Urie Bronfenbrenner: Biography & Theory

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  • 0:01 Biography & Background
  • 0:55 Ecological Systems Theory
  • 2:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Moffitt

Kimberly has taught college Sociology and Criminal Justice classes and has a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice.

Urie Bronfenbrenner is known for developing a theory of child development called 'ecological systems theory.' Let's examine this theory and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Biography and Background

Urie Bronfenbrenner was a Russian-American psychologist known for developing the ecological systems theory. He was born in 1917 in Moscow and died at 88 years old in 2005, having spent most of his life in the United States.

His father worked as a clinical pathologist at the New York State Institution for the mentally retarded, which very likely impacted Bronfenbrenner's career choice and philosophical beliefs. Urie went to Cornell for his undergraduate degree in psychology and music, and then went on to Harvard for his Master of Arts. Later, he earned a PhD in developmental psychology from the University of Michigan.

Bronfenbrenner also served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. In 1948, he accepted a professorship in Human Development, Family Studies, and Psychology at Cornell University. Bronfenbrenner is also the co-founder of the popular Head Start program for disadvantaged pre-school children.

Ecological Systems Theory

Urie Bronfenbrenner was a pioneer in examining the family, economy, and political structures as influences upon the development of a child into adulthood. His greatest contribution to the field of developmental psychology was the ecological systems theory. At the core of this theory are four systems that shape a child's development: the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, and the macrosystem.

Bronfenbrenner recognized that children do not develop in a vacuum. There are many institutions and agencies that surround the child and affect his or her development. At the heart of this ecological systems theory is the individual.

  1. The microsystem is those things in the immediate environment surrounding the individual, such as the family, the classroom, daycare, peers, etc.
  2. The mesosystem is the interaction between two microsystems, such as a mother interacting with a child's teacher.
  3. The exosystem is the environment that the individual isn't directly involved with but still impacts him/her anyway, such as a parent's workplace. Even though the child doesn't work there, if mom has to work overtime, that impacts the child's life.
  4. Finally, the macrosystem is the larger cultural context, such as attitudes and social conditions within the culture where the child is located. For example, a child growing up in a poor neighborhood will have a different upbringing than a child who grows up in a wealthy neighborhood.

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