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Essay on Environmental Psychology


As a subdiscipline of psychological science, environmental psychology pertains to the scientific study of the interrelationships and interlinkages between people and their natural and built surroundings and includes the sustainable use and abuse of resources and natural resource management (Steg et al., 2018). It proposes comprehending how people’s surroundings affect them, synthesising that knowledge beneficially and improving the relationship between people and the environment. Although it is a new subfield of psychology, its concepts and premises have existed for a long time. According to Spencer and Gee (2009), questions on how people engaged with the environment and the resultant effects can be traced back to the late 1200s during the days of Marco Polo. Since then, there have always been inquiries about how people’s surroundings impact them.

The knowledge gap has been key to the inclusion of environmental psychology as a subdiscipline of psychology. Perhaps the impetus for further study was set by social psychologists who, tasked with determining how room layouts affected patients’ recovery, failed to offer substantive results suggesting the need for further examinations. Thus, a new field of study was hatched. However, in as much as the most salient researchers base their study on how the environment affects man, the field has grown to look into how people affect the environment, especially with the threats of climate change (Spence & Gee, 2009). The topics and scope of environmental psychology are infinite. However, the key areas include the influences of ecological stressors, the sense of space ownership, ecological risks and mitigation, beneficial impacts of natural surroundings, privacy and use of personal spaces, and motivations for environmental concern (Steg et al., 2018). These topics fall into a wide range of theories: gestalt psychology, ecological biology, geographical determinism and behaviourism.

Environmental Psychology in Academia and Practise

There are a lot of fascinating studies in the field of environmental psychology as the scope widens to accommodate many far-reaching ideologies. Some of the topics that have been a subject of discourse in academia include the works of Pasanen et al. (2018), who looked to determine how nature walks with psychological tasks can bolster people’s attention, improve their moods and lead to rejuvenation of the body. In another study, Carrus et al. (2017) focused on staying in touch with nature by zeroing in on the perceptions and beneficial aspects of botanical gardens among urban dwellers. Furthermore, Knez and Eliasson (2017) also studied mountainous communities and how the relationship between their personal and collective places impacted their well-being and identities. Research work in the field is inestimable. Therefore these suggestions are barely indicative and by no means exhaustive.

Nonetheless, the studies have brought to light answers to some pertinent environmental and societal concerns. For instance, Knez & Eliasson (2017) determined that people’s cognitive experiences of going outdoors and indulging in outdoor activities are pertinent in delivering the satisfaction of being outdoors. They argue that this is since how people frame their thoughts about the places they visit influences their feeling when they visit the places and when they think of doing so. On the other hand, Carrus et al. (2017) brought to the fore the exceptional opportunities that botanical gardens have in augmenting human well-being and as a catalyst for restoration. The researchers argue that the impact is through both psychological and physical mechanisms, with the influences varying with the nature of the visits to the gardens, as an individual vs as a group. Similarly, Pasanen et al. (2018) identify a positive correlation between sustained attention and active engagement with the surroundings, albeit with weak evidence on whether it impacts emotional restoration.

Like in academia, environmental psychology has been put into practice in several ways. Among the practical ways, this has been achieved is in knowledge dissemination on various ecological solutions and breakthroughs and perception studies which have helped influence and initiate changes in people’s behaviour. Moreover, Macchi (2018) notes that the applications have influenced the adoption of noise code policies in New York and led to the awareness of the impacts of noise on humans. Besides, related studies have led to the discovery of ways and means of effectively influencing societies towards more environmentally and ecologically friendly and sustainable practices (Sörqvist, 2016). Sörqvist (2016) posits that messages can be framed in a manner that advocates for positive ecological practices to promote environmental sustainability and responsibility as a norm through educational programs that help create awareness.

Recently, there has been a paradigm shift in environmental psychology works focusing on the design and architecture of building environments. Inferring from the aforestated academic research work, there has been a push for adopting places like botanical gardens with lots of flora and fauna since they promote vitality and tranquillity. Modern designs also assume engaging and interactive environments that help boost people’s attention. These are but a tip of the icebag on how environmental psychology has been applied in built environments. Other studies have looked into modifications of colour schemes, acoustics, interior designs, ergonomics, lighting, proportions and branding. Integrating the subfield in architectural planning is quickly gaining traction and may soon be commonplace in buildings for an assortment of functions.

Environmental Psychology Research and Environmental Change

Research on the environmental psychology spectrum has broadened in several ways with the possibility of linking human behaviour to societal developments. To decipher how environmental psychology research influences practices and policies that trigger environmental change, the topic is viewed from three standpoints.

  • Reflections of Images of Mankind

People’s behaviour can be perceived from various angles, either through how they respond to stimuli, social practice constructions or various forms of societal identity (Batel et al., 2016). By extension, this suggests a reflection on the image of humankind and the integration of various perceptions. Further, this standpoint concerning experimental designs indicates ways in which, employing the reductionist model, the interlinkages in significant causal approaches that capture the complexity of human actions and ecological changes are highlighted. In simpler terms, when people are conscious of what is observable and measurable, they quickly acquire the concepts of societal realities.

Consequently, the first precursor of environmental change is the establishment of ideas and the possibility of a new society through environmental psychology research. It sets out a balance between policies and practices and the optimism for change premised on the psychodynamic notion of people who feel that their actions and efforts are necessary for any changes. With regard to this perspective, ecological research can shape people’s attitudes as observed from reactions elicited by researchers in surveys and questionnaires, which, on a deeper level, mask how environmental psychology research influences practices and policies that lead to ecological changes (Luke, 2016). As such, people’s actions cannot be deciphered independently from their perceptions which suggests that environmental psychology shapes our reflections and the constituents of the environment through policies and practices.

  • Environmental Psychology and Historical Contexts

Humanity is bound up temporally and spatially in societies and historical contexts that shape policies, practices and their imagination patterns. Environmental changes are not devoid of historical contexts as well and act similarly. The ecology and the changes it has undergone so far have been possible through temporal and spatial variations on one hand and environmental psychology, which determine policies and practices on the other (Ernst & Wenzel, 2014). The policies and practices are resultant of the interconnections between man and the environment and the processes involved, which led to ideas of sustainability.

Hence, it is imperative for psychologists to advance ideologies on human beings and ecological integration and investigations on the subjective historical interpretation of our surroundings. Therefore, the emphasis should be on projections, assumptions and limitations of policies and practices related to environmental changes. From a dynamic point of view, it is worth noting that investigations into social and political processes that lead to policies and practices usually tend to come after harm has been done to the environment (Ernst & Wenzel, 2014). The context and extent to which such ecological remedies are informed closely stem from and are derivatives of environmental psychology. Thus, over time environmental psychology informs the internal value structures of politics and societies, which in turn shape people’s perceptions leading to changes. However, since new ideas are founded on the past, they cannot be considered sufficient without being justified in a historical context.

  • Social Inequalities and justice Research

There is a need to address ecological and psychological concerns with pressing global issues. It means including polarisation research and social inequalities studies in environmental psychology. Such new realisations have shifted how the environment was viewed previously. It has sparked discourses on subjects previously overlooked in the environmental field, such as climate variability, climate change, and global and green spaces. These are pertinent societal matters in present times, and emphasis on their importance is defined by various policies and guidelines that open up possibilities and limitations for environmental changes. How these new issues are addressed has assumed a political nature, influencing people’s self-image. Climate action and environmental justice are closely related, which are among the key topics of discussion presently, especially in environmental psychology. Kuhn (2015) notes that the views of societal inequalities, justice research and environmental psychology closely follow societal transformation processes and look into how people handle ecological situations and how it impacts their behaviour.

Real-Life Application of Environmental Psychology

Environmental psychology has a wide range of applications in natural and built environments. Moreover, it helps in understanding real-life applications such as cognitive mapping and spatial cognition in designing spaces to make them more navigable and improve cognitive abilities. One way in which it has been put to use is the efficient designing of learning environments to help boost students’ performance (Yalçin, 2015). The findings of several studies indicate that using soft lighting, rugs and cushions in classrooms helps improve learners’ participation and performance within a month. It indicates that learning environments should be plain but instead should be modified to help attain better results.

Another impactful application of the subfield is the use of good signage in buildings to increase traffic, and using colour-coded paths to give directions helps lessen wayfinding mistakes. Conspicuous and colourful landmarks are also suitable for spatial cognition in urban areas. All these have been aided by research in environmental psychology (Steg et al., 2018). There has also been a significant reduction in the crime rate in Ohio, USA, due to the practical application of environmental psychology. This was through improving the residents’ sense of ownership and surveillance and the reduction of non-owned spaces and traffic by non-residents.


Environmental psychology is a subfield that deals with how humans relate to their surroundings and how it affects them in return. It has existed for a long time, but it is not only recently gaining traction and applicability across various fields. There have been many applications of the discipline in both academia and practice. An example of its application in academia is the determination of how nature walks with psychological tasks that can bolster people’s attention while, in practice involving works focusing on the design and architecture of build environments. Moreover, environmental psychology plays an integral role in shaping policies and practices prerequisites for ecological changes. As a new subdiscipline, it presents many possibilities and room for growth as the dynamic environment provides more room for research.


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Yalçin, M. (2015). “Exploratory” and “Descriptive” aspects of environmental psychology course within the interior design education. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences174, 3531-3541.


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