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Urie Bronfenbrenner
Born (1917-04-29)April 29, 1917
Moscow, Russian Republic
Died September 25, 2005(2005-09-25) (aged 88)
Ithaca, New York, U.S.
Nationality Russian (formerly)
Fields Developmental psychology
Alma mater Cornell University
Harvard University
University of Michigan
Known for Ecological systems theory, co-founder of the Head Start

Urie Bronfenbrenner (April 29, 1917 – September 25, 2005) was a Russian-born American developmental psychologist who is most known for his ecological systems theory of child development.[1] His scientific work and his assistance to the United States government helped in the formation of the Head Start in 1965.[2] Bronfenbrenner's research and his theory was key in changing the perspective of developmental psychology by calling attention to the large number of environmental and societal influences on child development.[2]


Bronfenbrenner was born in Moscow on April 29, 1917.[3] When he was six, his family moved to the United States, first to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and then a year later to a rural part New York state.[4] His father worked as a neuropathologist at a hospital for the developmentally disabled called Letchworth Village, located in Rockland County, N.Y.

Bronfenbrenner went to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, and graduated with a bachelors in psychology and music in 1938.[3] He earned a master's in education from Harvard in 1940, and a doctorate in developmental psychology from the University of Michigan in 1942.[2] He entered the U.S. military the day after receiving his doctorate, going on to serve as a psychologist in various military bodies during World War II.[5] After the war, he briefly obtained a job as an assistant chief clinical psychologist for the newly founded VA Clinical Psychology Training Program in Washington D.C.[5] After that, he served as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan for two years, and then moved to Cornell University as an assistant professor in 1948.[5] At Cornell, his research focused on child development and the impact of social forces in this development for the rest of his career.[6]

He was appointed to a federal panel about development in impoverished children around 1964 and 1965, with this panel helping in the creation of Head Start in 1965.[3]

Bronfenbrenner wrote over 300 research papers and 14 books in his lifetime,[2] and achieved the title of Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Human Development at Cornell University.[5] He was married to Liese Price and had six children.[3] He died at his home in Ithaca, New York, on September 25, 2005 at the age of 88, due to complications with diabetes.[3]

Views on human development and ecological systems theory[edit]

Bronfenbrenner saw the process of human development as being shaped by the interaction between an individual and his or her environment.[1] The specific path of development was a result of the influences of a person's surroundings, such as their parents, friends, school, work, culture, and so on.[1] During his time, he saw developmental psychology as only studying individual influences on development in unnatural settings; in his own words, developmental psychology was, "...the science of strange behavior of children in strange situations with strange adults for the briefest possible periods of time." [1]:19

It is from this vantage point that Bronfenbrenner conceives his theory of human development, the ecological systems theory. His theory states that there are many different levels of environmental influences that can affect a child's development, starting from people and institutions immediately surrounding the individual to nationwide cultural forces.[1] He later accountedn for the influence of time, such as specific events and changes in culture over time, by adding the chronosystem to the theory.[7] Furthermore, he eventually renamed his theory the bioecological model in order to recognize the importance of biological processes in development.[8] However, he only recognized biology as producing a person's potential, with this potential being realized or not via environmental and social forces.[8]

Head Start[edit]

In 1964 Bronfenbrenner testified before a congressional hearing about an antipoverty bill, stating that measures should be directed towards children in order to reduce the effects of poverty of developing persons.[3] This perspective was contrary to the predominant view at the time that child development was purely biological, with no influence of experience or environment on its course.[9] Because of his testimony, he was invited to the White House to discuss the issue with Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson, with whom he discussed child-care programs of other countries.[2] Furthermore, he was invited to a federal panel that was tasked with developing a method to counteract the effects of child poverty and to get them on an equal educational footing with wealthier students.[9] He worked with 12 other professionals from various fields such as mental and physical health, education, social work, and developmental psychology.[9] Bronfenbrenner convinced the panel to focus efforts on involving a child's family and community in the intervention effort, so as to expand the program to also focus on the creation of a better environment for development.[9] The panel's recommendations led to the formation of the Head Start in 1965.[2] Bronfenbrenner's input may have helped Head Start develop some of its environmental intervention methods, such as family support services, home visits, and education for parenthood.[9]

Legacy and influence[edit]

According to Melvin L. Kohn, a sociologist from Johns Hopkins University, Bronfenbrenner was critical in making social scientists realize that, "...interpersonal relationships, even [at] the smallest level of the parent-child relationship, did not exist in a social vacuum but were embedded in the larger social structures of community, society, economics and politics."[2] His theory also helped to push developmental research into conducting observations and experiments to discern the impact of certain environmental variables on human development.[6] His research and ideas were also influential in the formation and direction of Head Start (see above).[2] Bronfenbrenner's teaching at Cornell University produced a large number of developmental researchers who are now, as Cornell University claims, "leaders in the field."[6]



  • 1970. Two Worlds of Childhood: US and USSR. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-21238-9
  • 1973. Influencing Human Development. Holt, R & W. ISBN 0-03-089176-0
  • 1975. Influences on Human Development. Holt, R & W. ISBN 0-03-089413-1
  • 1979. The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-22457-4
  • 1996. The State of Americans: This Generation and the Next. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-684-82336-5. Lony Tunes
  • 2005. Making Human Beings Human: Bioecological Perspectives on Human Development. Sage Publications. ISBN 0761927115


  1. ^ a b c d e Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Urie Bronfenbrenner, 88;Co-founder of Head Start Urged Closer Family Ties". Retrieved 2013-10-06. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Urie Bronfenbrenner, 88, an Authority on Child Development". Retrieved 2013-10-01. 
  4. ^ American Psychologist. (1988). Urie Bronfenbrenner. American Psychologist.
  5. ^ a b c d e "In Appreciation: Urie Bronfenbrenner". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  6. ^ a b c "Urie Bronfenbrenner". Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  7. ^ Berger, K.S. (2012). The developing person through childhood (6th edition). New York, NY: Worth Publishers
  8. ^ a b Ceci, S.J. (2006). Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917–2005). American Psychologist, 61 (2), 173-174.
  9. ^ a b c d e "Early Intervention Can Improve Low-Income Children's Cognitive Skills and Academic Achievement". Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  10. ^ 1993 James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award
  11. ^ "The American Family: Future Uncertain". Time. December 28, 1970. Retrieved 2009-09-17. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urie_Bronfenbrenner — Please support Wikipedia.
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90 news items

Cornell Chronicle

Cornell Chronicle
Mon, 25 Apr 2016 11:31:53 -0700

Previous topics for the conference-and-publication series honoring Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-2005), the longtime Cornell professor of human development and of psychology, included “Chaos and Its Influence on Children's Development” and “The ...

Cornell Chronicle

Cornell Chronicle
Fri, 15 May 2015 11:45:00 -0700

Testifying before Congress in 1964, Cornell developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner urged lawmakers to fight “poverty where it hits first and most damagingly – in early childhood.” Intrigued by his work, Lady Bird Johnson invited Bronfenbrenner ...

Cornell Chronicle

Cornell Chronicle
Tue, 23 Sep 2014 12:12:36 -0700

As one of the world's leading developmental psychology scholars, Urie Bronfenbrenner, a co-founder of the national Head Start Program, was often tapped by national leaders to inform public policy on children and families. But when those requests ...
Huffington Post
Tue, 29 Mar 2016 09:18:45 -0700

Decades of research, from John Dewey, James Coleman, to Urie Bronfenbrenner, all suggest that context matters and that young people's development is influenced and impacted by both internal and external environments. In particular, the obstacles young ...

Brookings Institution (blog)

Brookings Institution (blog)
Wed, 25 Nov 2015 04:38:04 -0800

As Cornell Professor Urie Bronfenbrenner preached, the family is the “most powerful, the most humane, and by far the most economical system known for building competence and character.” The tough, disciplined messages conflicted with many of popular ...

The Conversation US

The Conversation US
Tue, 23 Jun 2015 03:00:54 -0700

Children aren't simply little adults; as developmental psychologists like Urie Bronfenbrenner have noted, it's important to take into account the extent to which children are embedded in systems like family and school, where parents and teachers play a ...

Cornell Chronicle

Cornell Chronicle
Mon, 12 Jan 2015 14:25:46 -0800

Named for the late Cornell developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner, whose research helped to inspire the federal Head Start program, the BCTR brings together Cornell social and behavioral scientists and real-world practitioners to disseminate ...

UD Daily

UD Daily
Thu, 28 May 2015 08:33:45 -0700

In 2011, she was presented UD's Francis Alison Award, the University's highest competitive faculty honor, and she has been the recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and the Urie Bronfenbrenner Award. She is a principal investigator on an ...

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