The Bio Ecological Model of Human Development



The bio ecological human development model lays the most emphasis on the notion that the biology of a child fuels its development as a primary environment. His development gets steered by the societal landscape, immediate family environment, and the relationship between factors in his maturing biology. Conflict and alterations in one layer affect all the others. It is, therefore, important, not only to look at the child and its immediate environment, but interaction with the external environment too.

Human development can be separated into four separate systems. These are microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem and macrosystem. Microsystem is composed of the immediate environment in which a child grows up in. Such an environment may be comprised of the family, neighborhood, school and childcare environment. It is the immediate surroundings or setting in which an individual is brought up. Through this system, interaction with the social agents is the most direct. Such agents include peers, teachers and parents. An individual is actively involved in the construction of this setting rather than being a passive recipient of events. At this level, bi directional influence is noted in the sense that the parents might affect the beliefs and behaviors of the child, but the child can also affect the parent’s beliefs and behaviors. The bi directional influence is strongest and most profound within this system. Mesosystems provide a connection between the microsystems. Elements in mesosytems are almost familiar to those in microsystems, although with differences. It gives the result of an interaction between the different elements of microsystems and the effect on the development of humans. For instance, poor relationship between the parents and a child might lead to a poor relationship between the child and the teachers. External environmental conditions affecting the growth of a child indirectly are placed under exosystems. The work place of the parents is a good example of an exosystem. A wife receiving a promotion might sour the relationship between her and the husband or even should, due to more responsibilities and travel that comes with it. Americans sacrifice precious time with their child to bring home an income and provide them with the necessities of life. Enforced by American policies and laws, the matters of food, water, and shelter for a family are the only expected gains working parents have within a business-driven culture. Beyond necessities, the provision of strong bonds and relationships between parent and child—integral to a child’s emotional and mental development—are lost. As parental attachment and influence decreases and the amount of time children spend in non-parental care increases in America, children of working parents exhibit lower scores in school readiness and mathematics, decreased emotional aptitude and feelings of security, and increased behavioral problems.

Finally, macrosystems refer to the cultural environment of the nation as a whole, as well as major economic and political events. The context of culture may be comprised of poverty, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, among others. Within the historical evolution of the identity concept, there are two opposite, but common, approaches to the questions of what is the meaning of identity and how it is constituted. In the traditional and prevalent approach, more especially before the industrial revolution, one can define identity as a constitution based on the recognition of shared and familiar derivations including though not limited to ethnic, historical, linguistic, religious, territorial, political and cultural attributes with other people, groups or ideal. Familiarity and share concepts in this definition are also linked to the meanings of belongingness, sameness and unity. From which perspective cultural identity becomes a shared culture, ‘one true self, a sort of collective,’ hiding inside the many others, more artificially and superficially imposed ‘selves,’ that people with a shared ancestry history have in common.” The problematic belief in this analysis is that there is some essential and intrinsic content to any identity that is characterized by either an origin which is common or a common structural experience or both. Someone can be deemed as born along with their identity, which seems to act as an identical harmony sign. With regard to this, identity gets determined much more likely as a static and naturalistic formation which could always be retained. Such a conventional view observes an individual as a stable, unique, and whole entity.

Acculturation is frequently a result of the diffusion of alien culture on a massive scale into the society. Such diffusion considerably alters the culture of the receiving society. Contrary to most people’s belief, acculturation results not necessarily into complete a replacement old indigenous culture with the new one. The resulting traits may be a blend of the two cultures, or simply the new traits might be simply infused to make them work together. The relationship between the culture, which is receiving and the new traits and the culture of their origin, determines whether acculturation takes place or not. In cases where one society gets militarily dominant in this culture contact, perceiving themselves and their culture as being technologically superior and having more quality culture, it is unlikely that they will be acculturated. Such happened to be the case in the contact between the English settlers of Australia and the Aborigines that they encountered. European culture is almost exclusively present in Australia today because the English never adopted the Aborigines ways and culture. Some minor traits, however, got accepted by the British. For instance, words of animals, plants, and geographic locations. Being in control of the contact situation, the British chose and picked the traits which would be incorporated into their culture.

When a society is dominated militarily but still perceives its culture to be superior, it is mostly likely to be acculturated to the society of the dominant culture. Such disdaining rejection of acculturation took place following the collapsing of the Western Roman Empire during the 5th century A.D.As a result of repeated and continuous invasions by the German tribes that were militarily superior, the end finally came. Romans never adopted the cultural patterns, including the language, of their conquerors. For the Goths and German tribes, it was generally the opposite because they adopted Roman Christianity, the Latin as a learning language and the outward trappings of the Roman political system.

A society which is militarily dominant in a culture contact situation but which perceives its culture as being inferior is a likely to be easily acculturated. This was the case with the Mongols of N. Central Asia that were under Genghis Khan when they defeated China in the 13th century A.D. The Chinese culture got largely adopted by the Mongolian occupiers within a generation. They got acculturated by the same people that they had defeated.

A child’s development gets impacted by the following external factors among others. The prenatal environment: This refers to the, other’s body chemical balance, couple with the presence of toxic substances or conditions that could change the processes of development. This might refer to the mother’s usage of drugs, bacterial, traumatic injuries to the baby or viral diseases

The physical environment refers to environmental conditions such as the air that the child breathes and the nutritional content of the food that is eaten by the child as well as exposure to situations that can cause accident, diseases, injury, including neglect and child abuse.


The social/cultural environment is composed of the values, morals, norms and belief systems. These are the behavioral standards in the cultural setting within which the child gets raised, which control or regulate life. The learning environment refers to the type and the extent of stimulation which is available in the immediate surroundings of the child. Cognitive development gets promoted and molded by sensory input.

The emotional environment can be regarded as the nature of the interpersonal relationships of the child, as well the extent of nurturance which is available to the kid. This environment moulds personality and affects development of identity, self esteem, trust, personal resilience and the capability to engage in relationships that are intimate.

Relationships affect the development process of a child. Sexual abuse, neglect and physical abuse have immediate, profound and effects that rae long term on a child’s development. Neglect and abuse have long term effects on a child which can be seen in increased rates of psychiatric disorders, high rates of abuse of substance, and a variety of severe difficulties in relationships. Neglect and child abuse is a problem which is an inter-generational. The perpetrators of neglect and child abuse are, in most cases, people who are damaged, and abused, and neglected themselves. A clear link between abuse and neglect and later emotional, psychological, behavioral and other disorders which are interpersonal is evident, based on the impact inflicted by neglect and abuse on the development of the brain. A link between neural biological development and interpersonal experiences is evident. Children are known to make use of the state of mind of their parents in the regulation of their own metal processes. The capacity and capability of a child to control and regulate feelings and emotions and construct a sense of self that is coherent calls for responsive and sensitive parenting. Symptoms of attachment disorder have been diagnosed in 52% of adoptable children by The National Center for Adoption. In yet another study, 80% of maltreated and abused infants showed symptoms of attachment disorder. Classification, being the most preferred predictor of the attachment of a child, can be defined as the state of the mind with regard to attachment of the mother. A birth’s mother classification of attachment be the child is born can predict with accuracy of about 80%, the attachment of her child’s classification at age six. Such is a finding that is remarkable. Also with profound influence is the classification of attachment of a foster mother of the child. It has been found through research that the classification of the child turns the same after being in placement for three months. The findings have suggested a mechanism which is non genetic for attachment transmission patterns across all the generations. At significant risk of the development of anxiety disorders are children who have previously been abused sexually. They are also at a risk of developing significant depressive disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as antisocial disorders.

In general, the left hemisphere of the human brain is the language site, logical thought based on language, motor activity on the right side of the body. The right hemisphere of the human brain is responsible for motor activity on the left side of the body, holistic perception and context perceptions. The part of the human brain which lies directly behind the eyes(the orbito-frontal cortex ) is responsible for the integration emotional responses which get generated in the limbic system with higher cognitive functions, such as language and planning, in the prefrontal lobes of the cerebral cortex. Responsible for memory creation, is the left orbito-frontal cortex while the right orbito-frontal cortex is responsible for retrieval of memory . Healthy functioning calls for an integrated left and right hemisphere. A significant number of synaptic connections within the brain cells develop during the first year of life. Connections between the hemispheres by the corpus callosum are required by an integrated brain. Neglected and abused children have smaller corpus callosum compared to non-abused children. Neglected and abused children have cerebral hemispheres which are poorly integrated. This poor integration of hemispheres and underdevelopment of the orbitofrontal cortex is the basis for such symptoms as difficulty regulating emotion, lack of cause-effect thinking, inability to accurately recognize emotions in others, inability of the child to articulate the child’s own emotions, an incoherent sense of self and autobiographical history, and a lack of conscience.

The brains of abused and neglected children are not as well integrated as the brains of non-abused children. This helps explain why abused and neglected children have significant difficulties with emotional regulation, integrated functioning, and social development. Conscience development and the capacity for empathy are largely functions of the orbito-frontal cortex. When development in this area of the brain is hindered, there are important social and emotional difficulties. It is very interesting that the orbito-frontal cortex is sensitive to face recognition and eye contact. Abused and neglected children frequently have disorders of attachment because of their birth-parents lack of sensitive responsive interactions with the child.


Early interpersonal experiences have a profound impact on the brain because the brain circuits responsible for social perception are the same as those that integrate such functions as the creation of meaning, the regulation of body states, the regulation of emotion, the organization of memory, and the capacity for interpersonal communication and empathy. Stressful experiences that are overtly traumatizing or chronic cause chronic elevated levels of neuroendocrine hormones (Tudge, Shanahan & Valsiner, 1989). High levels of these hormones can cause permanent damage to the hippocampus, which is critical for memory. Based on this we can assume that psychological trauma can impair a person’s ability to create and retain memory and impede trauma resolution.

Abused and neglected children exhibit a variety of behaviors that can lead to any number of diagnoses. However, the effect of early abuse and neglect on the child can be seen in just a few critical areas of development. These areas include emotional regulation, response flexibility, a coherent, integrated sense of self across time, the ability to engage in affect attunement with significant others (empathy and emotional connectedness), and conscience development (Benson & Haith, 1999).

The effects of early maltreatment on a child’s development are profound and long lasting. It is the impact of maltreatment on a child’s developing brain that causes effects seen in a wide variety of domains including social, psychological, and cognitive development. The ability to regulate emotions and become emotionally attuned with another depends on early experiences and the development of specific regions of the brain (Lindon, 2010). Early maltreatment causes deficits in the development of these brain regions, primarily the orbito-frontal cortex and corpus callosum, because of the toxic effects of stress hormones on the developing brain.

These findings strongly suggest that effective treatment requires an affectively attuned relationship. Siegel stated, “As parents reflect with their securely attached children in the mental states that create their shared subjective experience, they are joining with them in an important co-constructive process of understanding how the mind functions. The inherent feature of secure attachment – contingent, collaborative communication – is also a fundamental component in how interpersonal relationships facilitate internal integration in a child.” This has implications for the effective treatment of maltreated children (Kail & Cavanaugh 2010). For example, when in a therapeutic relationship, the client is able to reflect upon aspects of traumatic memories and experience the affect associated with those memories without becoming dysregulated, the client develops an expanded capacity to tolerate increasing amounts of affect. The client learns to self-regulate. The attuned resonant relationship between client and therapist enables the client to make sense (a left-hemisphere function) out of memories, autobiographical representations, and affect (right hemisphere functions) (Leiner, 1976).


The development of a child depends on both internal and external environments. The bioecological model of human development is used to explain the effect of the internal and external environment of the development of human beings, with the four systems, though different, working harmoniously to provide the relationship between the environment and human development.



Leiner, Richard. (1976). Concepts and Theories of Human Development. Lawrence Eribaum


Benson,J. & Haith, M. (1999). Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood. NY.

Kail, R. & Cavanaugh, J. (2010). Human Development: A Life-Span View. New York: Wordsworth Cengage


Lindon, J. (2010). Understanding Child Development: Linking Theory and Practice. New York: Oxford

University Press.

Tudge, J., Shanahan, M. & Valsiner, J. (1989). Comparisons in human development: understanding time

and context. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.pp.91.


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