Environmental Psychology as a Field within Psychology
Environmental psychology as a specialized discipline within psychology has lost much of its visibility as a unique area within psychology over the past decade. Some of this loss is bad; whereas much of it is surprisingly good--let me explain.
The bad part is that much of the initial impetus for environmental
psychology came from the mutual desire of social scientists and
particularly architects, to work together to create buildings
that would work
better for people. Unfortunately that initial enthusiasm has
least within the United States.
The good part is that much of what environmental psychology brought
psychology has been fully adopted into mainstream psychology.
many reflections of this. Submission rates for manuscripts to
major journals in the field, Environment and Behavior, the Journal
of Environmental Psychology, and the Journal of Architectural and
Planning Research are all very high. Environmental psychology course offerings
an all time high in North America with new editions of the two
textbooks (Bell Fisher Baum and Greene; Gifford) either just out
impending; two new texts have been published in the past year
in the U.S.
(Mc Andrew; Veitch & Arkelin), and Bonnes and Secchiaroli's
text has been
published in Italy; and several additional texts are nearing completion.
The Cambridge series on environment and behavior and Gower's
series are both selling very well and each series has several
volumes in the pipeline. Furthermore, individual volumes continue to proliferate
North America as well as in Europe. The Handbook of Environmental
Psychology sold out its press run and has now been reissued by
Publications. Both Environment and Behavior and Journal of Environmental
Psychology have had strong sales of individual volumes or collected
compiled into books.
North and South American (EDRA), European (IAPS), Japanese (MERA)
Australian/New Zealand (PAPER) organizations are devoted to the
human behavior and the physical environment. Each manages a regular
conference, publishes proceedings, either annually or bi-annually,
sponsors a newsletter. Both Sweden and Spain have national task
regularly meet. Estonia has recently sponsored an international
There has also been widespread incorporation of environmental
into other areas of psychology. The handbooks of both social
psychology have chapters devoted to environmental topics; health
psychology, the largest growing sector of psychology in North
routinely incorporates measures of social and physical environmental
characteristics. The new edition of the handbook of psychophysiology
contain a major chapter on the physical environment and physiology.
Cognitive sciences have incorporated cognitive mapping as a major
area into their field as witnessed by the proliferation of articles
cognitive journals on spatial memory, wayfinding, and computational
of environmental cognition. Indeed, amongst the earliest intellectual
of environmental psychology was concern amongst perceptual psychologists
about the ecological validity of traditional approaches to the
Child psychology as well as life span development research continue to examine the role of both the immediate and background setting as they contribute to healthy development. Developmentalists also maintain
a strong ecological perspective in their examination of the role of different childcare settings as well as aging in place options as they impact young and old individuals, respectively. Environmental education is a major
subarea within educational curricula and practice.
In addition many leading applied and social psychology texts continue
have chapters devoted to environmental psychology. Several introductory
books also include sections on applications of psychology with
coverage to environmental issues. Finally, the Journal of Social
major international journal devoted to psychology and public policy,
recent special issues on environmental stress, residential mobility,
environmental attitudes, human dimensions of global change, environmental
hazards, and in 1966, published one of the seminal volumes outlining
field of environmental psychology.
Psychology and the Environmental Design Professions
Although the initial zeal of collaboration between architects
psychologists has waned considerably, growing trends in other
suggest increasing interest in behavioral science research. Interior
designers,for example, have altered their major scholarly journal,
Journal of Interior Design, to reflect greater involvement in
research. Interior design departments are increasingly recruiting
faculty with research training. Planners are looking to social
evaluation of various new development alternatives such as new
urbanism or transit oriented development. Landscape architects are increasingly
collaborating with researchers interested in the concept of restorative
environments, and landscape aesthetic assessment is a mainstream
within this field. Policy makers, interested in cost-benefit
looking to research to document the value of open space, parks,
transportation policies, zoning practices, and the like.
Although architecture as a practice has not embraced the behavioral
to the extent hoped for, the education of architects typically
exposure to human behavior. The idea that design affects users
make a difference in their lives is central to every major design
In many other countries outside of North America, however, there
and more sustained collaboration between architecture and environmental
psychology. This seems particularly true in economically developing
countries and in smaller countries where the trivialities of professional turf
wars are not as easily tolerated.
The direct link between environmental psychology and design has
develop in the form of design guidelines or programming documents,
particularly for the design of specialized facilities. Major
low cost housing, housing for alternative living arrangements
(e.g., co-housing), various medical facilities, facilities for people with
(e.g. Alzheimer's disease, the physically disabled, victims of
recovering drug abusers) and environments such a daycare and schools
focused on healthy development among children. Research continues
mushroom on the role of different living arrangements for older
ranging from micro features such as doorway design to macro issues
availability of the correct matrix of services.
One alternative to convincing designers of the value of social
research for the design of better settings is to educate clients
more of those who design for them. This approach has been the
the Facilities Planning and Management profession. Researchers
universities have established collaborative relationships with
international firms who recognize the critical importance of physical
in today's marketplace. Changes in the nature of work as well
as in the
workforce itself demand facilities that are flexible, supportive
and varied ways of working, cost-effective, and pleasing to a
well educated mobile workforce.
Prominent Research Topics
An important emerging area is the connection between global environmental
issues and psychology. This area builds upon early and still
important work examining operant paradigms as well as basic motivational
theories to alter ecologically destructive behaviors. Another
direction for this line of work is integration of concepts from
cognitive psychology on judgment and decision heuristics. The
Science Foundation of the United States, for example, has put
out a call for
proposals specifically addressing human dimensions of global change.
Several environmental psychologists were involved in the planning
this new initiative. Paul Stern and his colleagues at the U.S.
Academy of Sciences have published a recent monograph in this
area, an Annual Review of Psychology piece, and the Journal of Environmental
Psychology has recently edited a special issue on the topic.
Another prominent area within the field of environmental psychology
critical role of culture in understanding human-behavior relationships.
growth of interest in environmental psychology in Central and
America is heartening in this regard. For example, one of the
environmental psychology programs in the world is located at the
University of Mexico. Issues related to housing, environmental
mental health and the environment, privacy and place are among
major topics of interest in this program. Several collaborative projects
across cultures are ongoing on crowding and noise, restorative
environments, alternative work environments, transportation impacts, women and
housing, and childcare facilities. Japan and the U.S. have conducted a
series of joint
meetings on environment and behavior; Sweden and the U.S. hosted
international meeting on environment cognition, and action; and
trans-European studies, principally surveys of public attitudes
environmental issues, have been conducted.
Another important topic of research and discussion within the
continues to be criminal behavior and design. Since the initial
defensible space, researchers and designers have continued to
by the role of the physical environment in affecting crime directly
as well as
its influence on fear of crime. The interplay of these two processes
illustrated by the incivilities theory, use of landscape aesthetic
and research on the criminal's perspective on crime. The new
Investigative Psychology is playing a dominant role in crime management
the criminal justice systems of many countries. This field draws
from topics such as place theory, territoriality, and environmental
research on prisons continues to underscore the positive and negative
the physical environment plays in such settings.
Interest in life in space has spawned a host of efforts within
States and Europe to develop programs for housing travelers and
outerspace. This endeavor plus several other areas, particularly
health and safety issues in the workplace, has renewed interest
in more direct connections between environmental psychology with human
ergonomics. The boundaries between these disciplines is slowly
with environmental psychologists studying more micro aspects of
human-technology interface, at the same time that human factor
are studying such topics as indoor air quality or stress in the
The emergence of desk top simulation capabilities as well as more
venues such as virtual reality, continue to fascinate researchers
practitioners alike desirous of studying human reactions to various
objects prior to their actual development. Utilization of simulation
research tool has lagged behind its more practical applications
interesting exceptions in the areas of environmental cognition
Finally, research on environmental stressors continues to receive
Noise, crowding, pollutants as well as natural and technological
have psychophysiologic, health, and cognitive implications. The
behaviors of people during emergencies has also provided critical
into human behavior that inform emergency planning policies as
well as the
design of spaces to minimize harm when disasters do occur.
Overcharging Conceptual and Methodological Issues
A conceptual topic of continuing interest within environmental
psychology is the concept of place. How are places developed, how do they acquire
meaning to people, how are they related to people's plans of
preferences, and even to their emotional reactions and well being?
what does the concept mean across generations or across cultures?
making and the development and sustainability of community has
subject of several recent books in the field.
There continues to be a strong commitment within environmental
psychology to try and study human-environment relationships within
the full contextual framework in which they occur. Accepting the
Barker and his early associates, researchers in environmental
continue to struggle with how to do this in a manner that yields
guidance about important causal variables. Related to this concern
with ecological validity coupled with rigor is the appropriate unit
of analysis for
study--is it persons, settings, person by setting interactions
or some new
entity of person-environment unit? Studies of multiple stressors,
effects between different settings (e.g., home-work), life course
multiple level analyses (e.g., family and neighborhood effects
development) are examples of this more contextualized perspective.
Greater methodological and analytic sophistication is now also
environmental psychology. For example in the study of environmental
stressors a prospective, longitudinal study of chronic residential
has been conducted in the U.S. and an ongoing prospective study
underway on airport noise and children in Germany. Analytic investigations of unit of analysis, cross-level effects, as well as environmental
have been undertaken. Increasing awareness of the important conceptual
and analytic distinctions between mediator processes and moderator
processes in the links between human behavior and the physical
environment are apparent. Moreover the field's long-standing
to multiple methods of measurement continues unabated.
There is a growing interest among some environmental psychologists
connect up their work with poverty as it becomes increasingly
poor environmental quality is often a major constituent of the
suboptimal conditions in which the poor live. This trend appears
particularly strong in Third World countries and has influenced
research on topics such as urban stressors, street children, and
housing. A related issue that some are considering is the potential
psychical factors to help account for the well established health-income
relationship as well as the linkages between poverty and developmental psychopathology.
In conclusion, please let me apologize for my North American bias
in presenting this overview for IAAP members. I welcome any corrections
or additions from my colleagues throughout the world.
Gary W. Evans, President of the Environmental Psychology Division
IAAP, is Professor of Human-Environment Relations, Cornell University,
Ithaca, NY 14853-4401, USA. I thank Robert Bechtel, David Canter
Nancy Wells for critical feedback on a draft of this note. See
(1995), American Psychologist, 50, 821-837, for a more in-depth,
analysis of the international field of environmental psychology.
Back to the IAAP Newsletter Fall 1996