On Being Green

Toward a sustainable future

What Does Psychology Have to Do With the Environment?

Is nature relevant to human health, attitudes, and behavior?

This is the first installment of a blog that will focus on sustainability and environmental issues. Some of you may be wondering how this is relevant to Psychology Today. Here's the basic argument—which will be further explored in future entries.

As a science, psychology focuses largely on the study of human behavior. What could be more important, or timely, than exploring the ways in which human behavior affects the natural environment? As a practice, psychology emphasizes the promotion of health and well-being. A growing body of research describes the many ways, both obvious and subtle, in which natural environments contribute to human health.

For example, a recent report from EnvironmentAmerica summarizes the natural disasters that occurred in 2011 and concludes that there were more than usual, and that this increase is likely to become the new normal. Think about the human impacts of these disasters: not just the costs to the economic and physical infrastructure and (sometimes) the loss of life, but longer-term and more abstract effects on social networks, sense of place, anxiety, and stress.

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But there's so much more. Emotions, relationships, and our personal and social identities are all affected by natural environments. What is it about nature that has such powerful emotional resonance for people? Why are environmental attitudes so politically polarizing in this country? And how can the behavioral changes to address our environmental challenges be encouraged? This blog will be a place to discuss the positives as well as the threats that stem from human interdependence with nature.

People are a part of the environment, and sustainability requires us to think about people, nature and the ways in which they're connected. In that sense, we're all green. Let's talk about what that means.

Susan Clayton, Ph.D., is the Whitmore-Williams Professor of Psychology at the College of Wooster.

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