The Bioecological Model of Human ...
793 CHAPTER 14 The Bioecological Model of Human Development URIE BRONFENBRENNER and PAMELA A. MORRIS OVERVIEW 795 DEFINING PROPERTIES OF THE BIOECOLOGICAL MODEL 796 Proposition I 797 Proposition II 798 FROM THEORY TO RESEARCH DESIGN: OPERATIONALIZING THE BIOECOLOGICAL MODEL 799 Developmental Science in the Discovery Mode 801 Different Paths to Different Outcomes: Dysfunction versus Competence 803 The Role of Experiments in the Bioecological Model 808 HOW DO PERSON CHARACTERISTICS INFLUENCE LATER DEVELOPMENT? 810 Force Characteristics as Shapers of Development 810 Resource Characteristics of the Person as Shapers of Development 812 Demand Characteristics of the Person as Developmental Influences 812 THE ROLE OF FOCUS OF ATTENTION IN PROXIMAL PROCESSES 813 PROXIMAL PROCESSES IN SOLO ACTIVITIES WITH OBJECTS AND SYMBOLS 814 THE MICROSYSTEM MAGNIFIED: ACTIVITIES, RELATIONSHIPS, AND ROLES 814 Effects of the Physical Environment on Psychological Development 814 The Mother-Infant Dyad as a Context of Development 815 BEYOND THE MICROSYSTEM 817 The Expanding Ecological Universe 818 Nature-Nurture Reconceptualized: A Bioecological Interpretation 819 TIME IN THE BIOECOLOGICAL MODEL: MICRO-, MESO-, AND MACROCHRONOLOGICAL SYSTEMS 820 FROM RESEARCH TO REALITY 822 THE BIOECOLOGICAL MODEL: A DEVELOPMENTAL ASSESSMENT 824 REFERENCES 825 The bioecological model, together with its correspon- ding research designs, is an evolving theoretical system for the scientific study of human development over time (Bronfenbrenner, 2005). In the bioecological model, de- velopment is defined as the phenomenon of continuity and change in the biopsychological characteristics of human beings, both as individuals and as groups. The phenomenon extends over the life course, across succes- We are especially grateful for the thoughtful criticisms of earlier drafts of the manuscript generously provided by the following colleagues: Jay Belsky, Rick Canfield, Nancy Dar- ling, Glen H. Elder Jr., Steven F. Hamilton, Melvin L. Kohn, Kurt L��scher, Phyllis Moen, Donna Dempster-McLain, Lau- rence Steinberg, and Sheldon H. White. We owe particular thanks to Professor Susan Crockenberg and her students at the University of Vermont who, in the course of a graduate sive generations, and through historical time, both past and future. The term future raises a question: How is it possible to scientifically investigate phenomena that have not yet taken place? This question is hardly new indeed, it pervades every field of scientific endeavor. However, we are the only species that, over historical time, has developed the capacity to engage successfully in scientific inquiry, and thereby, in many respects, has seminar, carefully reviewed a draft of this chapter, and made many constructive suggestions. We have done our best to meet the high standards that they commendably set. We wish to express gratitude to Richard M. Lerner and William Damon, the editors of the 1998 Volume and of that series as a whole, for their wise advice, encouragement, and patience. Finally, a special thanks goes to our most severe and most constructive critic, Liese Bronfenbrenner.
794 The Bioecological Model of Human Development been able to change the nature of the world in which we live. As a result, within certain limits, we humans have altered the nature and course of our own development as a species (Bronfenbrenner & Evans 2000 Bronfenbren- ner & Morris 1998). To place bioecological theory of human development into a larger context, it is important to recognize that many of the general perspectives advanced and elabo- rated in this theory are also parts of other related lines of theoretical and empirical inquiry into human devel- opment. Examples include life-span psychology (Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, Chapter 11, this Handbook, this volume), cultural psychology (Cole, 1995 Shweder et al., Chapter 13, this Handbook, this volume), Magnus- son���s developmental theory of contextual-interactive holism (Magnusson & Stattin, Chapter 8, this Hand- book, this volume), and, especially, the work of Robert Cairns (Chapter 3, this Handbook, this volume), who through communications and publications extending over 3 decades, has played a major role in the evolution of the four defining properties of the bioecological model: (1) Process, (2) Person, (3) Context, and (4) Time. Cairns is best known as the founder and principal protagonist of developmental science, and there are sev- eral excellent examples of his books and articles that have been most relevant to the evolution of the bioeco- logical model (Bergman, Cairns, Nilsson, & Nysted, 2000 Cairns, 1970 Cairns & Cairns, 1994). The spe- cific profile of the bioecological model of human devel- opment is its interdisciplinary and integrative focus on the age periods of childhood and adolescence and its ex- plicit interest in applications to policies and programs pertinent to enhancing youth and family development. In this chapter, we undertake to present the ecologi- cal model of human development that has been intro- duced over the course of the prior two editions of this Handbook (Bronfenbrenner & Crouter, 1983 Bronfen- brenner & Morris, 1998). The main focus of the 1983 chapter was on the empirical and theoretical roots of a model already in use, which centered on the role of the environment in shaping development. In contrast, this chapter is oriented toward the future. The present model introduces major theoretical innovations from the 1983 chapter in both form and content. The present formula- tion makes no claim as a paradigm shift (if there be such a phenomenon) rather, it continues a marked shift in the center of gravity of the model, in which features of ear- lier versions are first called into question but then re- combined, along with new elements, into a more com- plex and more dynamic structure. The transition in the form and content of the model actually took place over an extended period of time, an expression that will become all too familiar to the reader (Bronfenbrenner, 2005). The transition from a focus on the environment to a focus on processes was first intro- duced in the context of Bronfenbrenner���s unpublished lectures, colloquium presentations, and contributions to symposia. Not until 1986, did reference to an emer- gent new model first appear in print (Bronfenbrenner, 1986b). The following extended excerpt conveys both its spirit and intended substance. Because both of these at- tributes are relevant to the gradual evolution of the model to its present form, we quote from the 1986 state- ment at some length: It is now more than a decade ago that, being somewhat younger, I presumed to challenge the then-prevailing con- ventions of our field by describing the developmental re- search of the day as ���the study of the strange behavior of children in strange situations for the briefest possible pe- riod of time��� (Bronfenbrenner, 1974). Instead, I argued (as if it were simply a matter of choice), we should be studying development in its ecological context that is, in the actual environments in which human beings lived their lives. I then proceeded to outline, in a series of publications, a con- ceptual framework for analyzing development in context, and to offer concrete examples of how various elements of the schema might be applied both to past studies and to studies yet-to-come. I also emphasized the scientific and practical benefits of a closer linkage, in both directions, be- tween developmental research and public policy (Bronfen- brenner, 1974, 1975, 1977a, 1977b, 1979a, 1979b, 1981). Now, a dozen years later, one might think that I have good reason to rest content. Studies of children and adults in real-life settings, with real-life implications, are now com- monplace in the research literature on human development, both in the United States and, as this volume testifies, in Europe as well. This scientific development is taking place, I believe, not so much because of my writings, but rather because the notions I have been promulgating are ideas whose time has come. . . . Clearly, if one regards such scientific developments as desirable, there are grounds for satisfaction. Yet, along with feelings of gratification, I must confess to some dis- content. My disquiet derives from two complementary concerns. The first pertains to one of the main roads that contemporary research has taken the second, to some more promising pathways that are being neglected.
Overview 795 Alas, I may have to accept some responsibility for what I regard as the wayward course. It is an instance of what might be called ���the failure of success.��� For some years, I harangued my colleagues for avoiding the study of devel- opment in real-life settings. No longer able to complain on that score, I have found a new b��te noir. In place of too much research on development ���out of context,��� we now have a surfeit of studies on ���context without development.��� One cannot presume to make so brass an allegation without being prepared to document one���s case. I am pre- pared. (Bronfenbrenner 1986a, pp. 286���288) What followed was an early version of the newly evolv- ing theoretical framework, but the purpose of the pres- ent chapter is better served by presenting the model in its current, albeit still-evolving, form now called the bioecological model. The term evolving highlights that the model, along with its corresponding research de- signs, has undergone a process of development during its life course (Bronfenbrenner, 2005). The bioecological model addresses two closely related but fundamentally different developmental processes, each taking place over time. The first process defines the phenomenon under investigation���continuity and change in the biopsychological characteristics of human beings. The second focuses on the development of the scientific tools���theoretical models and corresponding research designs required for assessing continuity and change. These two tasks cannot be carried out independently, for they are the joint product of emerging and converg- ing ideas, based on both theoretical and empirical grounds���a process called developmental science in the discovery mode (Bronfenbrenner & Evans 2000, pp. 999���1000). In the more familiar verification mode, the aim is to replicate previous findings in other settings to make sure that the findings still apply. By contrast, in the discovery mode, the aim is to fulfill two broader but interrelated objectives: 1. Devising new alternative hypotheses and correspon- ding research designs that not only question existing results but also yield new, more differentiated, more precise, replicable research findings and, thereby, produce more valid scientific knowledge. 2. Providing scientific bases for the design of effective social policies and programs that counteract newly emerging developmentally disruptive influences. This has been an explicit objective of the bioecologi- cal model from its earliest beginnings. To orient the reader to the present formulation of the biological model, a preview follows. OVERVIEW We begin with an exposition of the defining properties of the model, which involves four principal components and the dynamic, interactive relationships among them. The first of these, which constitutes the core of the model, is Process. More specifically, this construct en- compasses particular forms of interaction between or- ganism and environment, called proximal processes, that operate over time and are posited as the primary mech- anisms producing human development. However, the power of such processes to influence development is presumed, and shown, to vary substantially as a func- tion of the characteristics of the developing Person, of the immediate and more remote environmental Contexts, and the Time periods, in which the proximal processes take place. The sections that follow examine in greater detail each of the three remaining defining properties of the model, beginning with the biopsychological characteristics of the Person. This domain was given sequential priority to fill a recognized gap in earlier prototypes of the ecologi- cal model. Thus, at midstage in the development of the present model, Bronfenbrenner criticized its theoretical predecessors and acknowledged his share of responsibil- ity for failing to deliver on an empirical promise: Existing developmental studies subscribing to an ecologi- cal model have provided far more knowledge about the na- ture of developmentally relevant environments, near and far, than about the characteristics of developing indi- viduals, then and now. . . . The criticism I just made also applies to my own writings. . . . Nowhere in the 1979 monograph, nor elsewhere until today, does one find a parallel set of structures for conceptualizing the charac- teristics of the developing person. (Bronfenbrenner, 1989a, p. 188) Three types of Person characteristics are distin- guished as most influential in shaping the course of future development through their capacity to affect the direction and power of proximal processes through the life course. First, dispositions can set proximal processes in motion in a particular developmental domain and continue to sustain their operation. Next,
796 The Bioecological Model of Human Development bioecological resources of ability, experience, knowl- edge, and skill are required for the effective function- ing of proximal processes at a given stage of development. Finally, demand characteristics invite or discourage reactions from the social environment that can foster or disrupt the operation of proximal processes. The differentiation of these three forms leads to their combination in patterns of Person struc- ture that can further account for differences in the di- rection and power of resultant proximal processes and their developmental effects. These new formulations of qualities of the person that shape his or her future development have had the unanticipated effect of further differentiating, expand- ing, and integrating the original 1979 conceptualiza- tion of the environment in terms of nested systems ranging from micro to macro (Bronfenbrenner, 1979b). For example, the three types of Person characteristics previously outlined are also incorporated into the defi- nition of the microsystem as characteristics of parents, relatives, close friends, teachers, mentors, coworkers, spouses, or others who participate in the life of the de- veloping person on a fairly regular basis over extended periods of time. The bioecological model also introduces an even more consequential domain into the structure of the mi- crosystem that emphasizes the distinctive contribution to development of proximal processes involving inter- action not with people but with objects and symbols. Even more broadly, concepts and criteria are introduced that differentiate between those features of the environ- ment that foster versus interfere with the development of proximal processes. Particularly significant in the latter sphere is the growing hecticness, instability, and chaos in the principal settings in which human competence and character are shaped���in the family, child-care arrangements, schools, peer groups, and neighborhoods. The latter theme speaks to the fourth and final defin- ing property of the bioecological model and the one that moves it farthest beyond its predecessor���the dimension of Time. The 1979 Volume scarcely mentions the term, whereas in the current formulation, it has a prominent place at three successive levels: (1) micro-, (2) meso-, and (3) macro-. Microtime refers to continuity versus discontinuity in ongoing episodes of proximal process. Mesotime is the periodicity of theses episodes across broader time intervals, such as days and weeks. Finally, Macrotime focuses on the changing expectations and events in the larger society, both within and across gen- erations, as they affect and are affected by, processes and outcomes of human development over the life course. The treatment of this last topic draws on Elder and Shanahan, Chapter 12, this Handbook, this volume. Our primary emphasis, however, is on the role of devel- opmental processes and outcomes in producing large- scale changes over time in the state and structure of the broader society over time, and the implications of those changes for the society���s future. Before turning to the task at hand, it is important to make explicit three overarching orientations that define the content and the structure of the chapter as a whole. First, we use the term development to refer to stability and change in the biopsychological characteristics of human beings over the life course and across genera- tions. There are no restrictive assumptions of change for the better or of continuity in the characteristics of the same person over time. Rather, these are issues to be investigated. Second, from the perspective of the bioecological model, the forces producing stability and change in the characteristics of human beings across successive gen- erations are no less important than stability and change in the characteristics of the same person over his or her lifetime. The third orientation is perhaps the most essential, and the most difficult to achieve. It was Kurt Lewin (cited in Marrow, 1977) who said that there is nothing so practical as a good theory. But to be ���good,��� a theory must also be ���practical.��� In science, a good theory is one that can be translated into corresponding research de- signs that match the defining properties of the theory. In the absence of such research designs���or worse yet, in the application of research designs that fail to match or even violate the defining properties of the theory���sci- ence cannot move forward. Hence, we have sought, as we proceed through successive stages of theoretical formula- tion, to specify, and, wherever possible, to illustrate the properties of a research design that corresponds with, or at least approximates, the proposed theoretical structure. DEFINING PROPERTIES OF THE BIOECOLOGICAL MODEL An early critical element in the definition of the bioeco- logical model is experience, which indicates that the scientifically relevant features of an environment for human development not only include its objective prop-
Defining Properties of the Bioecological Model 797 erties but also the way in which the properties are sub- jectively experienced by the person living in that envi- ronment. This equal emphasis on an experiential as well as an objective view springs neither from an antipathy to behaviorist concept nor from a predilection for existen- tial philosophic foundations but is dictated simply by the fact that very few of the external influences signifi- cantly affecting human behavior and development can be described solely in objective physical conditions and events (Bronfenbrenner & Evans 2000 Bronfenbrenner & Morris 1998). Critical to the foregoing formulation is the word solely. In the bioecological model, both objective and subjective elements are posited as driving the course of human development neither alone is presumed suffi- cient. Moreover, these elements do not always operate in the same direction. It is therefore important to under- stand the nature of each of these two dynamic forces, beginning on the phenomenological or experiential side. Both of the terms are relevant because, while related to each other, they are typically applied to somewhat dif- ferent spheres. Experiential is more often used in rela- tion to cognitive development and pertains mainly to changes in how the environment is perceived at succes- sive stages of the life course, beginning in early infancy and proceeding through childhood, adolescence, adult- hood, and, ultimately, old age. By contrast, experience pertains more to the realm of feelings���anticipations, forebodings, hopes, doubts, or personal beliefs. Feelings, emerging in early childhood and continuing through life, are characterized by both stability and change: They can relate to self or to others, especially to family, friends, and other close associates. They can also apply to the activities in which we engage for example, those that we most or least like to do. But the most distinctive feature of such experiential equalities is that they are emotionally and motivationally loaded, en- compassing both love and hate, joy and sorrow, curiosity and boredom, desire and revulsion, often with both polar- ities existing at the same time but usually in differing de- grees. A significant body of research evidence indicates that such positive and negative subjective forces, evolving in the past, can also contribute in powerful ways to shap- ing the course of development in the future (Bronfen- brenner & Evans 2000 Bronfenbrenner & Morris 1998). But these forces are not the only powerful ones at work, other forces are more objective in nature. This presence does not mean, however, that the forces are necessarily either more or less influential, mainly be- cause the two sets of forces are interdependent and af- fect each other. Like their subjective counterparts, these more objective factors also rely on their assessment of corresponding theoretical models and associated re- search designs, which evolved over time. These more objective relationships are documented propositions presented later (see too Bronfenbrenner & Evans 2000 Bronfenbrenner & Morris 1998). The first proposition specifies the theoretical model, and provides concrete examples the second foreshadows a corresponding re- search design for their assessment. However, before proceeding with formal definitions, it may be useful to point out that traditionally such phe- nomena as parent-child interaction���or, more generally, the behavior of others toward the developing person��� have been treated under the more inclusive category of the environment. In the bioecological model, a critical distinction is made between the concepts of environ- ment and process, with the latter not only occupying a central position, but also having a meaning that is quite specific. The construct appears in Proposition I stipulat- ing the defining properties of the model. To place its meaning in context, we cite Proposition II as well. Proposition I Especially in its early phases, but also throughout the life course, human development takes place through processes of progressively more complex reciprocal interaction be- tween an active, evolving biopsychological human organism and the persons, objects, and symbols in its immediate ex- ternal environment. To be effective, the interaction must occur on a fairly regular basis over extended periods of time. Such enduring forms of interaction in the immediate environment are referred to as proximal processes. Exam- ples of enduring patterns of proximal process are found in feeding or comforting a baby, playing with a young child, child-child activities, group or solitary play, reading, learn- ing new skills, athletic activities, problem solving, caring for others in distress, making plans, performing complex tasks, and acquiring new knowledge and know-how. For the younger generation, participation in such in- teractive processes over time generates the ability, moti- vation, knowledge, and skill to engage in such activities both with others and on your own. For example, through progressively more complex interaction with their par- ents, children increasingly become agents of their own development, to be sure only in part.