Intelligence in the Bioecological Systems Theory









Intelligence in the

Bioecological Systems Theory

Tiffany M.

Child and Adolescence Psychology

            The microsystem in infancy is comprised particularly with immediate family living in the household.  These influences are far reaching as they extend out to all aspects of the child’s life, and therefore development.  They include physical, emotional, cognitive and social development.   All of these are interrelated concepts that affect the overall intelligence of a child.  Parents are a child’s first teacher, as stressed by PBS and their partners.  Therefore, quality of interactions bi-directionally between parent and child are of the utmost importance.  This determines how receptive a child is to information, how a child interprets experiences, and how they process stimuli.  These are determined by parenting styles and subsequently, attachment in infants.


Parenting styles begin at the very moment a baby comes into the world.  “Parenting styles affect development for either good or bad, and parents need to know that a conscious decision in favor of a positive parenting style is not only an option, but a responsibility.” (Garrett. 2007.)  In studies, authoritative parenting, where parents are responsive and cooperative while providing structure, produces the best results.  Children reared in an authoritative environment have fewer behavioral / emotional problems and therefore a higher intelligence.  On the contrary, a higher incidence of these problems result from uninvolved and permissive parenting.  This is a result of a degaged environment, where there are are little to no expectations for a child’s development.  Authoritarian parenting shows immediate results, but later in childhood children suffer from social and emotional deficiencies that impact intelligence.  Therefore, it can be said that authoritative style is the best parenting method for increasing the overall intelligence of a child.  Authoritative parenting is successful because it is well-rounded.  Parents utilizing authoritative parenting style hold high expectations for their children’s behavior and achievements while providing support and allowing the child some control over themselves and their environment.  This is precisely why it is often referred to as “balanced parenting”.


In infancy, balanced parenting takes the form of soft discipline, providing a warm, responsive environment, verbal intercourse, and allowing the child to make arbitrary decisions such as what they would like to eat or wear.  This promotes a great deal of development.  Language and social skills are highly emphasized in this approach.  Next, it provides the infant with self-esteem and a model for future self-regulation.  Lastly, a secure relationship between parent and child can be established from a mutual understanding of one another.  These all have an incredible bearing on future intelligence and other development.


Different types of attachment develop by the influence of different parenting styles.  Attachment to the primary caregiver, often the mother, vastly influences the infant’s behavioral development and intellectual development.  In attachment theory, there are four distinctive kinds which are secure, avoidant, resistant, and disorganized.  When an infant’s attachment is avoidant, resistant, or disorganized, they tend to miss out on learning opportunities, which decreased their intelligence.  They lack the secure base that is vital to reach out and explore their environments.  In a secure attachment, infants are more confident to investigate their surroundings when their caregiver is present.  Majority of the characteristics of secure attachment coincide with those of the authoritative parenting style, thereby suggesting a correlation between the two.  Secure attachment develops out of a authoritative parenting style.  With this being the case, higher intelligence is cultivated because of the two.


Overall, greater intelligence is cultivated by quality interactions between parent and infant.  These interactions should generally be positive, receptive, and geared toward development of both cognitive and emotional skills.  This includes other family members as well.  The mesosystem is small at this point in development but still has an effect.  Positive relationships between two parents creates a positive, secure environment for the child.  Infants are particularly sensitive to interactions and learn by repeating behaviors.  Therefore, interactions in the mesosystem are models for future behavior.


The biosystem is a major system involved in the determination of the level of intelligence of a child.  Both the brain and the body are involved in this system.  The brain and its function are the direct physiological components in intelligence.  At the time of birth, the only portions of the brain that are particularly developed are the spinal cord and brain stem which are responsible for primary functions for living.  The rest of the brain has very limited functioning.  The rapid increase in size itself is astounding.  Between birth and the age of three, the brain increases from 25 percent of adult size to roughly 80 percent of the adult size.  This is a result of the speedy development that occurs in this time.  That is what makes the first three years of life incredibly critical for cognitive development.


Genetics certainly play a role in intellectual development.  Numerous studies have suggested genetic heredity.  However, heredity is not always positive as there are thousands of diseases and disorders that can occur, even before birth.  Genetic disorders, preterm birth, and prenatal terotrogens may often result in physical impairment and mental impairment.  These are interrelated with the biosystems of the parents, as well.  However, the detriment to development is not limited to occurrences in the gestational period.  An infant could be impaired by an accident or disease from their environment and causing a developmental delay.  Thankfully, there are programs to reduce or eliminate life long damages.  Early intervention programs and early headstart were created for at-risk infants for that very reason.


The infant’s exosystem includes programs that indirectly aid their cognitive development.  WIC provides low income families with supplementary food to ensure good health and nutrition to the infant.  Welfare programs do the same, but in addition welfare health care, including well baby checkups.  It also provides housing and cash assistance.  By providing these services, a child is not only physically well cared for but developmentally as well.  These programs ease the economic burden on the parents so that they can provide a more positive environment for the infant.  Other things that assist in development are flexibility in parent’s work schedules, FMLA, parental support groups, and good socioeconomic status.


Culture and religion in the infant’s macrosystem play an important role in shaping intelligence.  Each culture and religion have their own set of morals and values that are a part of governing people.  For example, infants in Asian cultures will naturally be more intelligent as a result of parent’s high standards for obedience and performance.  This is not to say that cognitive proficiency is the only aspect indicating intelligence.  Many cultures, such as the Luo in rural Kenya, make a distinction between academic achievement, social proficiency, life skills, and comprehension in their language.  Additionally, many areas of the world still do not have formal educational institutions.  Therefore, undereducated parents have less to teach their infants.  In rural areas of less developed countries, technology is nonexistent making children somewhat less visually competent.    Some customs restrict the amount of learning opportunities an infant has, such as cultures that wrap their infants until they are one or those who discourage dialogue between adults and children.  This is not to say that any culture is less intelligent than another; rather it highlights the differences in the types of intelligence that each culture possesses.


Physical, emotional, and cognitive development change over time.  As the infant becomes older, their minds and bodies both grow, expanding their environment and its influence.  Concepts build off of one another and their intelligence increases.  By the time the infant reaches adolescence, they have mastered all of the basic skills such as eating, sleeping, walking, and talking.  Teens are practically autonomous beings, unlike infants that require constant care and guidance.


That is not to say that teens do not require any care or guidance from their caretakers.  Just like in the stage of infancy, adolescents are still greatly affected by the influence of their microsystem in their development.  However, now the microsystem has expanded from family to include teachers and peers.  The educational system provides opportunity for learning and socializing, but interactions with teachers and peers can seriously affect intelligence both positively and negatively.  If a teen is well adjusted emotionally, they have better social relationships.  That creates a stronger microsystem.  Teens that have positive relationships with their teachers receive receptively and retain it better.  In addition, teens with friends that view learning as a positive experience and value intelligence make a better effort in their education.  The effect of the mesosystem is now functioning.  Relationships between teachers and parents, and parents and peers are now a great influence on teens.  However, that is not always the case.  Teens with bad relationships with those in their microsystem suffer emotionally, resulting in disruption in their learning processes and education.    Poor parenting and attachment may account for poor self-regulation, emotional immaturity, and therefore diminished cognitive ability.


The biochemistry of an adolescent may also account for emotional disturbances.  Like infants, many teens have difficulty regulating their emotions.  However, infants cannot effectively regulate their emotions because of immaturity of their brains.  Teens face a different challenge.  Their brains are facing a biochemical assault due to the onset of puberty.  At that point, the frontal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for regulating behaviors, emotion, personality development, is still developing.  Combined with hormonal imbalance, this makes teenagers especially sensitive to emotional and behavioral disturbances.  That creates a global affect causing disruptions in cognitive and social learning.


Genetics continue to play a role in teenage development.  A teenager with an inherited “giftedness” can continue to excel with the proper nurturing elements, as previously noted.  Contrastingly, if a teen has been subject to a negative environment throughout development, intelligence will see a consistent decline.  Disorder and disease remain an important factor as well.  Teens who have received no intervention or inadequate health care will continue to suffer increasing impairment.


Exosystem influences are still evident and are much the same for teens who are receiving social services.  However, there are different aspects in relation to teens.  Working parents are not quite an issue, unless they do so excessively.  Teens have their own schedules, which include school, activities and sometimes work.  This is not to say that the effect of parental involvement is diminished.  Teens are not yet proficiently self-governing.  This is precisely the reason why parents who work excessively have teens who get into trouble.  The exosystem influence on intelligence focuses more on educational administrators and psychologists creating better educational facilities.  Lawmakers create laws about teen curfews, driving rules, and work, forcing teens to execute better decision making skills about time management, responsibility, and self-regulation.  In addition, they also create services for teachers to complete post-graduate degrees so can be better educators.


Education isn’t solely found in the classroom.  Teens, just like infants, are still learning social customs, rules, values, and morals of their culture.  But unlike infants, adolescents have much more experience and understanding of their culture.  For instance, teens raised in a religious household will have a stronger moral structure and tend to avoid amoral activities, such as premarital sex.  This prevents teen pregnancy which severely hinders education and promotes self-regulation.  At this point in many cultures, adolescents are considered to be “mature” and “adult”.  This is when gender differences are most evident.  In Saudi Arabi, unrelated and unmarried men and women are discouraged to speak to one another.  Gender segregation is strictly enforced.  In rural parts of India, arranged child marriages still occur as high as 56 percent.  Each of these has a lasting effect on intelligence.  Women in many foreign countries are still treated as property and denied formal education.


In summation, the nested systems presented in the Bioecological Model combined with other developmental models such as parenting styles, Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, and attachment theory have a significant effect on intelligence.  These systems effect each other.  This is the case with the mesosystem and microsystem, and the exosystem having a global effect on all of the systems.  This is why it is important to study each system and the model as a whole.  Each system has a an effect on the interrelated development of emotion, behavior, and physical growth on cognitive maturation.  All of these factors are intertwined, and therefore equally important to study in relation to development in various stages.




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