Environmental Psychology (A Comprehensive Guide)


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Page last updated: 20/11/2022

Environmental Psychology

It might be a little confusing or ambiguous when you first hear about the term “environmental psychology” and it’s common as it is a closed field not much commonly known at the moment.

It has the potential to be one of the most impactful fields in psychology regarding the future aspects of human beings but is not a very vast field at the moment.

Here, we will discuss what is environmental psychology and how it can be applied and help us. 

What is the Definition of Environmental Psychology?

The definition of the field is given in a Journal of Environmental Psychology and can be put as: 

“[T]he scientific study of the interrelationships and transactions between physical surroundings and people (including natural and artificial environments, the abuse and use of natural resources and nature, and sustainability-related behavior).”

In simple words, environment psychology covers all of the aspects of the interaction between people and their surroundings.

In this field, the main focus is to understand why and how the environment impacts human beings and how can this information be used to the advantage of human beings and what improvements can be done to make this relationship between a human being and the world better. 

People who follow the norms set by society very easily, without any contradiction and stress are known to have conventional morality.

They interact with the environment without dispute.

What are the Topics and Scope Explored in Environmental Psychology?

Some of the popular topics covered by the field of environmental psychology are listed in the Journal of Environmental Psychology and are given below:

  • Evaluation and perception of natural landscapes and buildings
  • Wayfinding, spatial cognition and cognitive mapping
  • The consequences of Ecology because of human actions
  • Evaluation of natural landscapes and building 
  • Experiences related to and design of the physical aspects of schools, workplaces, residences, public spaces, and public buildings
  • Tourism and Leisure behavior in relation to their physical settings
  • Built forms and their meanings
  • Behavioral and Psychological aspects of nature and people 
  • Theories of place attachment, place and place identity
  • Psychological aspects of crises and resource management
  • Environmental hazards and risks: behavior, perception, and management
  • Stress regarding physical settings
  • Social use of space: privacy, crowding, personal space, territoriality
Environmental Psychology (A Comprehensive Guide)

Theories and Concepts in Environmental Psychology

Environmental Psychology is filled up with different theories regarding to why and how we do certain acts because of our environment but they can be classified in general in the following perspectives:

  1. Ecological Biology
  2. Gestalt Psychology
  3. Geographical Determinism
  4. Behaviorism

The basic and main idea that all of the lifespan and foundation of each and every civilization is depending on different environmental factors like climate, topography, availability of water, and vegetation is known as geographical determinism.

Theorists also believe in their perspective that by challenging the environment in a balance a civilization can excel, if the challenge is not much it can result in the ending of culture whereas if it is too much it can destroy the whole civilization.

Also, these environmental factors also play a vital role and have a great impact on how we work, live together, and value ourselves as a society. 

The other main field is ecological biology which describes different theories of sociological and biological interdependence between the environment and organisms.

According to this field, the organisms are not considered as an external but rather an internal part of the environment, which further opens the door to the studies of interdependence between these two entities and throughout the whole system. 

The field where the main emphasis is on the context of the conversation, suggesting that the behavior is not only dependent on personal context but environmental context also plays a vital role in the determination of behavior is done under the context of behaviorists.

Although with time the focus on behaviorism fell down and is not considered as one of the leading perspectives in psychology but because of its improved focus on the contextual factors it is still holding on.

Finally the last but not the least one is Gestalt psychology which can be considered as the other side of behaviorism.

They are more into considering cognition and perception than looking into behavioral aspects.

In this field, they see the stimuli in the environment, not as a 100% objective factor but rather they consider how the environment is perceived and thought towards these stimuli by different people.

To get a more detailed overview of environmental psychology we can dive more into some of the specific theories related to the topic. Some of the theories are described below as : 

Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB)

This theory states that the usual behavior of people is to choose the option with the lowest cost which results in the highest benefits for them.

It also states that the behavior activities we exhibit or indulge ourselves in are in direct alignment without intentions.

Our attitudes also determine our intentions towards behavior and the social norms related to that behavior, it also gives way to our attitude as to whether and how much we can and are able to control our behavior in different situations. 

A lot of different and interesting behaviors present in a person because of the environment can be explained using TPB like the household composting and recycling, the mode of travel, consumption of meat, use of water and other general behaviors. 

Norm-Activation Model (NAM)

This model was basically developed to explain environmentally friendly and altruistic behavior.

The main idea behind this model is that social norms are secondary to personal norms when determining what kind of behavior we are going to choose. 

Value-Belief-Norm Theory (VBN)

The Value-Belief-Norm Theory, in accordance with the NAM, also assumes that the people only act in a pro-environmental way when they are obliged to do so morally.

This moral obligation can be because of external sources, from inner self or from both. 

There are other six discussed concepts which are frequent theories of discussion in this field other than these two theories: perception and cognitive maps, attention, ideal environments, involvement, environmental stress, and managing and protective behavior.

They are the central pillars in explanation of how we affect our environment and vice versa and are known as “continual elements”.


The first step that is taken when interacting with the environment is known as attention; this determines how we perceive, notice, and observe our surroundings and the environment around us.

These include two types of stimuli: those that we eagerly or willing to direct our attention towards and the ones that generally demand our attention. 

 Perception and Cognitive Maps

Our perception of our surroundings and the world around us is sorted and organized in our minds which is also known as cognitive maps.

These maps help us to understand and reorganize the world around us which also gives us the ability to navigate effectively.

These maps are basically a spatial network that connects our perceptions and our experiences together with each other resulting in improving our understanding of the world.

Ideal Environments

The places where people can feel competent and self-assured and can also seem to familiarize themselves with their surroundings and environment while being engaged with it are known as ideal environments.

The determination of an ideal environment is based on four factors:

  1. Unity: The sense that everything in the environment will move together and complement each other.
  2. Legibility: This is mainly an assumption that a person can navigate and traverse in the environment without being lost. 
  3. Complexity: The amount of diversity and information present in the environment that can be worth learning.
  4. Mystery: The expectation that a person can extract and acquire more information about the environment.

Environmental Stress and Managing

The environment at times can also induce stress in different people based on the circumstances, which can further result in reduced selflessness, poor health, lack of sufficient attention paid to the environment, and enhanced cognitive and behavioral weaknesses.

One of the major benefits of living in a private space is that a person can control these incoming stress-inducing stimuli by managing the environment around him.

These stress-related stimuli can be lessened by attempting to regulate them by coping or managing the environment around us and by understanding such stimuli and sharing the details of our studies and experience with others.


Involvement refers to the participation of a person in his environment, how much he is getting engaged with his environment, and interacting with his surroundings.

Involvement also refers to the participation of a person in organization, adjustment, and design of the environment. 

Protective Behavior

The last of the frequently discussed theories or ideas is the protective behavior which is because of the actions taken to steward, safeguard, and properly manage the environment around us.

This can refer to both artificially built environments and the ones that are present naturally, which may require different and diverse types of behaviors to protect and maintain them effectively.

This is the basic behavior that is essential for the creation of an ecologically sustainable society.

Examples of Environmental Psychology in Practice

The knowledge in the field of environmental psychology can be applied in many different ways, some of the examples of such practices are given as :

  • Spread word related to environmental solutions
  • Conducting different research that might motivate people to change their conduct related to the environment
  • Working on uncovering the reasons why people are not adopting positive behaviors.
  • Encouraging people, making them rethink about their standings and positions in the natural world
  • Helping people and clients to live a more sustainable life

One of the recent applications of environmental psychology was done by an expert researcher Dr. Arline Bronzaft.

She has been providing multidisciplinary, interactive STEM lessons that are tailored specifically to be taught at middle, elementary and high schools related to noise and sound in their neighborhood and have been working along with the Department of Environmental Protection of New York.

The work she has done and is doing has also inspired the government which further influenced the development and deploying the regulations regarding the noise policy of New York City.

It also helped in raising awareness in the neighborhood about the negative effects of noises on human beings.

Another area of application for the field of environmental psychology is people and societies can be more effectively influenced in moving towards a more environmentally and ecologically sustainable behavior.

For the time being it has been found that by framing things in a specific way and using certain words in messages can help in motivating and encouraging people to move towards better environmental behavior and are more effective alongside the offers of educational programs and promotion of social norms related to environmental responsibility to raise awareness.

FAQ about Environmental Psychology 

1, What does environmental psychology mean?

Environmental psychology is another field that defines the interaction between individuals and the environment surrounding them.

In this field, the term environment is taken broadly, covering every natural environment, built environment, social settings, informational environments, and learning environments.

2. What are the characteristics of environmental psychology?

Environmental Psychology is based on the study related to individuals and their environment around them and the effect of these settings on the behavior of an individual.

This field studies these behavioral changes in individuals based on the complex psychological process and environmental factors.