Environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on the interplay between individuals and their surroundings. The field defines the term environment broadly, encompassing natural environments, social settings, built environments, learning environments, and informational environments.
- Problem oriented
- Personal space and territory
- Systems oriented
- Interdisciplinary oriented
- Space over time orientation
- Place identity
- Place attachment
- Environmental consciousness
- Behavior settings
- Impact on the built environment
- University courses
- Other contributors
Since its conception, the field has been committed to the development of a discipline that is both value oriented and problem oriented, prioritizing research aimed at solving complex environmental problems in the pursuit of individual well-being within a larger society. When solving problems involving human-environment interactions, whether global or local, one must have a model of human nature that predicts the environmental conditions under which humans will behave. This model can help design, manage, protect and/or restore environments that enhance reasonable behavior, predict the likely outcomes when these conditions are not met, and diagnose problem situations. The field develops such a model of human nature while retaining a broad and inherently multidisciplinary focus. It explores such dissimilar issues as common property resource management, wayfinding in complex settings, the effect of environmental stress on human performance, the characteristics of restorative environments, human information processing, and the promotion of durable conservation behavior. Lately, alongside the increased focus on climate change in society and the social sciences, there has been increased focus on environmental sustainability issues within the field.
This multidisciplinary paradigm has not only characterized the dynamic for which environmental psychology is expected to develop. It has also been the catalyst in attracting other schools of knowledge in its pursuit, aside from research psychologists. Geographers, economists, landscape architects, policy-makers, sociologists, anthropologists, educators, and product developers all have discovered and participated in this field.
Although "environmental psychology" is arguably the best-known and most comprehensive description of the field, it is also known as human factors science, cognitive ergonomics, ecological psychology, ecopsychology, environment–behavior studies, and person–environment studies. Closely related fields include architectural psychology, socio-architecture, behavioral geography, environmental sociology, social ecology, and environmental design research.
The origins of this field of study are unknown, however, Willy Hellpach is said to be the first to mention “Environmental Psychology”. One of his books, Geopsyche, discusses topics such as how the sun and the moon affect human activity, the impact of extreme environments, and the effects of color and form. Among the other major scholars at the roots of environmental psychology were Jakob von Uexküll, Kurt Lewin, Egon Brunswik, and later Gerhard Kaminski and Carl Friedrich Graumann.
The end of World War II brought about a higher demand for developments in the field of social psychology particularly in the areas of attitude change, small group processes, and intergroup conflict. This demand caused psychologists to begin applying social psychology theories to a number of social issues such as prejudice, war and peace. It was thought that if these problems were addressed, underlying notions and principles would surface.
Although this period was crucial to the development of the field, the methodologies used to carry out the studies were questionable. At the time, studies were being conducted in a laboratory setting, which caused some doubt as to their validity in the real world. Consequently, environmental psychologists began to conduct studies outside of the laboratory, enabling the field to continue to progress. Today environmental psychology is being applied to many different areas such as architecture and design, television programs and advertisements.
Environmental psychology is a direct study of the relationship between an environment and how that environment affects its inhabitants. Specific aspects of this field work by identifying a problem and through the identification of said problem, discovering a solution. Therefore, it is necessary for environmental psychology to be problem oriented.
One important aspect of a problem-oriented field is that by identifying problems, solutions arise from the research acquired. The solutions can aid in making society function better as a whole and create a wealth of knowledge about the inner workings of societies. Environmental psychologist Harold Proshansky discusses how the field is also “value oriented” because of the field’s commitment to bettering society through problem identification. Proshansky discusses the importance of not only understanding the problem but also the necessity of a solution. Proshansky also points out some of the problems of a problem-oriented approach for environmental psychology. First the problems being identified must be studied under certain specifications: it must be ongoing and occurring in real life, not in a laboratory. Second, the notions about the problems must derive directly from the source - meaning they must come directly from the specific environment where the problem is occurring. The solutions and understanding of the problems cannot come from an environment that has been constructed and modeled to look like real life. Environmental psychology needs to reflect the actual society not a society built in a laboratory setting. The difficult task of the environmental psychologist is to study problems as they are occurring in everyday life. It is hard to reject all laboratory research because laboratory experiments are where theories may be tested without damaging the actual environment or can serve as models when testing solutions. Proshansky makes this point as well, discussing the difficulty in the overall problem oriented approach. He states that it is important, however, for the environmental psychologist to utilize all aspects of research and analysis of the findings and to take into account both the general and individualized aspects of the problems.
Environmental psychology addresses environmental problems such as density and crowding, noise pollution, sub-standard living, and urban decay. Noise increases environmental stress. Although it has been found that control and predictability are the greatest factors in stressful effects of noise; context, pitch, source and habituation are also important variables . Environmental psychologists have theorized that density and crowding can also have an adverse effect on mood and may cause stress-related illness. To understand and solve environmental problems, environmental psychologists believe concepts and principles should come directly from the physical settings and problems being looked at. For example, factors that reduce feelings of crowding within buildings include:
Personal space and territory
Having an area of personal territory in a public space, e.g., at the office, is a key feature of many architectural designs. Having such a 'defensible space' can reduce the negative effects of crowding in urban environments. The term, coined by John B. Calhoun in 1947, is the result of multiple environmental experiments conducted on rats. Originally beginning as an experiment to measure how many rats could be accommodated in a given space, it expanded into determining how rats, given the proper food, shelter and bedding would behave under a confined environment.
Under these circumstances, the males became aggressive, some exclusively homosexual. Others became pansexual and hypersexual, seeking every chance to mount any rat they encountered. As a result, mating behaviors were upset with an increase in infant mortalities. With parents failing to provide proper nests, thoughtlessly ditching their young and even attacking them, infant mortality rose as high as 96% in certain sections. Calhoun published the results as "Population Density and Social Pathology" in a 1962 edition of Scientific American.
Creating barriers and customizing the space are ways of creating personal space, e.g., using pictures of one's family in an office setting. This increases cognitive control as one sees oneself as having control over the competitors to the personal space and therefore able to control the level of density and crowding in the space.
The systems oriented approach to experimenting is applied to individuals or people that are a part of communities, groups, and organizations. This approach particularly examines group interaction, as opposed to an individual’s interaction and it emphasizes on factors of social integration. In the laboratory, experiments focus on cause and effect processes within human nature.
Environmental psychology relies on interaction with other disciplines in order to approach problems with multiple perspectives. The first discipline is the category of behavioral sciences, which include: sociology, political science, anthropology, and economics. Environmental psychology also interacts with the interspecializations of the field of psychology, which include: developmental psychology, cognitive science, industrial and organizational psychology, psychobiology, psychoanalysis, and social neuroscience. In addition to the more scientific fields of study, environmental psychology also works with the design field which includes: the studies of architecture, interior design, urban planning, industrial and object design, landscape architecture, and preservation.
Space over time orientation highlights the importance of the past. Examining problems with the past in mind creates a better understanding of how past forces, such as social, political, and economic forces, may be of relevance to present and future problems. Time and place are also important to consider. It’s important to look at time over extended periods. Physical settings change over time; they change with respect to physical properties and they change because individuals using the space change over time. Looking at these spaces over time will help monitor the changes and possibly predict future problems.
There are a variety of tests that can be administered to children in order to determine their temperament. Temperament is split up into three types: “easy”, “difficult”, and “slow-to-warm-up”. Alexander Thomas, Stella Chess, Herbert G. Birch, Margaret Hertzig and Sam Korn created an infant temperament test in the 1950s and rated them using nine temperament criteria. By finding out a child’s temperament at birth, it enables us to know what to expect as the child progresses into adulthood.
For many years Harold Proshansky and his colleagues at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York, explored the concept of place identity. Place identity has been traditionally defined as a ‘sub-structure of the self-identity of the person consisting of broadly conceived cognitions about the physical world in which the individual lives’. These cognitions define the daily experiences of every human being. Through one’s attitudes, feelings, ideas, memories, personal values and preferences toward the range and type of physical settings, he/she can then understand the environment they live in and their overall experience.
As a person interacts with various places and spaces, he/she is able to evaluate which properties in different environments fulfill his/her various needs. When a place contains components that satisfy a person biologically, socially, psychologically and/or culturally, it creates the environmental past of a person. Through ‘good’ or ‘bad’ experiences with a place, a person is then able to reflect and define their personal values, attitudes, feelings and beliefs about the physical world.
Place identity has been described as the individual's incorporation of place into the larger concept of self; a "potpourri of memories, conceptions, interpretations, ideas, and related feelings about specific physical settings, as well as types of settings". Other theorists have been instrumental in the creation of the idea of place identity. Three humanistic geographers, Tuan (1980), Relph (1976) and Buttimer (1980), share a couple of basic assumptions. As a person lives and creates memories within a place, attachment is built and it is through one’s personal connection to a place, that he/she gains a sense of belonging and purpose, which then gives significance and meaning to their life.
Five central functions of place-identity have been depicted: recognition, meaning, expressive-requirement, mediating change, and anxiety and defense function. Place identity becomes a cognitive "database" against which every physical setting is experienced. The activities of a person often overlap with physical settings, which then create a background for the rest of life’s interactions and events. The individual is frequently unaware of the array of feelings, values or memories of a singular place and simply becomes more comfortable or uncomfortable with certain broad kinds of physical settings, or prefers specific spaces to others. In the time since the term "place identity" was introduced, the theory has been the model for identity that has dominated environmental psychology.
Many different perceptions of the bond between people and places have been hypothesized and studied. The most widespread terms include place attachment and sense of place. One consistent thread woven throughout most recent research on place attachment deals with the importance of the amount of time spent at a certain place (the length of association with a place). While both researchers and writers have made the case that time and experience in a place are important for deepening the meanings and emotional ties central to the person-place relationship, little in-depth research has studied these factors and their role in forging this connection.
Place attachment is deﬁned as one’s emotional or affective ties to a place, and is generally thought to be the result of a long-term connection with a certain environment. This is different from a simple aesthetic response such as saying a certain place is special because it is beautiful. For example, one can have an emotional response to a beautiful (or ugly) landscape or place, but this response may sometimes be shallow and ﬂeeting. This distinction is one that Schroeder labeled “meaning versus preference”. According to Schroeder the definition of “meaning” is “the thoughts, feelings, memories and interpretations evoked by a landscape”; whereas “preference” is “the degree of liking for one landscape compared to another”. For a deeper and lasting emotional attachment to develop (Or in Schroeder’s terms, for it to have meaning) an enduring relationship with a place is usually a critical factor. Chigbu carried out a rural study of place-attachment using a qualitative approach to check its impact on a community, Uturu (in Nigeria), and found that it has direct relationship to level of community development.
Leanne Rivlin theorized that one way to examine an individual’s environmental consciousness is to recognize how the physical place is significant, and look at the people/place relationship.
Environmental cognition (involved in human cognition) plays a crucial role in environmental perception. All different areas of the brain engage with environmentally relevant information. Some believe that the orbitofrontal cortex integrates environmentally relevant information from many distributed areas of the brain. Due to its anterior location within the frontal cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex may make judgments about the environment, and refine the organism's "understanding" through error analysis, and other processes specific to prefrontal cortex. But to be certain, there is no single brain area dedicated to the organism's interactions with its environment. Rather, all brain areas are dedicated to this task. One area (probably the orbitofrontal cortex) may collate the various pieces of the informational puzzle in order to develop a long term strategy of engagement with the ever-changing "environment." Moreover, the orbitofrontal cortex may show the greatest change in blood oxygenation (BOLD level) when an organism thinks of the broad, and amorphous category referred to as "the environment." Because of the recent concern with the environment, environmental consciousness or awareness has come to be related to the growth and development of understanding and consciousness toward the biophysical environment and its problems.
The earliest noteworthy discoveries in the field of environmental psychology can be dated back to Roger Barker who created the field of ecological psychology. Founding his research station in Oskaloosa, Kansas in 1947, his field observations expanded into the theory that social settings influence behavior. Empirical data gathered in Oskaloosa from 1947 to 1972 helped him develop the concept of the “behavior setting” to help explain the relationship between the individual and the immediate environment. This was further explored in his work with Paul Gump in the book Big School, Small School: High School Size and Student Behavior. One of the first insightful explanations on why groups tend to be less satisfying for their members as they increase in size, their studies illustrated that large schools had a similar number of behavior settings to that of small schools. This resulted in the students’ ability to presume many different roles in small schools (e.g. be in the school band and the school football team) but in larger schools there was a propensity to deliberate over their social choices.
In his book Ecological Psychology (1968) Barker stresses the importance of the town’s behavior and environment as the residents’ most ordinary instrument of describing their environment. “The hybrid, eco-behavioral character of behavior settings appear to present Midwest’s inhabitants with no difficulty; nouns that combine milieu and standing behavior are common, e.g. oyster supper, basketball game, turkey dinner, golden gavel ceremony, cake walk, back surgery, gift exchange, livestock auction, auto repair.”
Barker argued that his students should implement T-methods (psychologist as 'transducer': i.e. methods in which they studied man in his 'natural environment') rather than O-methods (psychologist as "operators" i.e. experimental methods). Basically, Barker preferred fieldwork and direct observation rather than controlled experiments. Some of the minute-by-minute observations of Kansan children from morning to night, jotted down by young and maternal graduate students, may be the most intimate and poignant documents in social science. Barker spent his career expanding on what he called ecological psychology, identifying these behavior settings, and publishing accounts such as One Boy's Day (1952) and Midwest and Its Children (1955).
Impact on the built environment
Environmental psychologists rejected the laboratory-experimental paradigm because of its simplification and skewed view of the cause-and-effect relationships of human's behaviors and experiences. Environmental psychologists examine how one or more parameters produce an effect while other measures are controlled. It is impossible to manipulate real-world settings in a laboratory.
Environmental psychology is oriented towards influencing the work of design professionals (architects, engineers, interior designers, urban planners, etc.) and thereby improving the human environment.
On a civic scale, efforts towards improving pedestrian landscapes have paid off, to some extent, from the involvement of figures like Jane Jacobs and Copenhagen's Jan Gehl. One prime figure here is the late writer and researcher William H. Whyte. His still-refreshing and perceptive "City", based on his accumulated observations of skilled Manhattan pedestrians, provides steps and patterns of use in urban plazas.
The role and impact of architecture on human behavior is debated within the architectural profession. Views range from: supposing that people will adapt to new architectures and city forms; believing that architects cannot predict the impact of buildings on humans and therefore should base decisions on other factors; to those who undertake detailed precedent studies of local building types and how they are used by that society.
Environmental psychology has conquered the whole architectural genre which is concerned with retail stores and any other commercial venues that have the power to manipulate the mood and behavior of customers (e.g. stadiums, casinos, malls, and now airports). From Philip Kotler's landmark paper on Atmospherics and Alan Hirsch's "Effects of Ambient Odors on Slot-Machine Usage in a Las Vegas Casino", through the creation and management of the Gruen transfer, retail relies heavily on psychology, original research, focus groups, and direct observation. One of William Whyte's students, Paco Underhill, makes a living as a "shopping anthropologist". Most of this advanced research remains a trade secret and proprietary.
The field saw significant research findings and a fair surge of interest in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but has seen challenges of nomenclature, obtaining objective and repeatable results, scope, and the fact that some research rests on underlying assumptions about human perception, which is not fully understood. Being an interdisciplinary field is difficult because it lacks a solid definition and purpose. It is hard for the field to fit into organizational structures. In the words of Guido Francescato, speaking in 2000, environmental psychology encompasses a "somewhat bewildering array of disparate methodologies, conceptual orientations, and interpretations... making it difficult to delineate, with any degree of precision, just what the field is all about and what might it contribute to the construction of society and the unfolding of history."
Environmental psychology has not received nearly enough supporters to be considered an interdisciplinary field within psychology. Harold M. Proshanksy was one of the founders of environmental psychology and was quoted as saying “As I look at the field of environmental psychology today, I am concerned about its future. It has not, since its emergence in the early 1960s grown to the point where it can match the fields of social, personality, learning or cognitive psychology. To be sure, it has increased in membership, in the number of journals devoted to it, and even in the amount of professional organizational support it enjoys, but not enough so that one could look at any major university and find it to be a field of specialization in a department of psychology, or, more importantly, in an interdisciplinary center or institute”.
See the APA's list of additional environmental psychology graduate programs here: http://www.apadivisions.org/division-34/about/resources/graduate-programs.aspx
Other significant researchers and writers in this field include: