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Environmental psychology

Environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on the interplay between individuals and their surroundings. The field defines the term environment broadly, encompassing natural environments, social settings, built environments, learning environments, and informational environments.

Since its conception, the field has been committed to the development of a discipline that is both value oriented and problem oriented, prioritizing research aimed at solving complex environmental problems in the pursuit of individual well-being within a larger society. 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. This model can help design, manage, protect and/or restore environments that enhance reasonable behavior, predict the likely outcomes 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. Lately, alongside the increased focus on climate change in society and the social sciences, there has been increased focus on environmental sustainability issues within the field.

This multidisciplinary paradigm has not only characterized the dynamic for which environmental psychology is expected to develop. It has also been the catalyst in attracting other schools of knowledge in its pursuit, aside from research psychologists. Geographers, economists, landscape architects, policy-makers, sociologists, anthropologists, educators, and product developers all have discovered and participated in this field.

  • 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)
  • Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is a nonprofit organization that works to improve public spaces, particularly parks, civic centers, public markets, downtowns, and campuses. The staff of PPS is made up of individuals trained in environmental design, architecture, urban planning, urban geography, urban design, environmental psychology, landscape architecture, arts administration and information management. The organization has collaborated with many major institutions to improve the appearance and functionality of public spaces throughout the United States. In 2005, PPS co-founded The New York City Streets Renaissance, a campaign that worked to develop a new campaign model for transportation reform. This initiative implemented the transformation of excess sidewalk space in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan into public space. Also, by 2008, New York City reclaimed 49 acres (200,000 m2) of traffic lanes and parking spots away from cars and gave it back to the public as bike lanes and public plazas.
  • The Center for Human Environments at the CUNY Graduate Center is a research organization that examines the relationship between people and their physical settings. CHE has five subgroups that specialize in aiding specific populations: The Children's Environments Research Group, the Health and Society Research Group, the Housing Environments Research Group, the Public Space Research Group, and the Youth Studies Research Group.
  • The most relevant scientific groups are the International Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS) and the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA).
  • Antioch University New England Graduate School offers graduate programs involving environmental education through a planning approach. With environmental psychology being such a diverse field with many different approaches, students have a variety of programs to choose from.
  • Arizona State University offers a master's in Environmental Resources, which takes more of a planning approach to the field.
  • The Environmental Psychology Ph.D program at the CUNY 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.
  • Cornell University's department of Design and Environmental Analysis offers undergraduate and graduate (Master of Science in Human Environment Relations, Master of Arts in Design, and Ph.D in Human Behavior and Design) studies in environmental psychology, interior design, sustainable design studies, human factors and ergonomics, and facility planning and management.
  • Drexel University offers a Master of Science degree in Design Research. Of two degree paths, the Environmental Design and Health path includes study with community practitioners and researchers in design and related fields, including health, community design, and public policy. Research typically includes data collection and engaged research practices of design thinking and participatory design. This area of investigation has potential to create innovative health and educational partnerships, economic opportunities and neighborhood initiatives and relates to the strategic mission of the university to be highly engaged in civic sustainability.
  • The Ohio State University City & Regional Planning Program, in the School of Architecture, offers a specialization in environmental psychology (urban design/physical planning and behavior) at both the master's and PhD level. Dissertations have examined such topics as environmental aesthetics, spatial cognition, ethnic enclaves, neighborhood decline, neighborhood satisfaction, restorative and livable places, and behavior change.
  • Prescott College offers a master's 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. Another description about the program is as follows: “(The program) Includes instruction in contextual theory; statistics; physiological, social, and psychological responses to natural and technological hazards and disease; environmental perception and cognition; loneliness and stress; and psychological aspects of environmental design and planning.”
  • University of California, Irvine offers a doctoral specialization in Design & Behavior Research within the Department of Planning, Policy, and Design in the School of Social Ecology, and undergraduate coursework in Environmental Psychology offered jointly by the Departments of Psychology and Social Behavior, Planning, Policy, and Design, and the Program in Public Health.
  • The University of Michigan offers a Master of Science degree in Natural Resources and Environment, with one concentration called "Behavior, Educations and Communications (BEC)." The focus is on how people form their relationships with the natural world, including the psychology of environmental stewardship behavior, as well as a focus on how "nearby nature" affects people's mental vitality, physical health and well-being.
  • 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.
  • The University of Surrey was the first institution that offered an architectural psychology course in the UK starting in 1973. Since then, there have been over 250 graduates from over 25 countries. The Environmental Psychology Research Group (EPRG) within the University of Surrey, of which students on the M.Sc in Environmental Psychology are automatically members, has been undertaking research for more than thirty years. EPRG’s mission is to gain a better understanding of the environmental and psychological effects of space, no matter the size, with help from social sciences, psychology, and methodologies. There are four categories under which the research projects fall: sustainable development, environmental risk, architectural assessment and environmental design, and environmental education and interpretation. Other universities in the UK now offer courses on the subject, which is an expanding field.
  • Irwin Altman Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Utah
  • 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 (5th edition, 2014).
  • James J. Gibson, Best known for coining the word affordance, a description of what the environment offers the animal in terms of action
  • Roger Hart Professor of Environmental Psychology, Director of the Center for Human Environments and the Children's Environments Research Group, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • 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
  • Dak Kopec Professor and Director of Design for Human Health, Boston Architectural College, Boston MA; Author Environmental Psychology for Design 2nd Edition (2012) and Health, Sustainability and The Built Environment (2008).
  • Setha Low Professor of Environmental Psychology and Director of the Public Space Research Group, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Kevin A. Lynch and his research into the formation of mental maps
  • Francis T. McAndrew Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College and author of "Environmental Psychology" (1993).
  • Bill Mollison developed the Environmental Psychology Unit at the University of Tasmania, and also Permaculture with David Holmgren
  • Amos Rapoport Distinguished Professor Emeritus Department of Architecture
  • Leanne Rivlin Professor of Environmental Psychology, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Susan Saegert, Director of the Environmental Psychology PhD Program and of the Housing Environments Research Group at the City University of New York
  • 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.
  • Daniel Stokols, Chancellor's Professor, School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine; edited Handbook of Environmental Psychology with Irwin Altman; author, Perspectives on Environment and Behavior; co-author, Health, Behavior, and Environmental Stress with Sheldon Cohen, Gary Evans, and David Krantz
  • Allan 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
  • James A. Swan professor, media producer and writer who authored one of the first popular articles on environmental education, produced symposiums on the Gaia Hypothesis and the significance of place, produced several documentary films on environmental topics and Co-Executive Producer of the "Wild Justice" TV series on the National Geographic Channel.


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