Environmental Psychology Essay

Environmental psychology is the study of transactions between individuals and their physical settings (Gifford, 2007a). In these transactions, individuals change their environments, and their behavior and experiences are changed by their environments. It includes theory, research, and practice aimed at making the built environment more humane and improving human relations with the natural environment. Considering the enormous investment society makes in the physical environment (including buildings, parks, streets, the atmosphere, and water) and the huge cost of misusing nature and natural resources, environmental psychology is a key component of both human and environmental welfare.

Environmental psychologists work at three levels of analysis: (a) fundamental psychological processes like perception of the environment, spatial cognition, and personality as they filter and structure human experience and behavior, (b) the management of social space: personal space, territoriality, crowding, and privacy, and the physical setting aspects of complex everyday behaviors, such as working, learning, living in a residence and community, and (c) human interactions with nature and the role of psychology in climate change (e.

g., Gifford, 2008a). The history of environmental psychology has been reviewed elsewhere (see Bechtel & Churchman, 2002, Bell, Greene, Fisher, & Baum, 2001, and Gifford, 2007a).

But, for perspective, we note that early 20th century psychologists studied the effect of noise (United States) and heat (England) on work performance, while scholars in Germany and Japan explored concepts and moral philosophy related to environmental psychology. By mid-century, environmental psychology was a clearly established discipline with work on topics such as sensory isolation, personal space, and building design. Journals devoted to the field were established; the most prominent of these are the Journal of Environmental Psychology and Environment and Behavior. The IAAP Handbook of Applied Psychology, First Edition. Edited by Paul R. Martin, Fanny M. Cheung, Michael C. Knowles, Michael Kyrios, Lyn Littlefield, J. Bruce Overmier, and José M. Prieto.

© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2011 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. c18.indd 440 11/25/2010 8:54:04 PMMartin—IAAP Handbook of Applied Psychology Se
Environmental Psychology 441

While recognizing the value of theory and research, many environmental psychologists nevertheless prefer to apply knowledge. Instead of working in an research setting, many enter into consultancy or public service to make good use of research findings for developing policy or solving local problems. Some are geared to improving the built environment (e.g., Preiser, Vischer, & White, 1991), while others are dedicated to overcoming sustainability problems in the natural and global ecosystems (e.g., Gifford, 2007b; Nickerson, 2003).

The Distinctiveness of Environmental Psychology

Most psychologists examine the relations between environmental stimuli and human responses in one way or another. However, what sets environmental psychology apart is its commitment to research and practice that subscribe to these goals and principles: (a) Improve the built environment and stewardship of natural resources, (b) Study everyday settings (or close simulations of them), (c) Consider person and setting as a holistic entity, (d) Recognize that individuals actively cope with and shape environments; they do not passively respond to environmental forces, (e) Work in conjunction with other disciplines. Figure 18.1 broadly depicts the scope of environmental psychology.

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