The ecological perspective has augmented its knowledge base through the adoption of the evolutionary biology concept of adaptation. Adaptation of the species over time as well as adaptation of the individual over the life span is encompassed in the perspective (Ridley, 2004). The concept of goodness-of-fit between organisms and their environments or how a person and his or her environment mutually shape and influence each other is the key to the perspective. How organisms change and change their physical environments as well as how organisms survive and develop satisfactorily are major concepts (Ridley, 2004).
Another theory base that has influenced the ecological perspective is ethology, or the study of animals in their natural settings. Although the life of human infants is seemingly more complex than that of other species, ecological theorists have borrowed methods from ethologists to describe and analyze behavioral interactions between parents and children in as natural settings as possible. Among the issues that ecological theorists investigated using techniques borrowed from ethology is whether human children become bonded to their mothers or other caretakers during a critical period in infancy (Thompson, 2007).
Understanding how people develop competence is another critical component of the ecological social work perspective. Ideas from diverse disciples that address this concept have been adopted. For example, concepts about the autonomous functioning of the ego have been borrowed from ego psychology. Ego psychologists generally define competence as the person’s achieved capacity to interact effectively with the environment (Goldstein, 2002). Another related concept, self-efficacy, referring to a person’s perception of his or her ability to carry out certain
Ecological Systems Theory 3
behaviors, is being incorporated into social work practice (Goldstein, 2002).