Introduction to Environmental Psychology Department of Landscape Architecture

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The Oxford Handbook of Environmental and Conservation Psychology

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1 Introduction: Environmental and Conservation Psychology

Susan D. Clayton is Whitmore-Williams Professor of Psychology at the College of Wooster in Ohio. With a PhD in social psychology from Yale, she is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and a past president of the Society for Environmental, Population, and Conservation Psychology. Her research addresses the social context surrounding people’s relationship with the natural environment.

Carol D. Saunders Department of Environmental Studies Antioch University New England Keene, NH

  • Published: 21 November 2012
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Environmental psychology has been an established field for half a century. The term “conservation psychology” has a much more recent history. What is conservation psychology, and what is its relationship to environmental psychology? How will the combination affect the further development of the field? This chapter provides a definition and places the terms in a historical as well as a functional context. After an explication of the name of the present handbook, a framework for the organization of the book is presented.


It is probably fair to say that in the mind of the general public, psychologists focus more on what happens inside a person’s head—the mental and neurological processes that constitute experience and determine behavior—than on what is happening in the surrounding environment. But from the field’s earliest origins, psychologists have recognized, and emphasized, the ways in which people are affected by their environments. Many studies have documented ways in which the social environment is influential, through parental socialization, conformity to social norms, and so on; it is a fundamental tenet of social psychology that we should consider external causes of behavior before making attributions to internal dispositions. Equally important is the physical environment. In addition to providing the materials that either promote or compromise well-being, it shapes behavior through reinforcement contingencies as well as through affordances—although as Gifford ( 1976 ) has noted, people are often unconscious of environmental impacts and changes. Because the built environment is amenable to change and to intentional design, its effects have been well studied by psychologists as well as by researchers from other fields. Although the natural environment has received less attention, it was still recognized as important by early to mid-20th-century psychologists (e.g., Adler, 1956).

The environmental challenges that have become salient as we begin the 21st century provide a pressing reminder of the ways in which human well-being is bound up with environmental health. These challenges also illustrate the reverse relationship: the impact of human perceptions, attitudes, and especially behavior on environmental well-being. This handbook addresses the expanding body of research on these relationships and presents a snapshot of current work on environmental and conservation psychology. Such a snapshot captures a moment in time for an evolving and increasingly important area of research. To understand what this handbook will and will not do, this introductory chapter will situate the field within its temporal context, describing some of the history behind this area as well as its goals.

Environmental Psychology

Environmental psychology began to emerge as a self-identified subdiscipline in the 1950s. Certainly the visibility of the environmental movement in the 1960s, and the accompanying awareness of limits on environmental resources, were part of the context that led to the institutionalization of the field. Concerns about population growth and environmental degradation during the 1960s led to two task forces within the American Psychological Association—one on psychology, family planning, and population policy and one on environment and behavior—which later joined together to form Division 34, on population and environmental psychology (Richards, 2000 ).

The first core text in environmental psychology, Environmental Psychology: Man and His Physical Setting, was published by Proshansky, Ittelson, and Rivlin in 1970. The same year saw environmental psychology described in American Psychologist (Wohlwill, 1970 ) and in a volume on “new directions in psychology” (Craik, 1970 ). Key topics in environmental psychology at this early stage already included perceptions of the environment, social uses of space, use of environmental resources, perceptions of environmental risk, and attributes of built environments. Environmental psychology was alert to social issues involving the natural environment and natural resources. It recognized, too, that a psychological experience of the environment incorporated a confluence of social and physical environments, and that the relationship between people and their environments was bidirectional. However, only a subset of research within environmental psychology is substantially relevant to the natural environment or to problems concerning environmental degradation or depletion of environmental resources. Indeed, in a key article reflecting on the identity of environmental psychology, Stokols ( 1995 ) described five promising research trends, only one of which involved threats to and change in the natural environment.

One of the main periodicals in environmental psychology, Environment and Behavior, was established in 1969 as an interdisciplinary journal that would publish “rigorous experimental and theoretical work focusing on the influence of the physical environment on human behavior.” Despite the unidirectional nature of this statement (influence of the environment on humans), the journal also welcomes research on the ways in which people conceptualize environments and on policies or planning aimed at changing environments. It is published in association with the Environmental Design Research Association and has traditionally included a strong focus on design and on the built environment. Nevertheless, the publication has also incorporated topics as abstract as morality, attachment, and religious perspectives on environments, as well as practical topics, such as recycling, composting, and energy conservation.

A journal more specific to environmental psychology is the eponymous Journal of Environmental Psychology, established in 1981 to “serve individuals in a wide range of disciplines who have an interest in the scientific study of the transactions and interrelationships between people and their physical surroundings.” Topics covered in the journal are very similar to those in Environment and Behavior, with perhaps a greater emphasis on human cognition, human experience, and theory. The inaugural issue included a reflective essay by David Canter and Kenneth Craik that reviewed the progress of the field, including a significant number of international societies and edited volumes, and attempted to define the field.

Reflecting its growing influence, environmental psychology was further described in a comprehensive, two-volume handbook edited by Dan Stokols and Irwin Altman in 1987. This handbook included chapters on all the core topics of the field: cognition, personality, and emotion; children and aging; human spatial behavior, territoriality, and crowding; and environmental stress. It also covered a variety of environmental contexts, including residential, school, and work environments; environmental problems including crime, transportation, and diminishing natural resources; and environmental psychology in a number of different countries, from Europe and Asia to Latin America and the Soviet Union. In addition, the 1987 handbook engaged in an extensive evaluation of the field, beginning with four chapters on the origins and scope of environmental psychology and ending with four chapters looking toward its future.

A second edition was published in 2002, edited by Robert Bechtel and Arza Churchman. This volume did not try to repeat the focus of the original handbook. Instead the emphasis was on demonstrating the breadth and applicability of environmental psychology. It included chapters making connections to other disciplines, such as anthropology, sociology, and clinical psychology, and others describing applications in specific settings (work, museums), for specific groups (women, children), and to specific problems (conflict, disasters, climate). This volume also reflected on emerging new conceptual and methodological approaches within environmental psychology. Particularly significant to the current handbook, the 2002 version included a chapter by Bonnes and Bonaiuto that described a shift over time in environmental psychology’s focus, from an emphasis on the physical environment to a greater concern on sustainable development. They argued for a “full ecology perspective” that would recognize human beings as “the major force or organizing principle of…every ecosystem” and thus would attend to human dimensions of environmental issues (Bonnes & Bonaiuto, 2002 , p. 34).

Environmental psychology emphasized three significant themes that were often overlooked or minimized by other areas of psychology. One was the need to understand behavior in context: people in a specific place. Although controlled laboratory research is valuable, it can never provide a full understanding of behavior, learning, or motivation, any more than the behavior of a caged laboratory rat can tell us everything about rat behavior in the wild. The second was a recognition of the reciprocal relationship between people and their environments. Although people are affected by their surroundings, they also both choose and modify their environments; arguably, this is one of the characteristics that distinguish humans from other species, whose impact is more gradual and less deliberate. This indicates the important practical implications of environmental psychology: understanding how people are affected by their environments might suggest helpful ways to modify those environments, and understanding how people choose and modify their environments suggests some of the ways in which they are affected by those environments. For example, recognizing that people benefit from views of nature suggests that buildings be designed to provide such views, and the fact that people spend great amounts of time personalizing their homes and gardens implies that gardens can affect their sense of self. Finally, a third theme is that from its beginning environmental psychology has emphasized the need to be interdisciplinary: to interface with urban planners, architects, sociologists, biologists, educators, and others to both benefit from their knowledge and share what psychology has to offer.

Conservation Psychology

These themes are particularly relevant in conservation psychology, which emerged in the late 1990s and early 21st century. At this time, interest in the natural environment was blossoming, with a growing number of academic programs devoted to environmental studies and an increased awareness of looming environmental problems. A small group of psychologists set about quite deliberately to address a few lacunae: the near-absence of psychology from discussions about environmental issues, both within the academy and in the public sphere, and the limited focus on the natural world in mainstream psychological research. There was also a desire to refocus efforts to use the insights and tools of psychology toward understanding and promoting human care for nature. Several names were considered: Green psychology? Ecopsychology? Psychology of sustainability? Conservation psychology was selected as the name for this new effort, in part because it paralleled the history and goals of the existing field of conservation biology. The term “conservation” does not, in this case, take a position on the historical debate between conserving resources for human use versus protecting nature for its own sake. Rather, it reflects the conservation movement of the late 20th century and particularly the movement’s political focus on responding to environmental challenges, such as pollution, loss of biodiversity, and (more recently) global climate change.

Conservation psychology deliberately enlists contributions from the many subdisciplines within psychology toward understanding and promoting healthy and sustainable relationships with nature. The tools it brings to bear are the conceptual and methodological techniques of empirical research in psychology. Like conservation biology, conservation psychology is distinguished by a clear set of goals and values: it values human and ecosystem health, and aspires to enhance the healthy relationship between humans and the rest of nature. Conservation psychology is not just an applied field, and is not just about understanding determinants of pro-environmental behavior. It is about theory and research aimed at understanding the interdependence between human and natural well-being, and its goal is to make linkages between basic academic research and practical environmental issues.

Beginning in 2000, a series of workshops hosted by the Chicago Zoological Society and a conference funded by the Rice Foundation brought together groups of researchers to discuss the parameters of the field and the best way to move forward. An early outcome was a special issue (2003) of the journal Human Ecology Review, edited by Carol Saunders and Gene Myers, that focused on conservation psychology—describing it, defining it, and suggesting some important directions. The definition in this issue described conservation psychology as “the scientific study of the reciprocal relationships between humans and the rest of nature, with a particular focus on how to encourage conservation of the natural world” (Saunders, 2003 , p. 138).

Theoretical perspectives emphasized in the special issue focused on behavior change; emotional connections to natural entities (especially animals and places); and communication about environmental issues. A 2005 paper by Clayton and Brook followed, making a further argument for conservation psychology and illustrating a social psychological model of behavior with reference to conservation behavior.

Conservation psychology did not represent a new area of study. What it intended was to offer a new label for previous work that existed, which would in turn establish a new focus to motivate future work and a new identity for psychologists interested in this area, encouraging new opportunities for collaboration between conservation professionals and psychologists. Conservation psychology was established in part to provide a framework for work on the topic that met the accepted standards of psychological research and built on established psychological theory. Sommer ( 2000 ), discussing ways in which environmental psychology in general has struggled for a clear label, provides a useful definition of the difference between a subdiscipline and a field of study. According to that definition, conservation psychology is more clearly a field: it comprises people who have been trained in different areas, particularly in the various subdisciplines of psychology, and focused on a common problem area. It draws from research in all the established subdisciplines of psychology, including social, developmental, cognitive, and clinical, in addition to environmental.

Despite the long history of environmental psychology, there is currently a clear desire among psychologists to have a more explicit focus on the natural environment and to have this focus recognized. In a 2000 article in the flagship journal of the APA, American Psychologist, Stuart Oskamp issued a call to arms, asking psychologists to play a bigger part in addressing environmental challenges (a call that was still seen as necessary by Robert Gifford in 2008). At the same time, conservation professionals had a corresponding desire to learn more from psychologists. In 2003, Mascia et al. wrote an essay in Conservation Biology calling for greater involvement of the social sciences in conservation efforts. As recently as 2008, prominent environmental writer David Orr wrote (also in Conservation Biology ):

This is an urgent challenge for the discipline of psychology and students of mind more broadly to apply their professional skills to better understand our connections to nature and how to help foster the psychological traits of mind and behavior necessary for a decent future. (p. 821)

Expanding Interest

Response to the challenge from both within and outside the discipline of psychology has been accelerating. Several recently established journals reflect this interest. For example, Ecopsychology, whose goal is to make connections between environmental and psychological well-being by publishing papers on such topics as therapeutic aspects of human-nature relationships and concern about environmental issues, first appeared in 2009; PsyEcology, a bilingual journal on topics in environmental psychology, was first published in 2010; and the Journal of Fostering Sustainable Behavior, whose goal is to provide practical research of use to those designing environmental programs, launched its first call for papers in fall 2010. Somewhat further afield, Environmental Communication, which began in 2007, includes work from the field of psychology, as does Conservation Letters, which appeared in 2008 and explicitly encompasses conservation work from the biological and social sciences. New books continue to appear, including Gardner and Stern’s ( 2002 ) Environmental Problems and Human Behavior, Schmuck and Schultz’s ( 2002 ) Psychology of Sustainable Development, Ray Nickerson’s ( 2003 ) Psychology and Environmental Change, and Koger and Winter’s ( 2010 ) The Psychology of Environmental Problems. Clayton and Myers’s ( 2009 ) Conservation Psychology was the first text to use this term. A listserv and website for conservation psychology have been constructed, and Division 34 of the American Psychological Association recently voted to change its name from the Society for Population and Environmental Psychology to the Society for Environmental, Population, and Conservation Psychology. A number of other organizations around the world promote and support research on the relationships between humans and the natural world, including Division 4 of the International Association for Applied Psychology, the International Association for People-Environment Studies, and the Australian Psychological Society.

In addition to academic literature and organizations, psychologists have been working to integrate environmental topics into the curriculum (Koger & Scott, 2007 ) and to make the results of psychological research more available to conservation practitioners. Recent examples of this include a task force of the American Psychological Association that was convened to examine “psychology and global climate change” (APA, 2009), and several publications from the World Wildlife Fund–UK, one of which examines the relevance of identity factors in promoting conservation (Crompton & Kasser, 2009 ) and another emphasizing the significance of cultural values and frames in encouraging human protection of the natural world (Crompton, 2010 ). These initiatives are important reflections of the desire to utilize research results to advance conservation initiatives. As conservation practitioners recognize that simply providing people with information is not enough to promote sustainable behavior, there is increased interest in hearing about relevant psychological research (Fraser & Sickler, 2008 ).

Toward an Integration

The relationship between environmental and conservation psychology has been somewhat ill-defined and has led to spirited debates. Some have argued that all the topics within conservation psychology are already present in environmental psychology; others disagree. There are clearly different points of emphasis and different subcultures of people involved, but there are also exciting synergies. As Schultz and Kaiser state in this volume, research on pro-environmental behavior, with its emphasis on changing the person, did not fit easily within environmental psychology, with its emphasis on specific physical contexts. The field of environmental psychology, as a whole, does not have the emphasis on protecting the environment that conservation psychology represents. However, as many of the chapters in this handbook illustrate, themes relevant to conservation psychology can be discerned in most of the core topics of environmental psychology. The goal of the present volume is to present an integration of the established subdiscipline of environmental psychology, and the new field of conservation psychology. Such an integration should acknowledge both the rich history of environmental psychology and the urgency and vision of the conservation agenda; it also helps to overcome the impulse to divide one from the other by making forced and artificial distinctions between “theory” and “application,” “physical” and “social,” or “built” and “natural” environments. Both environmental and conservation psychologies encompass theory and application, physical and social environments, natural and more engineered settings. Some, but not all, environmental psychology is conservation psychology. Some, but not all, conservation psychology is environmental psychology. In the end, they may represent inextricably intermingled bodies of work, distinguishable if at all by the purpose and professional identities of the researchers and practitioners.

The aims of this volume are both similar to and different from the two earlier handbooks of environmental psychology. Like the first (Stokols & Altman, 1987 ), this handbook strives to include many of the foundational areas within environmental psychology, but in a way that promotes their applicability to current environmental issues. A number of the topics from the original handbook are revisited, because they are so central to the field and continue to generate so much new research. But we have not attempted to replicate the ambitious scope of that set of volumes. Like the second handbook (Bechtel & Churchman, 2002 ), the present one emphasizes applied problems, but with an even greater focus on the natural environment.

The chapters are organized so that they proceed from the more abstract and conceptual to the more applied. Environmental and conservation psychology are not purely applied fields but rather include much basic theory and research on how people think about and respond to their environments. Within sections, we also proceed from the more manufactured to more natural environments. Thus, the first section encompasses research and theory on human perceptions, attitudes, values, and emotions. We also look at the role of environments, particularly natural environments, in children’s development and in the development of a sense of self and identity. Acknowledging that the physical cannot be fully separated from the social environment, we include an examination of cultural differences in attitudes and perceptions.

The next section examines some specific environments that have prompted extensive research. We start with built environments, such as residential and work environments; move through environments that are explicitly focused on effecting change in their occupants, such as schools, health care settings, and correctional environments; and end with natural and extreme environments. The focus of these chapters is on understanding these environments, in ways that may contribute to our understanding of human psychology as well as enhancing our ability to design interventions that make the environments more healthy or effective.

The third section emphasizes the ways in which people are affected by their environments. Much of this research has focused on negative influences: environmental stressors, such as noise, and natural disasters, and the characteristics of environmental conflicts. But environments also have great potential, in a way we are just beginning to recognize, for positive effects. We include research on therapeutic effects, restorative effects, and the role of nature in promoting health, peak experiences, and positive social interactions.

In our last section, we flip the causality around. Given the many ways in which humans have harmful effects on the natural environment—from habitat destruction and pollution to global climate change—how can people be encouraged to behave more sustainably, to minimize their environmental footprint? Starting with child development, we examine the promotion of pro-environmental behavior more generally; look at specific examples related to water conservation and cooperation over environmental resources; and focus on effects that occur at a societal level, through education. We close with a review of how psychological research may be able to help mitigate the effects of global climate change, or at least identify ways in which we can adapt.

It is not possible to define environmental and/or conservation psychology as static areas of research. Awareness of societal concerns, developing theoretical perspectives, and cross-fertilization from other disciplines all serve to generate new research questions and methodologies. A final chapter looks back at the chapters that make up the volume to consider what it means to combine environmental and conservation psychology and to sketch out directions in which we see the field developing. One thing that is clear is that environmental and conservation psychology must speak to those outside psychology as well as professional psychologists. Thus, this handbook aspires to serve as a resource for both audiences. The need, and the responsibility, for psychology to contribute to current environmental challenges are urgent.


We thank the Ittleson Foundation for its contributions to advancing the field of conservation psychology, as well as its support for this handbook and for the integration of conservation with environmental psychology.

American Psychological Association Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change ( 2009 ). Psychology and global climate change: Addressing a multi-faceted phenomenon and set of challenges. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

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Bonnes, M., & Bonaiuto, M. ( 2002 ). Environmental psychology: From spatial-physical environment to sustainable development. In R. Bechtel & A. Churchman (Eds.), Handbook of environmental psychology (pp. 28–55). New York: Wiley.

Clayton, S., & Brook, A. ( 2005 ). Can psychology help save the world? A model for conservation psychology.   Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 5(1), 87–102.

Clayton, S., & Myers, G. ( 2009 ). Conservation psychology: Understanding and promoting human care for nature. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Craik, K. ( 1970 ). Environmental psychology. In K. Craik, R. Kleinmuntz, R. Rosnow, R. Rosenthal, J. Cheyne, & R. Walters (Eds.), New directions in psychology (Vol. 4, pp. 1–122). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Crompton, T. ( 2010 ). Common cause: The case for working with our cultural values. Surrey, UK: WWF-UK.

Crompton, T., & Kasser, T. ( 2009 ). Meeting environmental challenges: The role of human identity. Surrey, UK: WWF-UK.

Fraser, J., & Sickler, J. ( 2008 ). Conservation psychology: Who cares about the biodiversity crisis? State of the Wild 2008–2009. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Gardner, G., & Stern, P. ( 2002 ). Environmental problems and human behavior (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Custom Publishing.

Gifford, R. ( 1976 ). Environmental numbness in the classroom.   Journal of Experimental Education, 44(3), 4–7.

Gifford, R. ( 2008 ). Psychology’s essential role in climate change.   Canadian Psychology/psychologie canadienne, 49, 273–280.

Koger, S., & Scott, B. ( 2007 ). Psychology and environmental sustainability: A call for integration.   Teaching of Psychology, 34, 11–18.

Koger, S., & Winter, D. ( 2010 ). The psychology of environmental problems. London: Psychology Press.

Mascia, M. B., Brosius, J. P., Dobson, T. A., Forbes, B. C., Horowitz, L., McKean, M. A., & Turner, N. J. ( 2003 ). Conservation and the social sciences.   Conservation Biology , 17, 649–650.

Nickerson, R. ( 2003 ). Psychology and environmental change. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Orr, D. W. ( 2008 ). The psychology of survival.   Conservation Biology, 22, 819–822.

Oskamp, S. ( 2000 ). A sustainable future for humanity: How can psychology help?   American Psychologist, 55, 496–508.

Proshansky, H., Ittleson, W., & Rivlin, L. ( 1970 ). Environmental psychology: Man and his physical setting. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

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Schmuck, P., & Schultz, P. W. ( 2002 ). The psychology of sustainable development. New York: Springer.

Sommer, R. ( 2000 ). Discipline and field of study: A search for clarification.   Journal of Environmental Psychology, 20(1), 1–4.

Stokols, D. ( 1995 ). The paradox of environmental psychology.   American Psychologist, 50, 821–837.

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Ilan Kelman Ph.D.


Environmental psychology for a better future, glenn albrecht shifts us from environmental distress to positive action..

Posted August 8, 2023 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

  • "Solastalgia," a term coined by Glenn Albrecht, refers to psychological distress from nature changing.
  • Albrecht aims to harmoniously re-integrate humans and nature.
  • The "Symbiocene" asks us to govern ourselves and the planet for mutual gain.

Ilan Kelman

Environmental psychology is busy these days, addressing the major environmental and social changes we are all experiencing. From human-caused climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic, from anti-science crusades to deteriorating mental health, understanding hate and disinformation helps us to counter negativity and formulate positive action.

Glenn Albrecht has been at the forefront of this work for decades. Variously described as an environmental philosopher, ecophilosopher, environmental psychologist, ecopsychologist, sustainability expert, and environmentalist, he has melded disciplines through pioneering the field of psychoterratic conditions, referring to Earth-related mental health and wellbeing.

Philosophy and Action

His background and work are mainly philosophical, having followed an academic career , yet never neglecting policy advice and practical implications. He retired in 2014 from his role as Professor of Sustainability at Murdoch University, Australia. Other affiliations, also in Australia, have included the University of Newcastle and the University of Sydney.

He has had to prepare to fight fires on his property. In December 2019, a wildland fire started inadvertently by a neighbour swept toward his farm in New South Wales. His wife evacuated with a few bags of possessions, as he stayed behind attempting to stop their property from burning. Helicopters swept in and saved the day by dropping water, stopping the flames 1.5 km from their house.

Wildland fires are typical in the environment and many ecosystems require them to survive, in Australia and in many other places around the world. The speed and extent of human-caused environmental changes at the moment are not typical. Groundwater drawdown, mining, human-caused climate change, deforestation, whaling, and fishing exemplify the changes we have wrought across our planet’s waters, lands, and atmosphere—all affecting the living and non-living components of ecosystems.

Local knowledge is becoming outdated, land-based peoples are being evicted from their homes, and cultures that have developed with the Earth are separated from it. Many indigenous peoples are forced to move or change livelihoods, such as due to logging, or the local ecosystems have undergone massive alterations, such as from dams. Adverse mental health and wellbeing impacts are increasingly prevalent.

New Terms for Changes

Through witnessing and documenting these changes, Albrecht coined the neologism “ solastalgia ”: psychological distress, pain, and negative mental health impacts from the lived experience of changes to the home environment. When our anchor in head and heart is the environment and it suddenly transforms, then anxiety , grief , fear , and hopelessness can overtake our emotions and lives. Mental health and wellbeing suffers, often in contexts where it is stigmatised.

Albrecht’s contributions to identify and redress these difficulties are steeped in his foundational approaches for understanding complexity and linking disciplines so that health improves. Despite his job title and people labelling his expertise, he has never felt confined by academic boundaries . In fact, one of his key books is Health Social Science: A Transdisciplinary and Complexity Perspective (Oxford University Press, 2001). Co-authored with Nick Higginbotham and Linda Connor, it breaks ground by developing a framework for combining quantitative and qualitative approaches for comprehending and resolving many human health problems.

The resolutions, overcoming complex challenges and using many disciplines, led to his interest in flipping around the despair and loss of solace embodied by solastalgia into practical, positive actions. The “Symbiocene”, another of his concepts, covers humanity living symbiotically with the environment to achieve mutual benefit. From the same root as “symbiosis”, and similarly embracing “companionship”, Albrecht explores “Earth emotions”, hoping that we feel them too and so can align positive feelings with positive responses from ourselves and our planet.

essay on environmental psychology

Countering doomerism’s debilitating negativity through eco-inspiration (symbio-inspiration) has galvanised him to produce other positive psychoterratic concepts, including:

  • Endemophilia: Loving the unique attributes of the place where we live.
  • Eutierria : Positive feelings from linking life forces of people and the planet.
  • Soliphilia : Love of the political wholeness connecting people, the environment, and the Earth.

To some extent, although not entirely, we can create our state of mind, just as we can influence the state of the planet. Currently, neither is going particularly well, yet many options exist for improvement and have been put into practice. From stopping the release of chemicals that deplete stratospheric ozone to banning many ruinous pesticides, from urban gardening to averting lethal flood disasters, we have achieved many local and global successes. They support our mental health and wellbeing.

Albrecht does not dismiss the barriers, instead seeking productive and effective ways forward together. This environmental psychology and environmental philosophy can contribute to building a better future, if we choose to let them do so.

Albrecht, G.A. 2005. ‘Solastalgia’. A New Concept in Health and Identity. PAN: Philosophy Activism Nature, no. 3, pp. 41-55.

Albrecht, G.A. 2019. Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

Albrecht, G.A. 2020. Negating Solastalgia: An Emotional Revolution from the Anthropocene to the Symbiocene. American Imago, vol. 77, no. 1, pp. 9-30.

Albrecht, G.A. 2020. The extinction of rights and the extantion of ghehds. Griffith Law Review, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 513-533.

Ilan Kelman Ph.D.

Ilan Kelman, Ph.D. , is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England and a Professor II at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway.

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What is Environmental Psychology?

Environmental Psychology Theory

It’s not a very large field yet, but it has the potential to be one of the most impactful ones yet regarding the future of being human.

If your interest is piqued, you might be wondering how to answer questions like: What does “environmental psychology” mean? What does it do for us? How can it be applied?

If these questions are engaging your curiosity, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating field.

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This Article Contains

What is the definition of environmental psychology, an introduction and brief history of environmental psychology, what are the topics and scope explored in environmental psychology, 7 examples of environmental psychology in practice, using environmental psychology in design and architecture, recommended books on environmental psychology, a take-home message, frequently asked questions.

According to the Journal of Environmental Psychology , the field can be defined as:

“[T]he scientific study of the transactions and interrelationships between people and their physical surroundings (including built and natural environments, the use and abuse of nature and natural resources, and sustainability-related behavior).”

In other words, environmental psychology is all about the interplay between people and their environment. As a field, it seeks to understand how and why our environment impacts us, how we can leverage that knowledge to our advantage, and what we can do to improve our relationship with the world around us.

Environmental psychology is a subfield of psychology that, as the definition above suggests, deals with how people interact and engage with their surroundings. Its roots reach far back, but as an established field it is relatively young (Spencer & Gee, 2009).

You could say it started all the way back in the late 1200s. As experts Christopher Spencer and Kate Gee explain:

“In 1272 Marco Polo was travelling through the kingdoms of West Asia, and noted that the people of Kerman were good, humble, helpful and peaceable; whereas their immediate neighbours in Persia were wicked, treacherous and murderous. The king of Kerman had asked his wise men what could be the reason, and they answered that the cause lay in the soil. Splendidly empirical in his approach, the king had ordered quantities of soil to be brought from Isfahan (‘whose inhabitants surpassed all others in wickedness’), sprinkled it on the floors of his banqueting hall, and then covered it up by carpets. As the next banquet started, his guests ‘began offending one another with words and deeds, and wounding one another mortally’. The king declared that truly the answer lay in the soil.”

This initial experiment got at the question that lies at the heart of environmental psychology: how does our environment affect us?

This question is what led to the establishment of environmental psychology as its own subfield of psychology. A group of social psychologists was tasked with determining which room layouts were most beneficial for hospital patients and which could result in adverse effects. These psychologists realized that they didn’t really know how to answer that question, and they decided that a new area of inquiry was required to explore the topic.

Although the first question is usually the most salient for curious individuals, the second question environmental psychology asks is also an important one: how do we affect our environment?

That question is becoming more pressing as the problem of climate change becomes more pressing. It has also led to greater consideration of attitudes toward the environment and the natural world (Spencer & Gee, 2009).

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So, given what we know about environmental psychology, what kinds of topics do environmental psychologists actually study?

The Journal of Environmental Psychology lists the following topics as popular areas within the field:

  • Perception and evaluation of buildings and natural landscapes
  • Cognitive mapping, spatial cognition, and wayfinding
  • Ecological consequences of human actions
  • Evaluation of building and natural landscapes
  • Design of, and experiences related to, the physical aspects of workplaces, schools, residences, public buildings, and public spaces
  • Leisure and tourism behavior in relation to their physical settings
  • Meaning of built forms
  • Psychological and behavioral aspects of people and nature
  • Theories of place, place attachment, and place identity
  • Psychological aspects of resource management and crises
  • Environmental risks and hazards: perception, behavior, and management
  • Stress-related to physical settings
  • Social use of space: crowding, privacy, territoriality, personal space

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it provides a great outline of the topics you would likely encounter in reading up on environmental psychology.

Concepts and Theories in Environmental Psychology

Environmental psychology is littered with theories about how and why we act the way we do in our environment, but they tend to fall into one of a few main perspectives:

  • Geographical Determinism
  • Ecological Biology
  • Behaviorism
  • Gestalt Psychology

Geographical determinism is the idea that the foundation and lifespan of entire civilizations are dependent on environmental factors, like topography, climate, vegetation, and the availability of water.

Theorists in this perspective believe that too great of an environmental challenge leads to the destruction of civilizations while not enough challenge can result in a stagnation of culture. Further, these environmental factors can have a huge impact on what we value as a society and how we live and work together.

The ecological biology perspective is grounded in theories of biological and sociological interdependence between organisms and their environment. From this point of view, organisms are viewed as integral parts of their environment rather than as separate entities. This opens the door for the study of interdependencies between the two and throughout the entire system.

Behaviorists brought an emphasis on context to the conversation, insisting that both environmental context and personal context (e.g., personality , dispositions, attitudes, views, experience) are vital determinants of behavior. Although behaviorism generally fell out of style as the leading perspective in psychology, its improved focus on contextual factors lived on.

Finally, Gestalt psychology was the other side of behaviorism’s coin; while behaviorists often considered behavior and nothing but behavior, Gestalt thinkers were more prone to considering perception and cognition. Instead of seeing environmental stimuli as 100% objective factors, the focus was on how people perceived and thought about these stimuli (Virtual University of Pakistan, n.d.).

To get a little more in-depth, we can dive into a few of environmental psychology’s more specific theories. Here are a few of those that can help you get a handle on the field, as broad as it is.

Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB)

This theory states that people choose the option(s) with the highest benefits (positive outcomes) and the lowest costs (e.g., energy, time, money) and that the behavior we engage in is a direct result of our intentions. Our intentions are determined by our attitudes towards the behavior, social norms about the behavior, and beliefs about whether and how much we are able to control our behavior.

The TPB has successfully explained lots of interesting environmental behavior, like the choice of mode of travel (e.g., car, plane, train, bicycle), household recycling and composting, use of water, consumption of meat, and other, general pro-environmental behavior (Gifford, Steg, & Reser, 2011).

Norm-Activation Model (NAM)

This model was developed to explain altruistic and environmentally friendly behavior; it posits that one’s own personal norms are more important than social norms in determining how we choose our behavior (Liu, Sheng, Mundorf, Redding, & Ye, 2017).

Value-Belief-Norm Theory (VBN)

Similar to the NAM, the Value-Belief-Norm Theory assumes that people act in a pro-environment way when they feel morally obligated to do so. This moral obligation can come from within (based on one’s own morals), from external sources (social norms and the morals of others), or from both (Gifford, Steg, & Reser, 2011).

In addition to these theories, there are six frequently discussed concepts in the field: attention, perception and cognitive maps, ideal environments, environmental stress and managing, involvement, and protective behavior. These so-called “continual elements” are central in the exploration of how our environment affects us and vice versa.

Attention is the first step of any interaction with the environment; it determines how we notice, perceive, and observe our environment. There are two main kinds of stimuli: those that demand our attention (highly engaging or even distracting stimuli) and those that we willingly or even eagerly direct our attention towards.

Perception and Cognitive Maps

How we perceive the world around us is eventually organized and stored in our minds in what is called “cognitive maps.” Cognitive maps are spatial networks that connect our experiences with our current perceptions, helping us to recognize and understand the world around us and allowing us to navigate it effectively.

Ideal Environments

Ideal environments are places where people “feel self-assured and competent, where they can familiarize themselves with the environment whilst also being engaged with it” (Essays, UK, 2013). There are four factors that determine whether an environment is ideal:

  • Unity: the sense that things in the environment work well together.
  • Legibility: the assumption that a person can traverse and navigate the environment without getting lost.
  • Complexity: the amount of information and diversity in an environment that make it worth learning about.
  • Mystery: the expectation of being able to acquire more information about an environment (Essays, UK, 2013).

Environmental Stress and Managing

Environments can induce stress in people, resulting in consequences like poor health, reduced selflessness, enhanced behavioral and cognitive weaknesses, and a lack of sufficient attention paid to the environment itself.

A major benefit of having a private space to live is that we can control incoming stress-inducing stimuli (to a certain extent, anyway). We can also attempt to regulate our environmental-related stress by “ managing ” it or coming up with ways to understand and make sense of such stimuli and sharing our lessons learned with others.


Involvement refers to how much a person participates in their environment, interacting and engaging with their surroundings. It can also refer to their participation in the “design, adjustment, and organization” of the environment (Essays, UK, 2013).

Protective Behavior

Finally, protective behavior is the actions we take to safeguard, steward, and appropriately manage our environment. This refers to both natural and built environments, which require different types of protective behavior to effectively maintain. This is the kind of behavior that is necessary for creating an ecologically sustainable society (Essays, UK, 2013).

Research and Studies

The research in this area is truly fascinating; the field is wide in scope and can accommodate lots of far-reaching ideas. To get an idea of the studies that drive environmental psychology, we can take a look at the most cited articles in the journal Frontiers in Psychology environmental psychology section:

  • Relationships between Personal and Collective Place and Identity and Well-Bing in Mountain Communities by Igor Knez and Ingegärd Eliasson (2017)
  • A Different Way to Stay in Touch with ‘Urban Nature’: The Perceived Restorative Qualities of Botanical Garden by Giuseppe Carrus et al. (2017)
  • Can Nature Walks with Psychological Tasks Improve Mood, Self-Reported Restoration, and Sustained Attention? Results from Two Experimental Field Studies by Tytti Pasanen, Katherine Johnson, Kate Lee, and Kalevi Korpela (2018).

These are just a few of the many popular recent articles, but throughout the pieces in this one small sample we have learned that:

  • The way we frame our thoughts about the places we visit affects how we feel not only when we visit those places, but when we think about visiting these places; this indicates that it is our cognitive experience of being outdoors that plays a big part in delivering the benefits of being outdoors (Knez & Eliasson, 2017).
  • Botanical gardens provide exceptionally good opportunities for boosting restoration and well-being, through both physical and psychological mechanisms, and this effect is strongest for single people versus couples or families visiting the gardens together (Carrus et al., 2017).
  • Active engagement with one’s environment can improve sustained attention (i.e., purposeful attention), although the evidence is iffy for whether it can influence affective restoration (i.e., mood-boosting; Pasanen et al., 2018).

Environmental psychologists apply their knowledge in many different ways, including:

  • Conducting research on messages that motivate people to change their behavior.
  • Spreading the word about environmental solutions.
  • Uncovering why people may not adopt positive behaviors.
  • Encouraging people to rethink their positions in the natural world.
  • Helping clients to live more sustainable lives (APA, n.d.).

A recent application of environmental psychology comes to us from expert researcher Dr. Arline Bronzaft. She has been working with the Department of Environmental Protection of New York City to provide “interactive, multi-disciplinary, STEM lessons tailored to teach elementary, middle and high school students about sound and noise in their neighborhoods.”

Her work has influenced the development of New York City’s noise code policy and raised awareness about the adverse effects of noise on humans (Macchi, 2018).

Another huge area of application for knowledge gained within the field is that of discovering how we can more effectively influence people and whole societies towards more ecologically and environmentally sustainable behavior (Sörqvist, 2016).

So far, we’ve found that using specific kinds of messages and framing things in certain ways are effective in encouraging better environmental behavior, along with promoting environmental responsibility as a social norm and offering educational programs to raise awareness (Sörqvist, 2016).

Environmental Psychology Applied to Architecture

Based on the studies we touched on briefly above, we know that places like botanical gardens with lush flora and colorful plants and flowers to view, help people restore their vitality and sense of peace.

We also know that actively engaging with an environment is good for us, so designing interactive and engaging environments can boost our attention span.

Findings like these barely scratch the surface of how we can apply environmental psychology to design and architecture, but they help form the basis of a broad range of knowledge on the subject. There are studies on every facet of human-environment interaction you can think of, including lighting, space planning, ergonomics, acoustics, branding, interior design, proportions, color scheme, and use of empty space.

The use of environmental psychologists in building planning isn’t too commonplace yet, but as the field grows and matures, you’ll see more and more psychologists consulting on the designing of buildings and spaces for a wide variety of purposes.

Dak Kopec’s Work on Environmental and Architectural Psychology

Psychologist Dak Kopec has been working on the application of knowledge from environmental psychology to design and architecture for many years. He combined his love for psychology with his graduate degrees in architecture and community psychology and went on to earn his PhD in the field.

Since then he’s been working as a professor, author, and consultant, finding new ways to apply the science of environmental and architectural psychology to real, everyday situations with real people. If you search for information about environmental psychology, you’re almost guaranteed to see his name pop up in the first few results, making him a good name to follow if you’re interested in the field.

Graduate, Masters Degree, and PhD Programs

If you’re interested in a degree in environmental psychology, you’re in luck! There are several programs out there that might work for you, including programs at the diploma/certificate, associate, bachelor, master, and doctoral degree levels.

For advanced higher education opportunities, you have three general options:

  • Graduate certification: if you do not have the time, energy, or grade point average to work on obtaining a master’s degree, a graduate certification may be the right move for you; it allows you to convert your current BA/BS degree in another subject to one in environmental psychology, and it usually requires only a year of your time.
  • Masters degree: the Masters degree in environmental psychology is heavily skewed towards theory and philosophy, but you will get a chance to do some hands-on work as well; you should have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, environmental policy and planning, or architecture and design to improve your chances of success.
  • Doctor of philosophy degree: the PhD in environmental psychology is virtually required if you hope to have a career in teaching or academia; luckily, the field’s theoretical and philosophical bent lends itself to doctoral-level study, so there are lots of options out there!

To learn more about the opportunities available to you in the study of environmental psychology, check this out.

essay on environmental psychology

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If you want to learn more about environmental psychology but can’t commit to an entire program or even a two-day conference, not to worry! There are some really informative books you can use to familiarize yourself with the field, including:

  • Research Methods for Environmental Psychology by Robert Gifford ( Amazon )
  • Environmental Psychology for Design by Dak Kopec ( Amazon )
  • Environmental Psychology: Man and His Physical Setting by Harold M. Proshansky ( Amazon )
  • Environmental Psychology Principles and Practice by Robert Gifford ( Amazon )
  • Environmental Psychology by Paul A. Bell, Thomas C. Greene, Jeffrey D. Fisher, and Andrew S. Baum ( Amazon )
  • Journal of Environmental Psychology edited by J. Joireman and F. Kaiser (okay, this one isn’t a book, but it is a great journal with a lot of fascinating articles!) ( Link )

I hope you leave this piece with a better understanding of the subfield of environmental psychology. Further, I hope you are reminded to look around you and think about your surroundings more often. You never know what a small change in your environment could do for your mental and emotional state , so why not take a chance and tweak your environment to better suit you?

What are your thoughts on environmental psychology? Did we miss anything super important? How would you describe environmental psychology to someone new to the field? Do you have any personal environmental psychology-related tips and tricks? Let us know in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading!

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free .

The demand for environmental psychologists may vary depending on the location and job market. In general, there is growing recognition of the importance of designing environments that promote health, wellbeing, and sustainability, which may increase the demand for environmental psychologists.

Environmental psychologists need a range of skills, including

  • research design and analysis,
  • data interpretation,
  • communication,
  • collaboration, and
  • critical thinking.

They should also have knowledge of environmental policy, sustainability, and social justice issues.

Environmental psychology improves human life by providing insights into how the physical environment affects our behavior, emotions, and cognition.

It informs the design and management of environments that promote wellbeing, productivity, and sustainability, such as green buildings, parks, and public spaces. Environmental psychology also addresses environmental injustices and disparities, and advocates for social and environmental equity.

  • APA. (n.d.). Environmental psychology makes a better world. Psychology: Science in Action . Retrieved from
  • Carrus, G., Scopelliti, M., Panno, A., Lafortezza, R., Colangelo, G., Pirchio, S., Ferrini, F., …, & Sanesi, G. (2017). A different way to stay in touch with ‘urban nature’: The perceived restorative qualities of botanical gardens. Frontiers in Psychology [Online publication]. Retrieved from
  • Environmental Science (n.d.) Retrieved from
  • Gifford, R., Steg, L., & Reser, J. P. (2011). Environmental psychology. In P. R. Martin, F. M. Cheung, M. C. Knowles, M. Kyrios, L. Littlefield, J. Bruce Overmier, & J. M. Prieto (Eds.) The IAAP Handbook of Applied Psycholog y. Hoboken, NJ, US: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd.
  • Knez, I., & Eliasson, I. (2017). Relationships between personal and collective place identity and well-being in mountain communities. Frontiers in Psychology [Online publication]. Retrieved from
  • Kopec, D. (n.d.) Dr. Kopec Publications. Retrieved from
  • Liu, Y., Sheng, H., Mundorf, N., Redding, C., & Ye, Y. (2017). Integrating norm activation model and theory of planned behavior to understand sustainable transport behavior: Evidence from China. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14 , 1593.
  • Macchi, A. (2018). Environmental psychology “in action”: Understanding the dangers of noise to humans. Psych Learning Curve . Retrieved from
  • Pasanen, T., Johnson, K., Lee, K., & Korpela, K. (2018). Can nature walks with psychological tasks improve mood, self-reported restoration, and sustained attention? Results from two experimental field studies. Frontiers in Psychology [Online publication]. Retrieved from
  • Spencer, C., & Gee, K. (2009). The roots and branches of environmental psychology. The Psychologist, 22 , 180-183.
  • Sörqvist, P. (2016). Grand challenges in environmental psychology. Frontiers in Psychology [Online publication]. Retrieved from
  • Virtual University of Pakistan. (n.d.). Theories in environmental psychology . Docsity – Agra University. Retrieved from

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Essay on Environmental Psychology


As a subdiscipline of psychological science, environmental psychology pertains to the scientific study of the interrelationships and interlinkages between people and their natural and built surroundings and includes the sustainable use and abuse of resources and natural resource management (Steg et al., 2018). It proposes comprehending how people’s surroundings affect them, synthesising that knowledge beneficially and improving the relationship between people and the environment. Although it is a new subfield of psychology, its concepts and premises have existed for a long time. According to Spencer and Gee (2009), questions on how people engaged with the environment and the resultant effects can be traced back to the late 1200s during the days of Marco Polo. Since then, there have always been inquiries about how people’s surroundings impact them.

The knowledge gap has been key to the inclusion of environmental psychology as a subdiscipline of psychology. Perhaps the impetus for further study was set by social psychologists who, tasked with determining how room layouts affected patients’ recovery, failed to offer substantive results suggesting the need for further examinations. Thus, a new field of study was hatched. However, in as much as the most salient researchers base their study on how the environment affects man, the field has grown to look into how people affect the environment, especially with the threats of climate change (Spence & Gee, 2009). The topics and scope of environmental psychology are infinite. However, the key areas include the influences of ecological stressors, the sense of space ownership, ecological risks and mitigation, beneficial impacts of natural surroundings, privacy and use of personal spaces, and motivations for environmental concern (Steg et al., 2018). These topics fall into a wide range of theories: gestalt psychology, ecological biology, geographical determinism and behaviourism.

E nvironmental  Psy cholog y in A cademia and  P ractis e

There are a lot of fascinating studies in the field of environmental psychology as the scope widens to accommodate many far-reaching ideologies. Some of the topics that have been a subject of discourse in academia include the works of Pasanen et al. (2018), who looked to determine how nature walks with psychological tasks can bolster people’s attention, improve their moods and lead to rejuvenation of the body. In another study, Carrus et al. (2017) focused on staying in touch with nature by zeroing in on the perceptions and beneficial aspects of botanical gardens among urban dwellers. Furthermore, Knez and Eliasson (2017) also studied mountainous communities and how the relationship between their personal and collective places impacted their well-being and identities. Research work in the field is inestimable. Therefore these suggestions are barely indicative and by no means exhaustive.

Nonetheless, the studies have brought to light answers to some pertinent environmental and societal concerns. For instance, Knez & Eliasson (2017) determined that people’s cognitive experiences of going outdoors and indulging in outdoor activities are pertinent in delivering the satisfaction of being outdoors. They argue that this is since how people frame their thoughts about the places they visit influences their feeling when they visit the places and when they think of doing so. On the other hand, Carrus et al. (2017) brought to the fore the exceptional opportunities that botanical gardens have in augmenting human well-being and as a catalyst for restoration. The researchers argue that the impact is through both psychological and physical mechanisms, with the influences varying with the nature of the visits to the gardens, as an individual vs as a group. Similarly, Pasanen et al. (2018) identify a positive correlation between sustained attention and active engagement with the surroundings, albeit with weak evidence on whether it impacts emotional restoration.

Like in academia, environmental psychology has been put into practice in several ways. Among the practical ways, this has been achieved is in knowledge dissemination on various ecological solutions and breakthroughs and perception studies which have helped influence and initiate changes in people’s behaviour. Moreover, Macchi (2018) notes that the applications have influenced the adoption of noise code policies in New York and led to the awareness of the impacts of noise on humans. Besides, related studies have led to the discovery of ways and means of effectively influencing societies towards more environmentally and ecologically friendly and sustainable practices (Sörqvist, 2016). Sörqvist (2016) posits that messages can be framed in a manner that advocates for positive ecological practices to promote environmental sustainability and responsibility as a norm through educational programs that help create awareness.

Recently, there has been a paradigm shift in environmental psychology works focusing on the design and architecture of building environments. Inferring from the aforestated academic research work, there has been a push for adopting places like botanical gardens with lots of flora and fauna since they promote vitality and tranquillity. Modern designs also assume engaging and interactive environments that help boost people’s attention. These are but a tip of the icebag on how environmental psychology has been applied in built environments. Other studies have looked into modifications of colour schemes, acoustics, interior designs, ergonomics, lighting, proportions and branding. Integrating the subfield in architectural planning is quickly gaining traction and may soon be commonplace in buildings for an assortment of functions.

E nvironmental  P sychology  R esearch and Environmental   C hange

Research on the environmental psychology spectrum has broadened in several ways with the possibility of linking human behaviour to societal developments. To decipher how environmental psychology research influences practices and policies that trigger environmental change, the topic is viewed from three standpoints.

  • Reflections of Images of Mankind

People’s behaviour can be perceived from various angles, either through how they respond to stimuli, social practice constructions or various forms of societal identity (Batel et al., 2016). By extension, this suggests a reflection on the image of humankind and the integration of various perceptions. Further, this standpoint concerning experimental designs indicates ways in which, employing the reductionist model, the interlinkages in significant causal approaches that capture the complexity of human actions and ecological changes are highlighted. In simpler terms, when people are conscious of what is observable and measurable, they quickly acquire the concepts of societal realities.

Consequently, the first precursor of environmental change is the establishment of ideas and the possibility of a new society through environmental psychology research. It sets out a balance between policies and practices and the optimism for change premised on the psychodynamic notion of people who feel that their actions and efforts are necessary for any changes. With regard to this perspective, ecological research can shape people’s attitudes as observed from reactions elicited by researchers in surveys and questionnaires, which, on a deeper level, mask how environmental psychology research influences practices and policies that lead to ecological changes (Luke, 2016). As such, people’s actions cannot be deciphered independently from their perceptions which suggests that environmental psychology shapes our reflections and the constituents of the environment through policies and practices.

  • Environmental Psychology and Historical Contexts

Humanity is bound up temporally and spatially in societies and historical contexts that shape policies, practices and their imagination patterns. Environmental changes are not devoid of historical contexts as well and act similarly. The ecology and the changes it has undergone so far have been possible through temporal and spatial variations on one hand and environmental psychology, which determine policies and practices on the other (Ernst & Wenzel, 2014). The policies and practices are resultant of the interconnections between man and the environment and the processes involved, which led to ideas of sustainability.

Hence, it is imperative for psychologists to advance ideologies on human beings and ecological integration and investigations on the subjective historical interpretation of our surroundings. Therefore, the emphasis should be on projections, assumptions and limitations of policies and practices related to environmental changes. From a dynamic point of view, it is worth noting that investigations into social and political processes that lead to policies and practices usually tend to come after harm has been done to the environment (Ernst & Wenzel, 2014). The context and extent to which such ecological remedies are informed closely stem from and are derivatives of environmental psychology. Thus, over time environmental psychology informs the internal value structures of politics and societies, which in turn shape people’s perceptions leading to changes. However, since new ideas are founded on the past, they cannot be considered sufficient without being justified in a historical context.

  • Social Inequalities and justice Research

There is a need to address ecological and psychological concerns with pressing global issues. It means including polarisation research and social inequalities studies in environmental psychology. Such new realisations have shifted how the environment was viewed previously. It has sparked discourses on subjects previously overlooked in the environmental field, such as climate variability, climate change, and global and green spaces. These are pertinent societal matters in present times, and emphasis on their importance is defined by various policies and guidelines that open up possibilities and limitations for environmental changes. How these new issues are addressed has assumed a political nature, influencing people’s self-image. Climate action and environmental justice are closely related, which are among the key topics of discussion presently, especially in environmental psychology. Kuhn (2015) notes that the views of societal inequalities, justice research and environmental psychology closely follow societal transformation processes and look into how people handle ecological situations and how it impacts their behaviour.

Real-Life Application of Environmental Psychology

Environmental psychology has a wide range of applications in natural and built environments. Moreover, it helps in understanding real-life applications such as cognitive mapping and spatial cognition in designing spaces to make them more navigable and improve cognitive abilities. One way in which it has been put to use is the efficient designing of learning environments to help boost students’ performance (Yalçin, 2015). The findings of several studies indicate that using soft lighting, rugs and cushions in classrooms helps improve learners’ participation and performance within a month. It indicates that learning environments should be plain but instead should be modified to help attain better results.

Another impactful application of the subfield is the use of good signage in buildings to increase traffic, and using colour-coded paths to give directions helps lessen wayfinding mistakes. Conspicuous and colourful landmarks are also suitable for spatial cognition in urban areas. All these have been aided by research in environmental psychology (Steg et al., 2018). There has also been a significant reduction in the crime rate in Ohio, USA, due to the practical application of environmental psychology. This was through improving the residents’ sense of ownership and surveillance and the reduction of non-owned spaces and traffic by non-residents.

Environmental psychology is a subfield that deals with how humans relate to their surroundings and how it affects them in return. It has existed for a long time, but it is not only recently gaining traction and applicability across various fields. There have been many applications of the discipline in both academia and practice. An example of its application in academia is the determination of how nature walks with psychological tasks that can bolster people’s attention while, in practice involving works focusing on the design and architecture of build environments. Moreover, environmental psychology plays an integral role in shaping policies and practices prerequisites for ecological changes. As a new subdiscipline, it presents many possibilities and room for growth as the dynamic environment provides more room for research.

Batel, S., Castro, P., Devine-Wright, P., and Howarth, C. (2016). Developing a critical agenda to understand pro-environmental actions: Contributions from Social Representations and Social Practices Theories WIREs. Clim. Change 7,727–745. DOI: 10.1002/wcc.417

Carrus, G., Scopelliti, M., Panno, A., Lafortezza, R., Colangelo, G., Pirchio, S., Ferrini, F., …, & Sanesi, G. (2017). A different way to stay in touch with ‘urban nature’: The perceived restorative qualities of botanical gardens.  Frontiers in Psychology  [Online publication]. Retrieved from

Ernst, A., & Wenzel, U. (2014). Bringing environmental psychology into action: Four steps from science to policy.  European Psychologist ,  19 (2), 118.

Knez, I., & Eliasson, I. (2017). Relationships between personal and collective place identity and well-being in mountain communities.  Frontiers in Psychology  [Online publication]. Retrieved from

Kühn, T. (2015). Critical Social Psychology of Modern Everyday Life: Potential of a Life Course Oriented Research Perspective [Critical Sociopsychology of the Modern Everyday. On the Potential for a Research Perspective Oriented to a Life Course]. Germany: Springer, DOI: 10.1007/978

Luke, T. W. (2016). “Environmental Governmentality,” in The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Political Thought, eds T. Gabrielson, C. Hall, J. M. Meyer, and D. Schlosberg Oxford: Oxford University Press. 460–474. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199685271.013.29

Macchi, A. (2018). Environmental psychology “in action”: Understanding the dangers of noise to humans.  Psych Learning Curve . Retrieved from

Pasanen, T., Johnson, K., Lee, K., & Korpela, K. (2018). Can nature walks with psychological tasks improve mood, self-reported restoration, and sustained attention? Results from two experimental field studies.  Frontiers in Psychology  [Online publication]. Retrieved from

Sörqvist, P. (2016). Grand challenges in environmental psychology.  Frontiers in Psychology  [Online publication]. Retrieved from

Spencer, C., & Gee, K. (2009). The roots and branches of environmental psychology.  The Psychologist, 22 , 180-183.

Steg, L., van den Berg, A. E., & de Groot, J. I. (2018). Environmental psychology: History, scope, and methods.  Environmental psychology: An introduction , 1-11.

Yalçin, M. (2015). “Exploratory” and “Descriptive” aspects of environmental psychology course within the interior design education.  Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences ,  174 , 3531-3541.

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Human Interaction With the Surrounding Environment Essay

Naturally, it is indubitable that the environment we interact with coherently influence human behavior. The setting under which human beings live is a determinant of their sudden behavior. In the same light, it is not human behavior only that is influenced by the make-up of their immediate environment, animal behavior also get influenced by the environment.

In vitro experiments that focus on providing controlled conditions may be theoretical hence offering a tentative environment that depicts an unnatural situation (Huitt & Dawson, 2011). For instance, guinea pigs are experimental animals subjected to a laboratory setting where they portray an entirely different behavior from a natural setting.

This paper seeks to put more emphasis on human interaction to their surrounding environment, as well as the observable changes elicited by this interaction. Environmental psychologists have made relentless efforts to design better management norms that can positively orchestrate quality personalities and environmental development (Gifford, 2007).

There are various theories put in place to explain environmental psychology. However, this paper tries to explain the meaning of environmental psychology with the help of two principal theories; the Learning Theory and the Motivational Theory.

On the same note, despite environmental psychology being an involving field, it encompasses an interdisciplinary scientific aspect that generally focuses on the human behavior and how they interact with their immediate environment. It is a holistic branch of psychology that embraces the organismic adaptation to their natural settings (Gifford, 2007).

Environmental psychology points out learning theory as the way people and other organism develop within a particular environmental setting thus providing an exclusive determinant of this complicated learning process. Learning generally, is a complex process that sums up different experiences or influences like emotions, cognitivism or the entire environment (Gifford, 2007).

These influences will thereby enhance an individual’s view of the immediate setting through acquiring knowledge and values. On the other hand, motivational theory seeks to hypothetically consider motivation as an object that initiates and directs behavior that is geared toward achieving a particular goal through learning (Franken, 2006).

Motivation is, therefore, intrinsically driven by an individual’s interest to a given task rather than giving pressure to the individual either through strict supervision of performance. As opposed to learning theory, where by one may be subjected to a painful process of knowledge acquisition in order to achieve a set standard or goal. This could be though punishments to reinforce behavior, a process known as operant conditioning (Gifford, 2007).

Although learning may be deemed to be focusing on the purposes of a mare behavior and the speculated values of behavior, it is distinguished from motivation which allows one to compete inadvertently in level platform where they are encouraged to perform and emerge victorious especially in a context.

This motivation emanates from the environmental influence thus may not be an inbuilt motivation. For example, the provision of reward inform of trophies for a victory. This is known as an extrinsic motivation (Franken, 2006).

It is also essential to acknowledge the values that encompass the process of learning. For instance, the attribute that enables one to develop skills that aid in providing alternative solutions to arising problems within an environmental setting (Huitt & Dawson, 2011).

Consequently, another value in the learning process within an environmental setting is the fact that it helps in conceptualizing and interpreting the observations made. It is rather fundamental to note that these values only confer an individual to pernicious variables that will help in providing a solution (Franken, 2006).

The paradigm of laboratory illustrations and experiments in environmental psychology has been disputed by a number of environmental psychologists who consider research findings from this kind of research as a tentative blue print that may not apply in a natural, environmental setting.

The research is viewed as skewed and impractical in an attempt to invigorate the relationship between the human behavior and the immediate, natural environment. As a result of these disparities, research in this field is equally valuable as in other socio-scientific field. Since it is a new field in psychology, research in the same helps to incorporate the significant findings in the interdisciplinary field of psychology (Huitt & Dawson, 2011).

Recurrent aspects of research in this field are pertinent in providing a positive perception of environmental psychology. For instance, the cognitive maps as well as perception of people in the built environment help in nurturing this field. When the images are registered to the minds of people, they give a spatial networks referred to as cognitive maps (Huitt & Dawson, 2011).

Thus, they are able to correlate their perception of the natural environment and their emotions and ideas. An environmental preference among different personalities is another critical element in embracing the research outcomes of the same. This kind of research helps environmental psychologists to accurately determine the specific niches preferred by most people.

It also focuses on the fact that many individuals will always seek environments that they deem confident and able to be attached to. Research in this field has, therefore, played an important role in restoring psychosocial skills in order to inherently come up with a society that is environmentally sustainable (Gifford, 2007).

Concisely, environmental psychology is an multifaceted field that cannot be in any way described with regards to one theory. Conventionally, this relatively broad brand of psychology concentrate on the role that the environment play in determining human and animal behavior.

Franken, R. (2006). Human motivation (6th Ed.). Florence, KY: Wadsworth.

Gifford, R. (2007). Environmental Psychology: Principles and Practice (4th Ed.). Colville, WA: Optimal Books.

Huitt, W. & Dawson, C. (2011, April). “Social development: Why it is important and how to impact it.” Educational Psychology Interactive . Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from

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IvyPanda. (2019, March 27). Human Interaction With the Surrounding Environment.

"Human Interaction With the Surrounding Environment." IvyPanda , 27 Mar. 2019,

IvyPanda . (2019) 'Human Interaction With the Surrounding Environment'. 27 March.

IvyPanda . 2019. "Human Interaction With the Surrounding Environment." March 27, 2019.

1. IvyPanda . "Human Interaction With the Surrounding Environment." March 27, 2019.


IvyPanda . "Human Interaction With the Surrounding Environment." March 27, 2019.


  1. Environmental issues are health issues: Making a case and setting an

    Increasing demands on ecosystems, decreasing biodiversity, and climate change are among the most pressing environmental issues of our time. As changing weather conditions are leading to increased vector-borne diseases and heat- and flood-related deaths, it is entering collective consciousness: environmental issues are human health issues. In public health, the field addressing these issues is ...

  2. Journal of Environmental Psychology

    The Journal of Environmental Psychology is the premier journal in the field, ... As an important forum for a diverse discipline, the journal publishes influential papers that advance environmental psychology as a science and serve as a resource for practitioners. The Editors welcome original empirical research studies, including single- and ...

  3. (PDF) Environmental Psychology

    The basic domains of environment al psychology include: (1) environmental. perceptions and cognitions, (2) environmental values, attitudes and assessment, and (3) behavioural issues. It studies ...

  4. Environmental Psychology

    Environmental Psychology: Overview. T. Gärling, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2001 Environmental psychology is the study of the impact of the physical environment on people and the impact of people on the physical environment. It is an area of applied psychology, although a substantial portion of the research is devoted to theoretical and methodological ...

  5. Definition and Theories of Environmental Psychology

    According to Clayton and Myers (2009), environmental psychology is a branch of psychology that is concerned with the relationship between human beings and the environment within which they live. It involves studying relevant theories, and how they can be applied in real life. In general, this is a discipline concerned with streamlining rules of ...

  6. Introduction to Environmental Psychology

    Essays Week 1: The Nature and Scope of Environmental Psychology. 1. Environmental psychology is the study of the complex interrelationships between people and their environment. Gifford explains that it differs from the main branch of psychology in that it is concerned with the everyday physical environment.

  7. Environmental Psychology

    The environment, far from being a silent witness to human actions, is an integral part of the plot. The interdisciplinary origins and applied emphasis of environmental psychology have both conspired to prevent a straightforward and uncontentious definition of the discipline. Recent definitions adopt an inclusive, holistic, and transactional ...

  8. Environmental psychology

    Environmental psychology is a branch of psychology that explores the relationship between humans and the external world. It examines the way in which the natural environment and our built environments shape us as individuals. Environmental psychology emphasizes how humans change the environment and how the environment changes humans' experiences and behaviors.

  9. 1 Introduction: Environmental and Conservation Psychology

    A journal more specific to environmental psychology is the eponymous Journal of Environmental Psychology, established in 1981 to "serve individuals in a wide range of disciplines who have an interest in ... and theory. The inaugural issue included a reflective essay by David Canter and Kenneth Craik that reviewed the progress of the field ...

  10. Environmental Psychology Matters

    Environmental psychology examines transactions between individuals and their built and natural environments. This includes investigating behaviors that inhibit or foster sustainable, climate-healthy, and nature-enhancing choices, the antecedents and correlates of those behaviors, and interventions to increase proenvironmental behavior. It also includes transactions in which nature provides ...

  11. What Is Environmental Psychology?

    Abstract. "Environmental Psychology is a science that deals with behavior about the environment as will be demonstrated by this paper" (Mathew 2010). The idea about the environment and its visual alternatives being studied is so that they may be represented in/as maps. The atmosphere brings about different behavior levels and direct ...

  12. PDF 1 Environmental Psychology: History, Scope, and Methods

    the field of environmental psychology, followed by a discussion of characteris-tics of the field and a description of the main methods used in research. The chapter ends with an outline and rationale of the book. 1.2 HISTORY OF THE FIELD Environmental psychology has been recognized as a field of psychology since the late 1960s and is therefore ...

  13. Environmental Psychology for a Better Future

    Environmental psychology is busy these days, addressing the major environmental and social changes we are all experiencing. From human-caused climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic, from anti ...

  14. PDF Psychology and Global Climate Change

    inside and outside of psychology. We also make recommendations to encourage APA to "walk the talk" by addressing our professional organization's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and to be a role model for divisions within psychology. Discussion We conclude by summarizing the value of a psychological approach to studying climate

  15. What is Environmental Psychology?

    An Introduction and Brief History of Environmental Psychology. Environmental psychology is a subfield of psychology that, as the definition above suggests, deals with how people interact and engage with their surroundings. Its roots reach far back, but as an established field it is relatively young (Spencer & Gee, 2009).

  16. (PDF) Environmental Psychology: Human responses and relationships to

    In a summary of knowledge on environmental psychology, Williams (2004) presented several arguments and challenges to outdoor recreation managers and researchers. He argued the appropriateness of ...

  17. The Environmental Psychology Concept

    Learn More. Environmental psychology is a study that is focused on exploring people within their environments; it studies the settings that surround people on various stages of their lives and the influences they produce on the individuals, their ways of thinking, behaviors and personality traits. The environments studied by the environmental ...

  18. Environmental Psychology Essay

    The environment play's remarkable roles in the way humans act. In Environmental Psychology the term "Environment" is used in a very broad way. It refers to the all that is natural as well as social settings, built environments, learning environments, and informational environments. I have decided to examine the way living in a world with no ...

  19. Introduction to the Environmental Psychology Research Paper

    Environmental psychology refers to an interdisciplinary study of the interrelationships that does exist between the human beings and the surrounding that they are in. In this case the environment and how it interplays with the human beings is very broadly described. These environments include natural, social settings, informational environments ...

  20. Essay on Environmental Psychology

    The topics and scope of environmental psychology are infinite. However, the key areas include the influences of ecological stressors, the sense of space ownership, ecological risks and mitigation, beneficial impacts of natural surroundings, privacy and use of personal spaces, and motivations for environmental concern (Steg et al., 2018).

  21. Environmental Influences and Psychology

    The essay has explored Influences of the Environment on individuals as a part of Environmental Psychology. It highlights the relationship between individual health and natural environments. It shows that people derive restorative benefits from their natural environments. The urban built environment creates pressures to people and they seek to ...

  22. environmental psychology

    Environmental Psychology This is an interdisciplinary field which focuses on the relationship between humans and their surroundings. It defines the term environment broadly, including natural environments, social settings, built environments, learning environments, and informational environments.

  23. Human Interaction With the Surrounding Environment Essay

    Human Interaction With the Surrounding Environment Essay. Naturally, it is indubitable that the environment we interact with coherently influence human behavior. The setting under which human beings live is a determinant of their sudden behavior. In the same light, it is not human behavior only that is influenced by the make-up of their ...