Reflections On Bronfenbrenner’s “Toward An Experimental Ecology Of Human Development” Nelson and Prillitensky’s Ecology, Prevention, and Promotion

In this article as I interpret it, Bronfenbrenner argues that the sciences that relate to human development in theory, method, and substance, are generally caught and placed in a box to verify stringent ideas of what it means to evolve and develop as a human. Bronfenbrenner is correct in pointing out the limited significance of such studies, especially in light of his proposal that the life course needs to encompass more than the most immediate and noticeable environment, that immediate environment and its system are constantly changing.  In light of class discussions of microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem as it relates to my and others constantly evolving and revolving lives, Bronfebrenner’s idea is particularly significant.

However, studying all four systems is particularly challenging, given that our dyad and triad conversations in class seemed to cover every system at once because, in truth, each system is nested within the other and each is intimately connected and each of us influenced each other during those conversations.  Reciprocity is something that Bronfenbrenner discusses in the Microsystem that was not considered before, while science naively thought the Experimenter could be pure and not influence Subject(s) during the study of an environment however small or large, involving environments of two and environments that involve more than two individuals.

The manner in which individuals experience life and experience influence is never in isolation, so Bronfenbrenner’s discussion of television, parents, and classroom influence is intriguing given the intentional and unintentional influence of propaganda on individuals and small groups which is what intrigues me most, in addition to studying people in their multiple environments and the influence that each of those environments has upon the individual.  But is most puzzling with all of the study of influence and conditioning upon the individual by various influencers, it seem odd that it did not occur to anyone before 1977, that each of these systems exist in tandem and that each acts to influence an individual, possibly at the same time.

Nelson and Prillitensky’s Ecology, Prevention, and Promotion.  The example of the deinstitutionalized mental health patients released into their surrounding communities, and like Bronfenbrenner before, the question of how the different environments and the individual interact and are interdependent upon each other.   What is noticeable in this ecological metaphor and Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model is the emphasis on the importance of the whole system, not just the environment, not just the individual.  It is not just psychology that is used to analyze; it is social psychology.

While I did not observe transactional interaction in Bronfenbrenner, it is discussed in Nelson and Prillitensky at length.  An environment, depending upon its characteristics can and does influence an individual to act in certain ways.  This is almost implicit in Bronfenbrenner.  With the example of school setting, participation and activity varying based upon size, I was reminded of a corporate setting where a company immediately downsized and employees are forced to take upon more than just their jobs.  The same could be questioned in a family setting where the parents divorce and members are forced to take on extra jobs in an out of the household to accommodate.  I wonder what the results of a study would look like in each of those cases?



Bronfrenbrenner, U. (1977). Toward and experimental ecology of human development. American Psychologist, July, 513-531.

Nelson, G. B., & Prilleltensky, I. (2010). Community psychology: In pursuit of liberation and well-being. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


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