Environmental Psychology
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Environmental Psychology

An Introduction

Linda Steg, Linda Steg

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eBook - ePub

Environmental Psychology

An Introduction

Linda Steg, Linda Steg

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The updated edition of the essential guide to environmental psychology

Thoroughly revised and updated, the second edition, Environmental Psychology: An Introduction offers an overview of the interplay between humans and their environments. The text examines the influence of the environment on human experiences, behaviour and well-being and explores the factors influencing environmental behaviour, and ways to encourage pro-environmental behaviour. The revised edition is a state-of-the art review of relevant theories and research on each of these topics.

With contributions from an international panel of noted experts, the text addresses a wealth of topics including the main research methods in environmental psychology; effects of environmental stress; emotional impacts and meanings of natural environment experience; aesthetic appraisals of architecture; how to measure environmental behaviour; cognitive, emotional and social factors explaining environmental behaviour; effects and acceptability of strategies to promote pro-environmental factors; and much more. This important book:

  • Discusses the environmental factors that threaten and promote human wellbeing
  • Explores a wide range of factors influencing actions that affect environmental conditions
  • Discusses the effects and acceptability of approaches that aim to encourage pro-environmental behavior
  • Presents research results conducted in different regions in the world
  • Contains contributions from noted experts

Written for scholars and practitioners in the field, the revised edition of Environmental Psychology offers a comprehensive review of the most recent research available in environmental psychology.

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Applied Psychology

Environmental Psychology: History, Scope, and Methods

Linda Steg
University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Agnes E. van den Berg
University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Judith I. M. de Groot
University of Groningen, The Netherlands


This book aims to give an introduction in environmental psychology. We define environmental psychology as the discipline that studies the interplay between individuals and the built and natural environment. This means that environmental psychology examines the influence of the environment on human experiences, behaviour, and well‐being, as well as the influence of individuals on the environment, that is, factors influencing environmental behaviour, and ways to encourage pro‐environmental behaviour. This second edition of the book gives a state‐of‐the‐art overview of theories and research on each of these topics.
In this introductory chapter we first give a brief overview of the history of the field of environmental psychology, followed by a discussion of characteristics of the field and a description of the main methods used in research. The chapter ends with an outline and rationale of the book.


Environmental psychology has been recognized as a field of psychology since the late 1960s and is therefore a relatively ‘new’ field in psychology (Altman 1975; Proshansky et al. 1976; Stokols 1977, 1978). Hellpach was one of the first scholars who introduced the term ‘environmental psychology’ in the first half of the twentieth century (Pol 2006). Hellpach (1911) studied the impact of different environmental stimuli, such as colour and form, the sun and the moon, and extreme environments, on human activities. In his later work, he also studied urban phenomena, such as crowding and overstimulation, and distinguished different types of environments in his work, including natural, social, and historical‐cultural environments (Pol 2006). Although the topics of Hellpach are typical of the field of environmental psychology as it has been practised from the 1960s onwards, it was still too early to speak of an independent field of systematic research into human–environment interactions.
Brunswik (1903–1955) and Lewin (1890–1947) are generally regarded as the ‘founding fathers’ of environmental psychology (Gifford 2007). Neither of these scholars had significant empirical work that we would classify today as environmental psychology. However, their ideas, such as the interaction between physical environment and psychological processes and studying human behaviours in real‐life settings instead of artificial environments, were influential for many later studies on human–environment interactions (see Box 1.1).


Egon Brunswik (1903–1955) was one of the first psychologists who argued psychology should give as much attention to the properties of the organism's environment as it does to the organism itself. He believed that the physical environment affects psychological processes outside people's awareness. He strongly advocated research that includes all aspects of the environment of the person we are trying to understand rather than the fragmented and artificial environments that were more typical in psychological studies of the day.
Kurt Lewin (1890–1947) similarly argued that research should be driven by real‐world social problems. He introduced the term ‘social action research’ including a non‐reductionist, problem‐focused approach that applies theories in practice and thereby emphasizes the importance of discovering ways to conduct research to solve social problems (Benjamin 2007). Moreover, like Brunswik, Lewin conceptualized the environment as a key determinant of behaviour. He argued that behaviour is a function of the person and the environment (Lewin 1951). Lewin mostly focused on the social or interpersonal influences instead of the physical environment (Wohlwill 1970), but he inspired different students to continue and expand on his ideas. These students included Barker and Bronfenbrenner, who are both seen as forerunners of environmental psychology.

1.2.1 Towards ‘Architectural’ Psychology

Around the late 1940s and 1950s, systematic research in everyday physical settings and psychological processes slowly increased with some pioneering studies on, for example, human factors in work performance (Mayo 1933), the lighting of homes (Chapman and Thomas 1944), and child behaviours in natural settings (Barker and Wright 1955). So, it was not until the late 1950s and early 1960s that human‐environment interactions slowly received recognition as a full discipline. As most of the studies focused on how different environments influence people's perceptions and behaviours, they were labelled as studies in ‘Architectural Psychology’ to show the distinction from the more traditional forms of psychology (Canter 1970; Pol 2007; Winkel et al. 2009).
In this early period of the field of environmental psycholog...