East Asian Arch Psychiatry 2011;21:85-6


Chaos and Its Influence on Children’s Development: an Ecological Perspective

Editors: Gary W. Evans, Theodore D. Wachs
American Psychological Association
USD60; pp312; ISBN 978-1433805653

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During the last decade, developmental psychologists have focused on investigating the effects of multidimensional environments on the development of children. Based on Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model in 1979, it has been suggested that various systems around a child play a significant role in his/her social and emotional development. These systems not only have a direct influence, they also interact to either enhance or adversely affect optimal growth.

Chaos and Its Influence on Children’s Development: an Ecological Perspective is a well-written and well-timed contribution to the existing literature. The book is the first comprehensive analysis and presentation of empirical data on chaos. It appeals to readers from various backgrounds and offers an introduction into the ecological environments and environmental chaos. It also deals with various related aspects and other comprehensive details about the impact of chaotic environments on these systems and eventually on child development. The first part defines chaos as an overstimulation which leads to adverse developmental outcomes. Chaotic environments are unstructured and characterised by high levels of noise, crowding, unpredictability, temporal and physical instability and high-context traffic patterns. Within the framework of Bronfenbrenners’s model, there are 5 interconnected systems — (1) microsystem (home, school, neighbourhood); (2) mesosystem (the interaction between microsystem and mesosystem); (3) exosystem (in which the child does not take part directly but child development is nevertheless influenced); (4) macrosystem (large-scale cultural, social, and political forces); and (5) chronosystem (the influence of time-temporal exposure such as age, duration, and intensity- related exposure and the historical period).

Within this ecological environment chaos may exist at any level. For example, chaos can interfere with proximal processes (the exchange of energies between the developing organism and the persons, objects, and symbols in his/her immediate context) by interfering and weakening their duration and intensity or indirectly by affecting parents’ well-being through producing stress in a chaotic home environment. Today, American children are at higher risk of micro-level chaos due to changing family structure and processes.

The second part comprises 6 chapters, which focus on chaos at micro-level. It presents empirical data to show chaos as an independent construct, and supports the existence of links between chaos and children’s poor cognitive performance and behavioural problems over and above those due to socio-economic status and gender. Chaos also mediates the influence of income on children’s outcome and not the other way round. Available evidence links irregular family routines, child care chaos (daily instability, arrangement multiplicity, etc.) and school chaos as resulting in children’s internalising problems and suffering in terms of well-being, and whilst also experiencing a sense of helplessness. Similarly temporal and spatial instability (family disruption, residential moves due to economic hardships, etc.) leads to child’s violent behaviour. Various moderators of chaos have also been reported (gender, temperament, biological and psychological risks).

The third part consists of 2 chapters explaining chaos at mesosystem level. Lack of communication between parents and day-care providers often leads to chaos and contributes to children’s behavioural problems. The book also highlights the possible distinction between family-level disorder and neighbourhood-level disorder. Neighbourhood density and noise have been described as associated with children’s negative outcomes and the authors have also identified the need of preventive measures.

The fourth part of the book addresses exosystem-level chaos. The authors have explained the neighbourhood as the social context that influences child development. They also emphasise the need to define neighbourhood chaos, and recommend future research covering chaos, neighbourhood chaos, and its impact on children at various ages. Parental employment and job characteristics have been discussed as other crucial factors that might affect family processes and child development, through its influences on parental well- being.

The fifth part comprises 3 chapters on chaos at the macrosystem level. Certain chaotic features are deleterious for children in every cultural context, however others may vary across cultures (multiple caretakers, attachment styles, etc.) and may appear negative in one community, and yet be considered as developmentally favourable in another. Therefore, there is a need to offer a positive contrast to what is chaotic, namely whatever confers a sense of well- being. The concept of well-being can be applied to various cultural contexts and can be helpful to families in various parts of the world to understanding what is chaos and is not chaos. The other chapters focus on poverty and refugee experiences and their impact on child development. Chaos has been purported to be independent of socio-economic status, however in the authors’ words, “poverty breeds chaos, which in turn harms children and their families”. Moreover, refugee children are the most vulnerable group, who experience chaos at each level of their social ecology. There is a need to study the complex nature of their experiences and the trauma they endure so as to better promote their well-being.

While summarising the Bronfenbrenner’s Model, the authors have discussed 4 models for understanding human growth: the personal change model; the contextual model; the regulation model; and the representational model. Keeping in mind that the effect of chaos may vary depending on the individual and contextual characteristics, there is a need to investigate how chaos affects development. Overall, the book presents many directions for future research that those investigating the impact of chaos on childhood development would do well to heed.

Syeda Shamama-tus-Sabah, PhD (barhvi@yahoo.com)
Department of Psychology
GC University, Lahore

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