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What Is Environmental Psychology?

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  • Written By: Florence J. Tipton
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 10 July 2014
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Environmental psychology is a science that studies how human behavior is influenced by the environment. The environment in this context comprises social, natural, constructed, learning and information settings. Problems occur as humans interact with the environment. The use of a model explores human behavior in certain conditions, with design mechanisms that diagnose problems and predict possible outcomes. A person who studies environmental psychology utilizes a multidisciplinary approach with other disciplines, such as psychology, ecological psychology, anthropology and sociology.

The varied applications of environmental psychology broaden theories and research conclusions. Additionally, this is a newer psychological concept than many other disciplines. The effects of involuntary and voluntary stimuli are examined to understand human behavior.

A cognitive map of how people recall and interpret the natural and constructed environment of places or things determines human reaction. Some people recall experiences based on emotions, ideas or perception. Environmental psychologists might conduct environment-behavior studies or person-environment studies to determine how interaction with the environment affects human behavior. For example, a person’s comfort level in the home could result from how the house is designed. Another example is how residents in a community might respond to the physical structure and design of public amenities.

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Human nature seeks a place of comfort and familiarity in order to establish confidence and a level of competency within the environment. Humans also look for coherence with different things. It is easy to become disengaged with an environment if these factors are not met. Conversely, curiosity can lead humans to explore the environment when an opportunity to learn something new and gain additional knowledge is present. Environmental psychology presupposes that the preferred environment, whether engaging or mysterious, will lead to effective human behavior.

Research has revealed that environmental stressors and the inability to choose a preferred environment can lead to physical illness, feelings of helplessness, selfish behavior and exhaustion from trying to maintain an intellectual focus. As a result, people seek coping mechanisms that provide a sense of control. A change in social or physical surroundings can remove the stressors. Other coping techniques might lead to internalizing the stressor, causing mental or physical setbacks. Some people cope by interpreting the stressor as a natural part of the culture or environment.

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