems.

This update included social contexts and environments because they also influence the learning process for people.

What Is the Chronosystem in the Bioecological Systems Theory?

As Bronfenbrenner began to evolve his theory, he recognized the need to include a chronosystem to his proposal. A chronosystem is a reference to how an individual or an environment changes over time. Bronfenbrenner would place a greater emphasis on the processes involved and the role of a person within the chronosystem while including four total concepts.

  • Process Concept. The goal of processes for people is to help them form more complex reciprocal interactions. This creates rewarding circumstances for the individuals involved and causes them to seek out additional interactions throughout their environment.
  • Person Concept. The characteristics of every individual also play a role in the overall environment. Social interactions can change as a person ages, but the goal is still the same. Every social interaction has the goal of creating a future social interaction that is more complex. This allows people to form relationships that continue to influence them over time.
  • Context Concept. Context, according to Bronfenbrenner, is how the four original environmental influences continue to affect personal development. Each has a direct and/or indirect influence that helps to shape personal characteristics. It also means that personal characteristics have the capability of changing environments reciprocally.
  • Time Concept. Time follows the same structures as the environments. This means there is micro-time, meso-time, and macro-time. Micro-time are the seconds in this present moment that can influence an individual. Meso-time involves the outside processes that can influence an individual over time, such as working for the same employer for 20 years to earn a pension. Macro-time shifts expectations over generations.

By understanding how a person develops within their environmental system, it becomes possible to determine why certain decisions, behaviors, or feelings are interfering with future development opportunities. Incorporating the concepts offered by the bioecological systems theory makes it possible to understand the influences that have helped to shape personal environmental interactions.

Technology has the power to speed up this process dramatically. Because there are such high levels of interconnectivity today, people have larger microsystem environments. This shapes how they react with others because there are more relationships formed, even if individuals only chat online instead of meeting in person.

This creates a knowledge base that can help an individual of any age begin to make new decisions. The new decisions can then shape future personal interactions so that positive outcomes, either socially or structurally, can be achieved over time. These dynamic processes can then help to predict individualized outcomes for how people will view themselves over time.