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Environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field focused on the interplay between humans and their surroundings. The field defines the term environment broadly, encompassing natural environments, social settings, built environments, learning environments, and informational environments. When solving problems involving human-environment interactions, whether global or local, one must have a model of human nature that predicts the environmental conditions under which humans will behave in a decent and creative manner. With such a model one can design, manage, protect and/or restore environments that enhance reasonable behavior, predict what the likely outcome will be when these conditions are not met, and diagnose problem situations. The field develops such a model of human nature while retaining a broad and inherently multidisciplinary focus. It explores such dissimilar issues as common property resource management, wayfinding in complex settings, the effect of environmental stress on human performance, the characteristics of restorative environments, human information processing, and the promotion of durable conservation behavior. Although "environmental psychology" is arguably the best-known and most comprehensive description of the field, it is also known as human factors science, cognitive ergonomics, environmental social sciences, architectural psychology, socio-architecture, ecological psychology, ecopsychology, behavioral geography, environment-behavior studies, person-environment studies, environmental sociology, social ecology, and environmental design research.



The exact beginning of environmental psychology is unknown. The end of World War II and the 1960s were fundamental in the need for environmental psychology because they caused shifts in society that created a high demand for places and spaces that was previously unparalleled [1]. Criticism of laboratory-experimentation and social movements also helped develop environmental psychology. [2]. This has led to a shift from the laboratory research to research in the natural environment.

Universities Offering Environmental psychology-related Courses of Study

The University of Surrey was the first institution that offered an architectural psychology course in the UK starting in 1973/74. Since then there have been over 300 graduates from over 25 countries. Other Universities in the UK now offer courses on the subject, which is an expanding field. The Environmental Psychology Research Group (EPRG), of which students on the MSC in Environmental Psychology are automatically members, has been undertaking research for more than thirty years.

The University of Michigan offers a Master of Sciences degree in Natural Resources and Environment, with one concentration called "Behavior, Education, and Communication." The focus is on how people form their relationships with the natural world, including how they make environmentally-related consumer decisions, as well as a focus on how "nearby nature" affects people's mental and physical health.

Arizona State University offers a Masters in Environmental Resources, which takes more of a planning approach to the field. Antoich New England Graduate School also offers graduate programs involving environmental education through a planning approach. With environmental psychology being such a diverse field with many different approaches, many students have more of a variety of programs to choose from than they realize.

Brigham Young University offers both masters and doctorate programs within the field of environmental psychology. That particular program is very intensive for it includes a number of different areas including ecology, conservation biology, geography, botany, environmental law, environmental quality and public health, environmental science, environmental studies, resource policy and planning, among many others.

Prescott College offers a Masters program that incorporates a number of the foundations of environmental psychology as well. The sub-fields in which the program provides includes environmental education, environmental studies, ecology, botany, resource policy, and planning.

The Environmental Psychology PhD Program at The Graduate Center takes a multidisciplinary approach to examining and changing "the serious problems associated with the urban environment with a view towards affecting public policy" using social science theory and research methods. The GC-CUNY was the first academic institution in the U.S. to grant a PhD in Environmental Psychology. As discussed in detail on the program website, "recent research has addressed the experiences of recently housed homeless people, the privatization of public space, socio-spatial conflicts, children's safety in the public environment, relocation, community based approaches to housing, the design of specialized environments such as museums, zoos, gardens and hospitals, the changing relationships between home, family and work, the environmental experiences of gay men and lesbians, and access to parks and other urban 'green spaces.'" see also The Center for Human Environments.

Another strain of environmental psychology developed out of ergonomics in the 1960s. The beginning of this movement can be traced back to David Canter's work and the founding of the "Performance Research Unit" at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1966, which expanded traditional ergonomics to study broader issues relating to the environment and the extent to which human beings were "situated" within it (cf situated cognition). Canter led the field in the UK for years and was the editor of the Journal of Environmental Psychology for over 20 years, but has recently turned his attention to criminology.



Problem Oriented

The field of environmental psychology recognizes the need to be problem-oriented. Environmental psychology addresses environmental problems such as density and crowding, noise pollution, sub-standard living, and urban decay (Proshansky; The Field of Environmental Psychology: p. 1477). Noise increases environmental stress. Although it has been found that control and predictability are the greatest factors in stressful effects of noise; context, pitch, source and habituation are also important variables [3]. Environmental psychologists have theorized that density and crowding can also have an adverse effect on mood and may cause stress-related illness. To understand and solve environmental problems, environmental psychologists believe concepts and principles should come directly from the physical settings and problems being looked at (Proshansky; The Field of Environmental Psychology: Securing Its Future; p. 1477). For example, factors that reduce feelings of crowding within buildings include:

  • Windows- particularly ones that can be opened and ones that provide a view as well as light
  • High ceilings
  • Doors to divide spaces (Baum and Davies) and provide access control
  • Room shape- square rooms feel less crowded than rectangular ones (Dresor)
  • Using partitions to create smaller, personalized spaces within an open plan office or larger work space.
  • Providing increases in cognitive control over aspects of the internal environment, such as ventilation, light, privacy, etc.
  • Conducting a cognitive appraisal of an environment and feelings of crowding in different settings. For example, one might be comfortable with crowding at a concert but not in school corridors.
  • Creating a defensible space (Calhoun)

Personal space and territory

Having an area of personal territory in a public space, e.g. at the office, is a key feature of many architectural designs. Having such a 'defensible space' (term coined by Calhoun during his experiment on rats) can reduce the negative effects of crowding in urban environments. Placing barriers and personalizing the space are ways of creating personal space, for example, using pictures of one's family. This increases cognitive control as one sees them self as having control over the entrants to the personal space and therefore able to control the level of density and crowding in the space.

Systems Oriented

Systems orientation can be applied to the individual level of analysis and higher order levels of analysis needed by difficult environmental problems surrounding groups and organizations. Literature on the topics of personal space, crowding, etc. show that individual system analyses do not generally occur on the individual level. Research relies on the approach of the laboratory-experimental model focusing on cause-and-effect relationships. ( Proshansky; The Field of Environmental Psychology: Securing Its Future; p. 1481)

Interdisciplinary Oriented

Environmental psychology is a field that relies on interaction with other disciplines. There are three necessary fields that environmental psychology must collaborate with: the behavioral sciences (sociology, political science, anthropology, economics, etc.), interspecialization (other psychologies such as developmental, social, cognitive, etc.), and the design professions (architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, etc.) (Proshansky; The Field of Environmental Psychology: Securing Its Future; p. 1482). The interaction among these fields helps environmental psychology address problems with multiple perspectives.

Space-Over-Time Oriented

Space over time orientation highlights the importance of the past. Examining problems with the past in mind creates a better understanding of how past forces, such as social, political, and economic forces, may be of relevance to present and future problems. (Rivlin; Paths towards Environmental Consciousness; p. 175). Time and place are also important to consider. It’s important to look at time over extended periods. Physical settings change over time; they change with respect to physical properties and they change because individuals using the space change over time (Proshansky; The Field of Environmental Psychology: Securing Its Future; p. 1485). Looking at these spaces over time will help monitor the changes and possibly predict future problems.


Place Identity

For many years Harold Proshansky and his colleagues at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York, explored the concept of place identity. Place identity has been traditionally defined as a ‘sub-structure of the self-identity of the person consisting of broadly conceived cognitions about the physical world in which the individual lives’ (Proshansky et al., 1983: p. 59). It refers to ‘the symbolic importance of a place as a repository for emotions and relationships that give meaning and purpose to life’ (Williams & Vaske, 2003: p. 436) Place identity has been described as the individual's incorporation of place into the larger concept of self a "potpourri of memories, conceptions, interpretations, ideas, and related feelings about specific physical settings, as well as types of settings" (Proshansky, Fabian & Kaminoff, 1983), Five central functions of place-identity have been depicted; recognition, meaning, expressive-requirement, mediating change, and anxiety and defense function. Place identity becomes a cognitive "database" against which every physical setting is experienced (Proshansky et al., 1983). In the time since the term "place identity" was introduced, the theory has been the model for identity that has dominated environmental psychology.

Place Attachment

Place attachment has been defined as “the bonding of people to places” (Altman & Low, 1992). Through interaction with places, people describe themselves in terms of belonging to a specific place. We connect to certain places, thereby increasing our sense of self-esteem and happiness, creating a sense of belonging that can best be termed as feeling at home. The concept of place attachment is complex and multifaceted. Scholars from diverse backgrounds such as family studies, psychology, geography, social ecology, and gerontology have proposed various frameworks for understanding the phenomenon (Low & Altman, 1992). Place attachment involves an elaborate interplay of emotion, cognition, and behavior in reference to place. It is not a static concept; place attachment can vary from place to place and can change with different life stages. Four processes have been linked with the development and continuation of place attachments. There are biological, environmental, psychological, and sociocultural processes. There is debate whether there is a particular process that is dominant in development or whether an integration of the processes is responsible for the development. Place attachment may be an important component of “self-definitional processes” (Altman & Low, 1992).

Environmental Consciousness

Leanne Rivlin believed that one way to examine an individual’s environmental consciousness is to recognize how the physical place is significant, and look at the people/place relationship. There are significant behavioral domains that are striking issues or basic needs for people.

Environmental cognition (involved in human cognition) plays a crucial role in environmental perception. Environmental judgment is made by the orbitofrontal cortex in the brain.[citation needed]

Behavior settings

The first significant findings in environmental psychology can be traced back to researcher Roger Barker, who founded his research station in the Kansas town of Oskaloosa in 1947.

From detailed field observations he developed the theory that social settings influence behavior. In a store, people assume their roles as customers; in school and church, proper behavior somehow already resides, coded in the place. Barker spent his career expanding on what he called ecological psychology, identifying these behavior settings, and publishing accounts like "One Boy's Day" (1951). Some of the minute-by-minute observations of Kansan children from morning to night, jotted down by young and maternal graduate students, may be the most intimate and poignant documents in social science. The "behavior setting" remains a valid principle, which receives serious attention.

Barker argued that the psychologist should use T-Methods (psychologist as 'transducer': i.e. methods which study man in his 'natural environment') rather than O-Methods (psychologist as "operator" i.e. experimental methods). In other words, he preferred field work and direct observation.


Impact on the built environment

Environmental psychologists rejected the laboratory-experimental paradigm because it of its simplification and skewed view of the cause-and-effect relationships of human's behaviors and experiences. Environmental psychologists examine how one or more parameters produce an effect while other measures are controlled. It is impossible to manipulate real-world settings in a laboratory. (Proshansky, 1987)

Environmental psychology is oriented towards influencing the work of design professionals (architects, engineers, interior designers, urban planners, etc.) and thereby improving the human environment.

On a civic scale, efforts towards improving pedestrian landscapes have paid off, to some extent,from the involvement of figures like Jane Jacobs and Copenhagen's Jan Gehl. One prime figure here is the late writer and researcher William H. Whyte. His still-refreshing and perceptive "City", based on his accumulated observations of skilled Manhattan pedestrians, provides steps and patterns of use in urban plazas.

No equivalent organized knowledge of environmental psychology has developed out of architecture. Most prominent American architects, led until recently by Philip Johnson, who was very strong on this point, view their job as an art form. They see little or no responsibility for the social or functional impact of their designs, which was highlighted with the failure of public high-rise housing like Pruitt Igoe.

Environmental psychology has conquered the whole architectural genre which is concerned with retail stores and any other commercial venues that have the power to manipulate the mood and behavior of customers (e.g. stadiums, casinos, malls, and now airports). From Philip Kotler's landmark paper on Atmospherics and Alan Hirsch's "Effects of Ambient Odors on Slot-Machine Usage in a Las Vegas Casino", through the creation and management of the Gruen transfer, retail relies heavily on psychology, original research, focus groups, and direct observation. One of William Whyte's students, Paco Underhill, makes a living as a "shopping anthropologist". Most of this advanced research remains a trade secret and proprietary.


The field saw significant research findings and a fair surge of interest in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but has seen challenges of nomenclature, obtaining objective and repeatable results, scope, and the fact that some research rests on underlying assumptions about human perception, which is not fully understood. Being an interdisciplinary field is difficult because it lacks a solid definition and purpose. It is hard for the field to fit into organizational structures (Proshansky; The Field of Environmental Psychology: Securing Its Future; p. 1476).

In the words of Guido Francescato, speaking in 2000, environmental psychology encompasses a "somewhat bewildering array of disparate methodologies, conceptual orientations, and interpretations... making it difficult to delineate, with any degree of precision, just what the field is all about and what might it contribute to the construction of society and the unfolding of history."

Other contributors

Other significant researchers and writers in this field include:

  • Irwin Altman Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Utah
  • Jay Appleton, British geographer who proposed 'habitat theory' and advanced the notion of 'prospect-refuge'
  • David Chapin Professor of Environmental Psychology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Anita Blanchard, Department of Psychology, Claremont Graduate School, Claremont CA. Applied behavior setting theory to "Virtual Behavior Settings", expanding Wicker's work into computer-mediated environments.
  • Karen Franck PhD is a professor in the New Jersey School of Architecture and the Department of Humanities at New Jersey Institute of Science and Technology
  • Robert Gifford, Ph.D. Department of Psychology University of Victoria. Current Editor of the Journal of Environmental Psychology and author of Environmental Psychology: Principles and Practice (4th edition, 2007).
  • J.J. Gibson, Best known for coining the word affordance, a description of what the environment offers the animal in terms of action
  • Paul Gump, Continued Barker's work in Oskaloosa and did the seminal "Boy's Camp" and "Big School, Small School" studies (with Barker)
  • Roger Hart Professor of Environmental Psychology, Center for Human Environments and the Environmental Psychology Program, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Daniel Henry, Applied classic theories of behavior settings to online built environments, and coined the term "Computer-Mediated Behavior Settings".
  • Bill Hillier, coined the term space syntax
  • C. Ray Jeffery coined the phrase Crime Prevention Through Urban Design or CPTED
  • Rachel and Stephen Kaplan Professors of psychology at the University of Michigan, the Kaplans are known for their research on the effect of nature on people’s relationships and health, including Attention Restoration Theory and are renowned in the field of environmental psychology
  • Cindi Katz Professor of Environmental Psychology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Setha Low Professor of Environmental Psychology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Kevin A. Lynch and his research into the formation of mental maps
  • Francis McAndrew: Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College; wrote an influential Environmental Psychology textbook
  • Bill Mollison developed the Environmental Psychology Unit at the University of Tasmania and also Permaculture with David Holmgren
  • Harold Proshansky An environmental psychologist and the president of the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York
  • Amos Rapoport Distinguished Professor Emeritus Department of Architecture
  • Leanne Rivlin Professor of Environmental Psychology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Edward Sadalla Professor, Department of Psychology (Social), College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, ASU
  • Susan Saegert, director of the Center for Human Environments at the City University of New York
  • Phil Schoggen, who worked with Barker and Wright in Oskaloosa and published the seminal book "Behavior Settings" which summarizes and expands the theory.
  • Myrtle Scott, who applied behavior setting theory to special education and industrial settings, and who taught eco-environmental psychology at Indiana University.
  • Robert Sommer, a pioneer of the field who first studied personal space in the 1950s and is perhaps best known for his 1969 book Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis of Design, but is also the author of numerous other books, including Design Awareness, and hundreds of articles.
  • Roger Ulrich professor both in the Department of Architecture and the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, and serves as Director of the Center for Health Systems and Design
  • Alan Wicker, who expanded behavior setting theories to include other areas of study, including qualitative research, and social psychology.
  • Gary Winkel Professor of Environmental Psychology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

See also


  • Bell P., Greene T., Fisher, J., & Baum, A. (1996). Environmental Psychology. Ft Worth: Harcourt Brace.
  • Gifford, R. (2007). Environmental Psychology: Principles and Practice (4th ed.). Colville, WA: Optimal Books.
  • Ittelson, W. H., Proshansky, H., Rivlin, L., & Winkel, G. (1974). An Introduction to Environmental Psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Translated into German and Japanese.
  • Proshansky, H.M. (1987). "The field of environmental psychology: securing its future." 'Handbook of environmental psychology.' D. Stokols and I. Altman. New York, John Wiley & Sons.
  • Rivlin, L.G. (1990). "Paths towards environmental consciousness." In Altman, I., Christensen, K. (Eds.). 'Environment and Behavior Studies: Emergence of Intellectual Traditions,' pp. 169–185. NY: Plenum.
  • Stokols, D. and I. Altman [Eds.] (1987). Handbook of Environmental Psychology. New York: Wiley.
  • Zube, E.H., and Moore, G.T.[Eds.] (1991). Advances in Environment, Behavior, and Design, Volume 3. New York: Plenum Press.
    1. ^ Proshansky; The Field of Environmental Psychology: Securing Its Future; p. 1467-1468
  • ^ Proshansky; The Field of Environmental Psychology: Securing Its Future
  • ^ Isling (1990)

External links

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

"We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us." - Churchill

"Traditionally, the field of environmental psychology has emphasized how the physical environment affects human thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. However, much recent environmental research has stressed the other side of the coin - how human actions affect the environment." (Oskamp & Schultz, 1998, p. 206)



Although "environmental psychology" is arguably the best-known and more comprehensive description of the field, it is also known as environmental social sciences, architectural psychology, socio-architecture, ecological psychology, ecopsychology, behavioral geography, environment-behavior studies, person-environment studies, environmental sociology, social ecology, and environmental design research.


Defensible spaces are created in exam settings.
"Some religious philosophers (e.g., Ophuls, 1977; White, 1967) have argued that the materialism of Western societies is largely the result of Christian beliefs...A related problem stems from the fact that many passages from the Bible indicate that humans were created to rule over nature." (Oskamp & Schultz, 1998, p. 210)

Possible topics within environmental psychology include:

See also

Wikipedia-logo.png Run a search on Environmental psychology at Wikipedia.


  1. Oskamp, S., & Schultz, P. W. (1998). Environmental issues: Energy and resource conservation. In S. Oskamp & P. W. Schultz (1998). Applied social psychology (2nd ed.) (Ch11, pp. 205 - 228). Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ.

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