V. George Mathew, Ph.D.
Environmental Psychology deals with
behavior in relation to the environment. Concepts regarding the
environment and aesthetic preferences are studied and represented
in behavioral maps. Environment influences behavior at different
levels. Immediate behavior is a function of the setting in which
it occurs. The personality make-up of people of a country is
shaped by the nature and type of environment in which they live.
In unnatural or caged conditions animals show `behavior
starvation' and their behavior breaks down. Population stress and
the artificial character of urban conditions are supposed to be
the reasons for the increased rates of crime and incidence of
mental disorders of people living in urban areas. Applied
Environmental Psychology attempts to provide norms for better
management of the environment for better life and personality
development. It studies effective ways of promoting conservation
of the natural environment and better ways of designing
buildings, towns and cities, taking into consideration the
behavioral needs and responses of people.
Environmental Psychology deals with
behavior in relation to the physical environment. The physical
environment includes material objects, plants, animals and human
beings. Environmental Psychology does not emphasize the
interactional processes among people, which form the subject
matter of other branches of Psychology. Environmental Psychology
follows the systems approach which has become the modern approach
in several branches of science. It is holistic and naturalistic
and studies the adaptation of organisms to their settings.
Organisms are studied as part of the ecosystem, stressing the
balance and interdependence of organisms and the `environment.
This field of science took shape during the 1960s and
`Environmental Psychology and Population' has been included as a
division of the American Psychological Association.
The importance of the field has increased
in recent years owing to the increased concern with the
environment resulting from the pollution problems, problems posed
by population explosion, depletion of natural resources and the
felt need to conserve wilderness.
2. Concepts of Environmental
Behavioral Geography studies the cognitive
maps of the individual regarding his environment. It traces
environmental values, meanings and preferences. Behavioral maps
are prepared relating activities to surroundings. Lines to
represent direction of movement, colors to represent time spent
and so on are techniques used in the preparation of such maps.
Behavior maps can be prepared for exploratory behavior,
neighborhood feelings, etc. Environmental aesthetics studies
preferences in terms of aesthetic judgements. Recently attempts
have been made to relate environmental preferences to personality
characteristics, race and national character (Hall 1976; Berry
3. Influence of Environment on
It has been hypothesized that environment
influences behavior at several levels. Immediate behavior is a
function of the settings in which it occurs. For example, the
arrangement of furniture in a room influences the way in which
people in the room interact. The characteristic personality
make-up of persons in a country is shaped by the nature and type
of environment to which they are subjected for long periods of
time. Racial differences in personality can to a large extent be
traced to the influence of different environments to which people
of different races have been subjected for generations (Moos
For example, it is supposed that climate
influences temperament. The cold climate presumably makes people
`Rajasik'. The possibility of freezing induces insecurity and in
a cold place one has to keep working to warm up the body. People
in a cold region have to plan ahead. hoard food and firewood and
make warm clothes and footwear for winter. The hostile and scarce
environment makes people aggressive and aggressiveness
necessitates artificial moral control. People in such
environments develop linear intelligence and they become
practical, their approach to the environment being characterized
by one of aggression, competition, exploitation and manipulation.
It is said that science and technology are the result of this
kind of approach to the environment.
In contrast, people in a very warm climate
are likely to be `Thamasik'. This kind of temperament is
characterized by laziness and inertia. In a very hot place, it is
unpleasant to keep working, because of perspiration and fatigue.
In the tropics, the seasons do not change much and resource
extraction is easy throughout the year. This kind of climate
makes for an attitude of surrender and the approach to the
environment is marked by fear and superstition.
The moderate climate is most conducive for
the `Sathwik' temperament. This is characterized by an awareness
of oneself and the relationship of the environment to one's
adjustment. Consequently the Sathwik approach involves living in
harmony with the environment. The insight into the role of the
environment in our well being leads to a felt need to conserve
the natural environment. The Sathwik temperament is holistic,
intuitive and well balanced.
Every animal is at home in its natural
environment and in unnatural settings, its behavior becomes
deranged. It has been shown that animals have behavior needs
related to their natural habitats. For example, a polar bear
which catches fish has the need to perform the movements involved
in catching fish. In captivity, if the bear is deprived of the
opportunity to satisfy this need, it will exhibit symptoms of
behavior starvation, even though it is given enough food. Many
caged animals show symptoms of abnormal behavior like
compulsions. Increase in population density beyond the optimum
point is also part of alteration of the environment and this
leads to population stress causing aggression and breakdown of
Many studies demonstrate the deleterious
influence of urbanization on human behavior (Baum et al. 1978).
Instinctual behavior patterns of human beings also seem to break
down under artificial and overpopulated urban conditions. It has
been shown that the incidence of mental illness increases with
urbanization. The highest incidence of schizophrenia is at the
center of cities. Only about one fifth of the population of big
cities seems to be relatively free from debilitating symptoms of
pathology. Crime rates in big cities are increasing at an
alarmingly high rate and many of the major cities of the world
have come to be known as crime cities. The increasing violence of
mothers towards children reflected in high rates of baby
battering and the rising rates of divorce and illegitimacy point
to the breakdown of instinctive behavior patterns in human
Environmental Psychologists also study
effects of different types of neighborhood like housing scheme
area, flats, red light area, slums, etc. on emerging behavior
patterns. Effects of immediate social environment like size of
group on immediate behavior (Ittelson et al. 1974) are also
studied. Effects of various characteristics of institutions on
the behavior of inmates is another topic of study. Research on
the effects of monotonous environments and isolation also can be
included in this section. Ergonomics, the study of aspects of the
working environment like heating, lighting, etc., in relation to
productivity also forms part of Environmental Psychology.
4. Applied Environmental
Applied Environmental psychology aims at
better management of the environment for better life and
psychological growth. It studies effective ways of conserving the
natural environment, better ways of designing towns and cities
and means of promoting environmental awareness among people.
Psychology has a great deal of application
in town planning. Studies on how the community works, the
psychological needs of the people and their likes and dislikes
should be considered while planning the growth of towns. Since
the environment shapes and limits behavior, proper planning to
ensure maximum satisfaction, efficiency and growth is essential.
The Psychology of Architecture studies how
architectural styles reflect the needs and preferences of people
and how different designs mould and shape behavior. A proper
investigation of cultural, social and personal needs of potential
inmates is required before an acceptable design can be made. An
effective design should maximize freedom of behavior, mobility
and flexibility. Some of the other considerations are possible
use and misuse of space, and contrasting needs of privacy and
socialization. Training people for effective space utilization
and follow-up studies of the effectiveness of various types of
designs are necessary. Knowledge of modern points of view
regarding how an office, school or hospital should function is
essential while preparing a design for the purpose. A detailed
knowledge of the kinds of activities and programmes and patterns
of human interaction that are expected to take place in the type
of building is necessary for successful architectural design.
It has been shown that closeness to
elements of nature like pools, plants and trees makes people more
relaxed. Hence, one of the main considerations of town planners
and architects is how to incorporate elements of nature in their
Baum A., Singer J E and Valins S (Eds) 1978
Advances in Environmental Psychology: Vol I - The Urban
Environment: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.;New York
Berry J W 1976 Ecological and cultural
factors in spatial perceptual development; In: Environmental
psychology (Eds) Proshansky H M, Ittelson W H and Rivlin L G.
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.