What is Environmental Psychology?
I’ve often heard the term ‘Environmental Psychology’ described as being ambiguous or just plain confusing, and that doesn’t surprise me given that it’s a relatively new field of psychology1 with a title that is hard to place if you’re not au fait with exactly what it studies. If you’re one of the many people that has had either of those thoughts (or anything similar) or simply haven’t heard of environmental psychology, don’t worry, this blog post aims to explain what Environmental Psychology is and what it seeks to understand.
How is ‘Environmental Psychology’ defined?
To get an ‘official’ definition of Environmental Psychology, it’s probably best that we refer to the leading journal in this field, aptly named the Journal of Environmental Psychology. It defines this field of psychology as:
“The scientific study of the transactions and interrelationships between people and their physical surroundings (including build and natural environments, the use and abuse of nature and natural resources, and sustainability-related behaviour”.2
So what does that actually mean?
Well, in layman’s terms, environmental psychology explores the interplay between people and the environment around them. It attempts to understand the impact of the environment(s) around us, how we can utilise that knowledge and make it beneficial and use it to our advantage, and what steps we can take to enhance the relationship between ourselves and the environment(s) around us.
What is the remit of Environmental Psychology?
Although there is no official remit of what environmental psychology can or does explore, the scope of its study revolves around a plethora of topics, which, akin to the definition listed above, have been specified by the Journal of Environmental Psychology (https://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-environmental-psychology). These include but are not limited to:
– Perception and evaluation of the environment around us, i.e. natural landscapes and buildings.
– Human actions and their ecological impact.
– How physical settings affect leisure and tourism.
– Behavioural and psychological aspects of humans and nature.
– Theories of ‘place’, which includes place identity and place attachment.
– Psychological examination of resource management.
– Social use of space.
– How physical settings affect stress (levels).
Environmental Psychology: Theories and Concepts
I’d be here for a very long time if I furnished you with a list of all the concepts and theories that have been put forward by environmental psychologists and proponents of this field of psychology. However, luckily they can be broadly grouped into four primary perspectives:
Geographical Determinism: The theory that the foundation and longevity of civilisation(s) are reliant on environmental factors – climate, water availability and (abundance of) vegetation, for example.
Ecological Biology: This concept is firmly rooted in the theories of sociological and biological interrelationships between the environment and the organisms that exist within it.
Behaviourism: Grounded in the notion of context, advocates of behaviourism suggest that both personal context and environmental context are crucial determinants of behaviour(s).
Gestalt psychology: Often referred to as the flip side of behaviourism’ coin, Gestalt psychology focuses on the perception and thoughts of people with regard to the stimuli surrounding them, i.e. a theory based around perception cognition and subjectivity.
Although there is so much more to say about Environmental Psychology, I hope that this article gives you an understandable introduction to what it is, what it seeks to understand and the theories and concepts within it.
(1) Thepsychologist.bps.org.uk. 2020. The Roots And Branches Of Environmental Psychology | The Psychologist. [online] Available at: <https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-22/edition-2/roots-and-branches-environmental-psychology>
(2) Psychology, J., 2020. Journal Of Environmental Psychology. [online] Journals.elsevier.com. Available at: <https://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-environmental-psychology> [Accessed 3 April 2020].