Environmental Psychology

Environmental psychology examines the dynamic transactions between people and their everyday, sociophysical environments. Whereas many areas of psychological research (e.g., those rooted in theories of learning, perception, and social influence) are fundamentally concerned with relationships between environmental factors, intrapersonal processes, and behavior, environmental psychology is distinctive in several respects.

Environmental PsychologyFirst, environmental psychology gives greater attention to molar units of the environment, such as people’s homes, neighborhoods, and work and community settings than other areas of psychology, which have focused more exclusively on micro-level stimuli and events.

Second, in keeping with Kurt Lewin’s “action research” orientation (1946), research in environmental psychology integrates the scientific goals of analyzing and explaining the nature of people-environment transactions with the more practical goal of enhancing—and even optimizing—people’s relationships with their everyday environments through more effective urban planning and environmental design.

Third, because of its dual emphasis on analyzing and improving the quality of people’s relationships with their environments, environmental psychology brings a multidisciplinary approach to the study of environment and behavior. incorporating the perspectives of architecture, urban planning, psychology, anthropology, sociology, geography, and other fields.

The multidisciplinary orientation of environmental psychology has contributed to its innovative and eclectic qualities, but has also resulted in a more diffuse and less easily circumscribed identity for the field as a whole. Environmental psychology cannot be neatly categorized as a singular paradigm or research tradition. Rather, it encompasses a disparate set of research areas and perspectives, spanning multiple disciplines, which are linked by a common focus on people’s relationships with their sociophysical surroundings. Although environmental psychology can be viewed as a branch of psychological research, it is more accurately characterized as part of a multidisciplinary field addressing environment and behavior and combining the conceptual and methodological perspectives of several disciplines. Thus, the terms environmental psychology and environment-behavior studies are used synonymously here in recognition of the multidisciplinary orientation of the field.

Social and Academic Origins of Environmental Psychology

The emergence of environmental psychology as a scientific field during the late 1960s can be traced to both social events and academic developments. On the social level, the environmental crisis of the 1960s raised public awareness about the adverse health and social impact of overpopulation, environmental pollution, interracial tensions, and urban conflict. During the 1970s and 1980s, the widely publicized technological disasters in the community of Love Canal, New York, and those that occurred at the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear power plants (in Pennsylvania and Ukraine, respectively) reinforced the public’s concern about environmental problems. At the same time, dramatic examples of “dysfunctional architecture,” exemplified by the 1972 demolition of the Pruitt Igoe low-income housing project in St. Louis, Missouri (built in 1956 and containing 2,870 dwelling units in 33 eleven-story buildings), highlighted the failure of many residential and neighborhood environments to support the behavioral and social needs of their occupants.

Within academic circles, scientific analyses of population density, air pollution, energy conservation, and racial conflict prompted the development of broader-gauged theories and methodologies for studying the transactions between people and their everyday environments. In psychology, researchers turned their attention to the molar, sociophysical environment and its influence on cognition, social behavior, life-span development, and well-being. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, these developments in psychology, and similar concerns about the behavioral impacts of large-scale environments in sociology, anthropology, geography, and urban planning, led to the formation of new academic journals, professional organizations, and graduate training programs focusing on environment and behavior.

Scientific Foundations and Contributions of Environmental Psychology

Environmental PsychologyThe scientific foundations of environmental psychology are rooted in both the behavioral sciences, as well as the design and planning professions. Architects and urban planners, for example, played a major role in establishing the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA), the largest and longest-standing professional organization in the environment and behavior field. Design and planning professionals also played key roles in establishing additional, international organizations to promote environmental design research, that is, the International Association for People-Environment Studies (IAPS), based in Europe; People and Physical Environment Research (PAPER), based in Australia and New Zealand; and the Man-Environment Research Association (MERA) of Japan.

The first EDRA conference was organized in 1969 by two architects, Henry Sanoff of the School of Design at North Carolina State University and Sidney Cohn of the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Since its inception, EDRA has held yearly conferences focusing on environmental design research and has published their proceedings, from 1970 to the present time. A key goal of EDRA is to foster the design of environments that effectively support users’ needs, through greater collaboration between design professionals and behavioral scientists. The membership of EDRA, like those of IAPS,

PAPER, and MERA, includes researchers and practitioners from the fields of architecture, facilities management, urban planning, psychology, sociology, anthropology, geography, and natural resources management.

The influence of the design and planning professions on the directions of environmental psychology is reflected in the derivation of behaviorally based guidelines for improving the fit between occupants’ needs and activities on the one hand, and the physical and social attributes of their environments (e.g., homes, workplaces, and public spaces) on the other. In their landmark volume A Pattern Language (1977), Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein and others presented 253 guidelines, derived from psychological, social, and aesthetic principles, for optimizing the comfort, attractiveness, and overall quality of physical environments. Similarly, Clara Cooper Marcus and Wendy Sarkissian (1986) offered 254 site-design guidelines for enhancing the quality of residential environments. Also, Stephen Carr, Mark Francis, Leanne Rivlin, and Andrew Stone (1992) outlined several criteria for the design of effective public spaces.

Another long-standing concern of environmental design research has been the development of postoccupancy evaluation (POE) strategies for determining how well buildings and other designed environments work or support the needs and activities of their users (Preiser, 1989; Zeisel, 1981). POE is closely related to predesign research (PDR), which is conducted prior to the design and construction of built environments to ensure that occupants’ needs are considered by design professionals and incorporated into their plans for future developments (Bechtel. 1997).

The directions of environmental psychology also have been shaped by theoretical and methodological perspectives drawn from the behavioral sciences. During the 1970s, the Division of Population and Environmental Psychology was established within the American Psychological Association. Also, the Environmental Section of the Canadian Psychological Association, and the Environment and Technology, and Community and Urban Sociology, sections of the American Sociological Association were formed. An edited text, Environmental Psychology, was published (Proshansky, Ittelson, & Rivlin, 1970), and doctoral training programs in environmental psychology, environment-behavior studies, and social ecology were established at the City University of New York, the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and the University of California, Irvine, respectively. Major reference works and monograph series were published, including the Handbook of Environmental Psychology (Stokols & Altman, 1987). Human Behavior and Environment—Advances in Theory and Research (Altman & Wohlwill, 1976), Advances in Environmental Psychology (Baum, Singer, & Valins, T978); Advances in Environment. Behavior, and Design (Zube & Moore, 1991). Also, periodic chapters summarizing developments in environmental psychology have been published in the Annual Review of Psychology since 1973. At the same time, several journals focusing on environment-behavior studies were established, including Environment and Behavior (Sage Publications), the Journal of Environmental Psychology (Academic Press), and the Journal of Architecture and Planning Research (Locke Science Publishing Company).

Over the past three decades, a number of topics have received extensive theoretical and empirical attention among environment-behavior researchers. The role of physical space in regulating social behavior was one topic widely studied by sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists during the early phase of environment-behavior research. For example, the effects of spatial proximity on the development of neighbors’ friendships, their political attitudes, and consumer behavior were documented in a study of graduate student housing at MIT conducted by Leon Festinger, Stanley Schachter. and Kurt Back (1950). Edward Hall’s anthropological research (] 966) later demonstrated important cross-cultural differences in how people use space in social situation. His work was extended by Robert Sommer’s experimental studies of personal space (1969), and Irwin Altaian’s theoretical model of the relationships between privacy, personal space, territoriality, and crowding, (1975). Sommer’s and Alt-man’s studies were rooted in social psychology, whereas Oscar Newman’s (1973) theory of defensible space offered a sociological inquiry into those features of housing design that either facilitate or constrain residents’ surveillance and control over their apartment buildings and neighborhoods.

A major influence on the course of environment-behavior research was Roger Barker’s (1968) theory of behavior settings, that is, systemically organized environmental units that occur at particular times and places and consist of both physical components and a behavioral program. The behavior-setting concept provided a more molar and dynamic unit of environmental analysis than the micro-level stimuli and short-term situations emphasized in earlier psychological theories. Through a series of programmatic studies, Barker and his colleagues charted the diversity and distribution of behavior settings in whole communities and identified systemic processes (such as under- and overstaffing) that regulate the stability and growth of particular settings (Barker & Schoggen, 1973: Wicker, 1979). In a separate research program, Rudolph Moos (1976) presented a theoretical analysis of the social climate within organizational and institutional environments. He also developed a battery of questionnaires designed to measure the dimensions of social climate and their influence on psychological and social outcomes in residential, educational, and occupational settings.

The increasing emphasis on multiple levels and molar units of environmental analysis, clearly evident in Barker’s work, was reflected in several other programs of environment-behavior research. In the areas of perceptual and cognitive psychology, distinctions were drawn between environmental and object perception (Ittelson, 1973), and between fundamental and macrospatial cognition (Moore & Golledge, 1976). Also, sketch maps, way finding, and photographic-recognition tasks were devised to measure the image-ability of urban environments (Lynch, 1960; Milgram & Jodelet. 1976). This research on environmental cognition extended earlier studies that had examined perceptual and cognitive processes associated with discrete stimuli and objects, but not in relation to larger-scale physical settings. Similarly, Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) presented an ecological theory of human development highlighting the developmental significance of large-scale environments, that is, the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem, while Powell Lawton and Lucile Nahemow (1973) contributed an ecological analysis of environmental competence in older adults. In addition, Kenneth Craik (1976) offered a conceptualization of environmental dispositions. or people’s response tendencies toward urban and natural environments, which took their place alongside the traditional trait constructs of personality psychology.

At least three other areas of inquiry have generated sustained research programs and cumulative scientific contributions to the study of environment and behavior. First, environmental assessment studies contributed new methodological tools, including perceived environmental quality indices (Craik & Zube, 1976) and environmental simulation techniques (Appleyard & Craik. 1978; Marans & Stokols, 1993). These methods have been used to evaluate people’s reactions to existing or imagined settings, such as residential, recreational, and health-care environments. Also, behavioral mapping protocols (Ittelson, Rivlin, & Proshansky, 1976) and behavior-setting surveys (Barker & Schoggen, 1973) were developed for recording individuals’ and group’s activity patterns within buildings, public parks, and whole communities.

Second, in their pioneering studies of environmental stress, David Glass and Jerome Singer (1972) revealed the behavioral aftereffects of exposure to unpredictable and uncontrollable noise. They also extended Lazarus’s prior analysis (1966) of psychological stress (arising from perceived environmental threats) to the study of “urban stressors.” These and subsequent stress studies have employed a variety of observational, self-report, and physiological probes to measure people’s reactions to such environmental demands as aircraft noise in residential communities, traffic congestion on urban roads, technological disasters, and prolonged periods of overtime work in occupational settings (Baum & Flem­ing, 1993; Evans, Bullinger, & Hygge, 1998; Frankenhaeuser, 1980; Stokols, Novaco, Stokols, & Campbell, 1978). As an antidote for environmental stressors, “restorative environments.” such as wilderness and garden areas, have been conceptualized as places that alleviate stress by affording opportunities for spontaneous, as well as voluntary, attention and for “getting away” from one’s normal routine (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Korpela & Hartig, 1996; Ulrich, 1984).

Finally, studies of environmentally protective behavior have applied psychological theories to the analysis of resource shortages, pollution, and conservation. For example, Peter Everett (1974) and his colleagues at Pennsylvania State University developed token reinforcement strategies for modifying travel behavior. These procedures were found to be effective in several field experiments as a means of increasing community levels of bus ridership. Also, cash rebates, social praise, and feedback about the consequences of environmentally supportive behavior have proven effective in changing patterns of household energy consumption, waste disposal, and recycling (Scott Geller, Richard Winett, & Peter Everett, 1982). More recently, Paul Stern (1992) contributed an important analysis of the behavioral underpinnings of global environmental change.

Future Directions of Environmental Psychology

Environmental PsychologyThe scientific developments outlined above suggest that over the past three decades environmental psychological research has yielded several new conceptual and methodological tools for expanding our knowledge of people-environment transactions. Environmental psychology is a distinctive area of behavioral research, owing to its emphasis on: (1) the influence of physical and social features of large-scale, everyday environments on human behavior and well-being; (2) the dynamic, reciprocal transactions that occur among individuals, groups, and their sociophysical surroundings; (3) the behavioral and psychological influence of both natural and built environments; (4) the behavioral consequences of both objective and subjective (perceived) qualities of the environment; (5) the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary nature of the field; and (6) the dual emphasis on basic research and theory development, as well as community problem-solving and environmental design, reflecting the “action-research” orientation of the field (Lewin, 1946).

Looking toward the future, it appears that the basic and applied research directions of the field will be strongly influenced by at least five major social concerns that have arisen in recent decades and are likely to become even more salient during the twenty-first century: (1) toxic contamination of environments and rapid changes in the global ecosystem; (2) the spread of violence at regional and international levels; (3) the pervasive impact of information technologies on work and family life; (4) escalating costs of health-care delivery and the growing importance of disease prevention and health promotion strategies; and (5) processes of social aging in the United States and other regions of the world (Stokols, 1995). In the coming decades, environmental psychologists will continue to play an active and influential role in developing innovative theoretical and empirical analyses of these community problems. and in formulating effective environmental design and public policy strategies for ameliorating and resolving them.

En­vironmental Psychology Bibliography:

  1. Appleyard. D. A.. & Craik. K. H. (1978). The Berkeley Environmental Simulation Laboratory and its research program. International Review of Applied Psychology, 27, 53-55.
  2. Baum. A.. & Fleming. I. (1993). Implications of psycholog­ical research on stress and technological accidents. American Psychologist, 48. 665-672.
  3. Bronfenbrenner. U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Press.
  4. Carr. S.. Francis. M.. Rivlin. L.. & Stone. A. (1992). Public space. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Cooper Marcus. C.. & Sarkissian. W. (1986). Housing as ff people mattered. Berkeley. CA: University of California Press.
  6. Craik. K. H. (1976). The personality research paradigm in environmental psychology. In S. Wapner. S. Cohen. & B. Kaplan (Eds.). Experiencing the environment (pp. 55­-80). New York: Plenum Press.
  7. Craik. K. H.. & Zube. E. H. (Eds.). (1976). Perceiving environmental quality: Research and applications. New York: Plenum Press.
  8. Evans. G. W.. Bullinger. M.. & Hygee. S. (1998). Chronic noise exposure and physiological response: A prospective study of children living under environmental stress. Psychological Science, 9. 75-77.
  9. Everett. P. B.. Hayward. S.. & Meyers. A. W. (1974). The effects of a token reinforcement procedure on bus ridership. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis. 7, 1­10.
  10. Festinger. L.. Schachter. S.. & Back. K. (1950). Social pressures in informal groups. New York: Harper.
  11. Frankenhaeuser. M. (1980). Psychoneuroendocrine approaches to the study of stressful person environment transactions. In H. Selve (Ed.). Selye’s guide to stress research (Vol. 1, pp. 46-70). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
  12. Ittelson. W. H .. Rivlin. L. G .. & Proshansky. H. M. (1976). The use of behavioral maps in environmental psychology. In H. M. Proshansky. W. H. Ittelson. & l. G. Rivlin (Eds.). Environmental psychology: People and their physical settings (2nd ed., pp. 340-351). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston. Kaplan. R .. & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  13. Korpela, K., & Hartig, 1′. (1996). Restorative qualities of favorite places. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 16, 221-233.
  14. Lawton, M. P.. & Nahemow, L. (1973). Ecology and the aging process. In E. Eisdorfer & M. P. Lawton (Eds.), Psychology of adult development and aging (pp. 619-­674). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  15. Lewin, K. (1946). Action research and social problems. Journal of Social Issues, .2, 34-36.
  16. Marans, R. W. . & Stokols. D. (1993). Environmental simulation: Research and policy issues. New York: Plenum Press.
  17. Milgram. S., & Jodelet. D. (1976). Psychological maps of Paris. In H. M. Proshansky, W. H. Ittelson, & L. G. Rivlin (Eds.), Environmental psychology (2nd ed., pp. 104-124). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston,
  18. Preiser, W. F. E. (Ed.). (1989). Building evaluation. New York: Plenum Press.
  19. Stern, P. C. (19921. Psychological dimensions of global environmental change. Annual Review of Psychology, 43, 269-302.
  20. Stokols. D. (1995). The paradox of environmental psychology. American Psychologist, 50, 821-837.
  21. Stokols, D., Novaco, R. W. . Stokols, J., & Campbell, J. (1978). Traffic congestion, type-A behavior, and stress. Journal of Applied Psychology, 63, 467-480.
  22. Ulrich. R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224. 420-421.
  23. Wicker, A. W. (1979). An introduction to ecological psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  24. Zeisel. J. (1981). Inquiry by design: Tools for environment-behavior research. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Major Publications and Reference Works in Environmental Psychology

  1. Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S.. Silverstein, M., Jacobson, M. Fiksdahl-King, I.. & Angel. S. (1977). A pattern language. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Altman, L. (1975). Environment and social behavior: Privacy, personal space, territory, and crowding. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  3. Altman. I., & Wohlwill, J. F. (Eds.). (1976). Human behavior and environment: Advances in theory and research Vol. 1. New York: Plenum Press.
  4. Barker, R. C. (1968). Ecological psychology: Concepts and methods for studying the environment of human behavior. Stanford. CA: Stanford University Press.
  5. Barker. R. G., & Schoggen, P. (1973). Qualities of community life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  6. Baum, A., Singer, J. E.. & Valins, S. (Eds.). (1978). Advances in environmental psychology: Vol. I. The urban environment. Hillsdale. NJ: Erlbaum.
  7. Bechtel. R. B. O997). Environment and behavior: An introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  8. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  9. Glass, D. C., & Singer, J. E. (1972). Urban stress. New York: Academic Press.
  10. Hall, E. T. (1966). The hidden dimension. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
  11. Ittelson, W. H. (1973). Environment and cognition. New York: Seminar Press.
  12. Lazarus, R. (1966). Psychological stress and the coping process. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  13. Lynch, K. (1960). The image of the city. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  14. Moore, G. T., & Golledge, R. G. (Eds.). (1976). Environmental knowing. Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson, & Ross.
  15. Moos, R. H. (1976). The human context: Environmental determinants of behavior. New York: Wiley.
  16. Newman, O. (1973). Defensible space: Crime prevention through urban design. New York: Macmillan.
  17. Proshansky, H. M., Ittelson, W. H., & Rivlin. L. (Eds.). (1976). Environmental psychology: People and their phys­ical settings (2nd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Win­ston.
  18. Sommer, R. (1969). Personal space: The behavioral basis of design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  19. Stokols, D., & Altman, 1. (Eds.). (1987). Handbook of environmental psychology (Vols. 1-2). New York: Wiley.
  20. Zube, E. H.. & Moore, G. T. (Eds.). (1991). Advances in environment, behavior, and design (Vol. 3). New York: Plenum Press.