Contribution to the NatureNurture DebateFroma western tradition, Bronfenbrenner was also among the first theoreticians tounderscore the need to take into account both the complex, reciprocal andsubtle interactions among each individual’s biological and personalcharacteristics and also the significant social and ecological contexts thatinfluence development (Rosa & Tudge, 2013).
In addition, he underscored theintricate interrelations holding among person, process, context, and time,arguing that more important than the various ecological systems per se are thetransactions and synergies among them. Bronfenbrenner’semphasised that a failure to appreciate this bidirectionality of humandevelopment engenders missed opportunities to test explanations ofdevelopmental change in ecologically valid ways (Brunswik, 1955; Lerner &Callina, 2014). This understanding contributed greatly to the enduring”nature-nurture” controversy over human development (Sameroff, 2010). Before 1970, the main concerns of manyresearchers in the field of human development was to discover the extent ofnature and nurture’s specific influences, with only a small number of studiesdesigned to emphasize the interactions between nature and nurture. Thenurturist shift in the 1980s was driven by three advances in the social science- the war on poverty, the concept of a social ecology, and culturaldeconstruction.
Where behaviourist research focused on proximal connectionsbetween reinforcements and performance, scientists in other social disciplineswere arguing that economic circumstance was a major constraint on theavailability of reinforcements, such that the developmental environments of thepoor were deprived in contrast with those of the affluent. Among these emergingnew perspectives was the ecological approach, which offered a moredifferentiated model than provided by economics alone. Bronfenbrenner (1977)identified the distal influences of family, school, work, and culture on theavailability of reinforcements to the child, providing a more comprehensiveempirical model for predicting individual differences in development. Theemphasis here was on studying how people accommodate throughout their lives tothe changing environments where they grow and live (Clarke-Steward et al.
,1985). His contextual model delineatedthe ways in which how dimensions of experience can augment or constrain humandevelopment. Although we may have a strong desire for straightforwardexplanations of life, Bronfenbrenner understood that development is complicatedand models for explaining it need to be complicated enough to usefully informour understanding. TimeOneof the most enduring contributions this bioecological model has made to thedevelopmental field was having the idea that the human life span is marked bythe presence of relative plasticity. This element, time, was highlightedincreasingly during the 1980s, until being formally attached to the PPCT modelin the third and final phase of the theory’s development, as comprising threedifferent layers(micro-meso-, and macrotime). Bronfenbrenner stressed that human development involves both continuityand change.
There is a progressive change in the person’s characteristics overtime and space (1975, 1978, 1979), which signifies continuity both in theperson and in the environment (1975). This is a significant contribution to thefield of developmental research as he understood how increasingly complexproximal and distal ecological systems, including historical time, influenceand expand human development throughout the life span (Tudge, Mokrova,Hatfield, & Karnik, 2009). He identified the key role played by temporalvariables (both in ontogenesis and throughout history) in developmental processes,highlighting the need for researchers to carry out longitudinal studies,ultimately transforming the generalizability of many of the findings indevelopmental research. He also asserted that time ordered variation within theindividual must be assessed in order to obtain valid information about thedevelopmental process. Confused with mechanisticparadigm ThePPCT model is particularly prone to misrepresentation and lack of appropriateevaluations in the literature, given that it is a contextualist theory that istoo often treated as though it fits within a mechanist paradigm (Tudge et al.
2009). Overton (Overton, 1984; Overton & Reese, 1973) has argued thatcontextualism, lacking the idea of a developmental end point, is not an appropriateparadigm for developmental science, and that in its “strict contextualist” form,it should be linked with mechanism or linked with organicism -“relationalorganicism-contextualism,” (e.g., Overton, 2013; Overton & Ennis, 2006). Overtonhas thus treated the PPCT model as thought it is a mechanistic model, although providingno direct evidence supporting his placement. In addition, hat Overton (2013)termed the “five defining features” of the development process are(non-linearity , order and sequence, direction, relative permanence andrelative irreversibility, and epigenesist and emergence) (p.53,originalemphasis)are not included in Bronfenbrenner’s theories and he consigned it to themechanist camp.
As Tudge et al. (2009) and Rosa and Tudge (2013) made clear, particularlywith the introduction of proximal processes into the PPCT model, there is no reasonto view the theory as one of independent effects (as required by mechanisttheories). Furthermore, Overton (2013, 2015) Misuse of Bronfenbrenner’s PPCTModelAsa result the PPCT model has fell short of its potential.
In 2009, Tudge,Mokrova, Hatfield and Karnik evaluated the extent to which scholars were usingthe theory correctly and concluded that very few of the papers published beyondthe year 2000 represented the most up- to date versions of the theory (PPCT)correctly. These findings were substantiated by their follow up study whichfound that out of 25 studies published between 2001 and 2008 who stated thattheir research was based on Bronfenbrenner’s theory, only four were based onthe most recent form of the theory, and most described the theory simply as oneof contextual influences on development, completely ignoring the centrepiece ofthe theory in its final incarnation: proximal processes. Importantly, thepurpose of employing a theory as the foundation for one’s research should benot only to determine the variables on which to focus and the methods to employbut also to provide some critical evaluation of that theory. As Meehl (1978)wrote: “Theories in ‘soft’ areas of psychology lack the cumulative character ofscientific knowledge.
They tend neither to be refuted nor to be corroborated,but instead merely fade away as people lose interest” (p. 806). Neitherrefutation nor corroboration is possible either when the theory ismisrepresented or when inappropriate methods are used.