In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Environmental Psychology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Environmental Perception and Cognition
  • Environmental Assessment and Design
  • The Environment and Physical Health
  • The Environment and Mental Health
  • Individual Factors Related to Environmental Behavior
  • Social Factors Related to Environmental Behavior
  • Changing Environmental Behavior
  • Psychology and Environmental Sustainability

Environmental Science Environmental Psychology
Alexander Maki
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0074


Psychology is often defined as the scientific study of the mind and behavior. Given this definition, psychology is a broad field encompassing such topics as the brain and the nervous system, sensation and perception, human physiological and intellectual development, personality, social contexts and human behavior, workplace dynamics, group relations, counseling and mental health, clinical diagnosis and treatment, and education and student learning. Virtually all of these topics subsumed by the field of psychology relate in various ways to the physical or natural environment. Generally, the field of environmental psychology is concerned with studying interactions between individuals and their physical surroundings. These include natural environments, built environments, virtual environments, learning environments, and informational environments. Scholars often discuss two traditions of research and theorizing in the field of environmental psychology. One area of research in environmental psychology focuses on understanding how the various types of environments influence (and are influenced by) humans. A second tradition of research, somewhat overlapping with the first, focuses on understanding people’s attitudes, behaviors, and support for policies that relate to environmental issues (e.g., climate change or drought). Scholars sometimes call this second area of focus “conservation psychology.” The field of environmental psychology tends to be problem oriented, and although scholars in the area often emphasize rigorous basic science, they also offer practical insights and policy recommendations that help optimize reciprocal relationships between individuals and the environment. This applied focus means that environmental psychologists often contribute to interdisciplinary research related to the environment, including collaborations with scholars in anthropology, sociology, economics, biology, geography, architectural design, urban planning, public policy, and others. The first set of resources highlighted here cover general conceptualizations and overviews of the most frequently discussed issues related to areas of environmental psychology research. This includes general reviews of the area and commonly used textbooks. This section is followed by discussion of the most prevalent areas of environmental psychology research, organized into sections. These areas start with environmental perception and cognition (e.g., wayfinding, place attachment) and environmental assessment (e.g., classifying types of environments). Following these areas of research, the focus shifts to the relationship between the environment and physical health (e.g., how air quality, thermal comfort, and noise affect the body), and then the relationship between the environment and mental health (e.g., how disasters affect stress and coping responses; how exposure to nature influences happiness). Afterward, there is discussion of individual and social factors related to environmental behavior (e.g., energy and water conservation), followed by how to design and implement effective behavior change “interventions.” Finally, this review concludes with articles exploring environmental sustainability, climate change, and policy implications of environmental psychology research.

General Overviews

This section highlights resources that cover the most, if not all, of the breadth of the field of environmental psychology. This list primarily consists of textbooks used in introductory environmental psychology courses for undergraduate students (e.g., Bell, et al. 2005; Gifford 2007; Steg, et al. 2012; and Vlek and Steg 2007), although a handful of the textbooks may be better suited for specific undergraduate courses (e.g., courses focused on environmental behavior; Clayton and Myers 2015 or Gardner and Stern 1996) or graduate environmental psychology courses (i.e., Clayton 2012). Scholars looking for a focus on research methods commonly used in the field of environmental psychology should consider the Gifford 2016 textbook. A focus more on changing behavior can be found in Gardner and Stern 1996. For those looking for a more traditional psychological approach to the field of environmental psychology, consider Koger and Winter 2010. Finally, Gifford 2014 provides a nice overview of the field of environmental psychology for those looking for a shorter reading on the topic, perhaps for those teaching courses that only briefly highlight the field of environmental psychology, including introductory courses in environmental or sustainability studies, environmental social sciences, or applied psychology.

  • Bell, Paul A., Thomas C. Greene, Jeffery D. Fisher, and Andrew Baum. 2005. Environmental psychology. 5th ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt.

    An exhaustive exploration of the field of environmental psychology, starting from its historical roots to 21st-century conceptualizations of the field, in addition to specific theoretical and empirical traditions in environmental psychology. All of the main areas of research in environmental psychology outlined in this review are examined in this textbook.

  • Clayton, Susan. 2012. The Oxford handbook of environmental and conservation psychology. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199733026.001.0001

    A broad overview of the field consisting of essays by experts in each area of environmental psychology. This handbook is usable for undergraduate courses but is perhaps best suited for graduate-level surveys of the field. Overviews of practically every relevant environmental psychology topic can be found in this handbook.

  • Clayton, Susan, and Gene Myers. 2015. Conservation psychology: Understanding and promoting human care for nature. 2d ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

    A review of theory and research on the topic of conservation psychology specifically, exploring how scholars understand and influence individuals’ knowledge, attitudes, values, and behavior that implicate problems related to the natural environment: such as climate change, drought, wildlife conservation, and natural disasters.

  • Gardner, Gerald T., and Paul C. Stern. 1996. Environmental problems and human behavior. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

    A book highlighting how human behavior is related to a range of environmental problems, with a particular focus on understanding and changing environmental behaviors. Although the foundation for this book is in psychology, it draws on allied disciplines, including environmental policy, to consider effective ways to address environmental problems.

  • Gifford, Robert. 2007. Environmental psychology: Principles and practices. Colville, WA: Optimal.

    A textbook that surveys the entire environmental psychology field to provide updated chapters on each main area of environmental psychology theory and research.

  • Gifford, Robert. 2014. Environmental psychology matters. Annual Review of Psychology 65:541–579.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115048

    An article overviewing the field of environmental psychology. Briefly but effective discussion on the major theoretical and empirical traditions.

  • Gifford, Robert. 2016. Research methods for environmental psychology. London: Wiley/Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781119162124

    A book with essays from experts focusing on the common research methods used in the field of environmental psychology, including discussion of research design and statistics in general, observation, surveys, evaluation, intervention design, multilevel modeling, structural equation modeling, and meta-analysis.

  • Koger, Susan M., and Deborah D. Winter. 2010. The psychology of environmental problems: Psychology for sustainability. 3d ed. New York: Taylor & Francis.

    This book takes a slightly different approach to organizing the theoretical and empirical traditions in environmental psychology by pairing ideas from environmental psychology to other traditions in psychology, such as developmental psychology, health psychology, sensation and perception, and neuropsychology.

  • Steg, Linda, Agnes E. van den Berg, and Judith I. M. de Groot. 2012. Environmental psychology: An introduction. Oxford: Wiley/Blackwell.

    A textbook that overviews the major areas of environmental psychology, linked together with the explicit theme of sustainability and with an emphasis on empirical traditions in the field.

  • Vlek, Charles, and Linda Steg. 2007. Human behavior and environmental sustainability: Problems, driving forces, and research topics. Journal of Social Issues 63:1–19.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2007.00493.x

    An applied review of environmental problems facing humans in the 21st century, as well as a theoretical review of areas of environmental psychology research related to these environmental problems.

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