What Is Environmental Psychology?
How does the design of homes and shared spaces reduce or increase well-being, stress, performance, or aggression? How do people decide whether to engage in more eco-friendly behavior? Environmental psychology explores the relationship between humans and the external world. The influence of natural and man-made surroundings on how people feel, think, and interact is a major focus of research in the field.
Given the many psychological links people have to physical spaces, environmental psychology's findings are relevant to domains including city planning, architecture, landscape design, and environmental sustainability. Insights from the field could reveal how changes in the way humans construct and use their environments could improve people's lives.
Does Nature Make Us Happy?
The therapeutic effect of nature is among the most powerful ways the environment is thought to influence the human mind. Researchers have found evidence that time in natural environments can boost one's sense of well-being and may lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. People may not need not go on extended hikes to see psychological gains from time in nature. One study found that spending just a couple of hours per week in green spaces was associated with higher self-ratings of health and well-being.
Why do natural spaces resonate so deeply with human minds? And why are people drawn to some environments, such as a tree-filled park or a lakeside, more than others, such as a parking lot or a windowless basement? Scientists have theorized that present-day environmental preferences have been shaped by human evolution and reflect the natural surroundings in which our ancient ancestors thrived.
The Psychology of Climate Change
As global temperatures and sea levels rise, changes in the environment are poised to affect human well-being in complex ways. Scientists have begun to explore the potential for negative impacts on mental health over time.
Research suggests that rises in average temperatures are associated with increases in self-reported mental health problems. Other effects of climate change—such as more frequent and severe storms and hurricanes—may cause large-scale spikes in distress. But it is difficult to predict exactly how any specific psychological effects of climate change may play out.
Given the role of human-caused carbon emissions in the global climate crisis—and a lack of coordinated action to address it—there are a variety of ways in which ideas from psychology could be helpful in mitigating and coping with the effects of climate change. Psychological insights may, for example, help to reframe climate-change mitigation strategies to make them more appealing. Psychology also highlights cognitive tendencies that may be relevant for promoting action, or that will need to be overcome, such as the greater impact of concrete experiences relative to abstract statistics and trends, or the tendency to discount the costs and benefits of future events.