Environmental psychology aims to systematically and scientifically study the affect of the environment on humans as well as the human effects of their use of the natural environment (Clayton & Myers, 2009). Theories of evolutionary psychology and biophilia help to explain the inextricable relationship between nature and the human species. Research and empirical evidence obtained by this psychological discipline helps in designing a working parameter by which humans can fully understand their role in conserving and maintaining the environment as it supports and maintains the human species.
Defining Environmental Psychology
Environmental psychology is "a specialty within psychology that studies the reciprocal influences of people and their environments, characterized by both systematic theory and a concern for practical application" (Clayton & Myers, 2009, p. 209). The perspective of environmental psychology embraces the interplay between people and their environment and aims to define appropriate rules of engagement for human interaction. Central to environmental psychology's theme is the recognition of the reciprocal influence each has on the other (Clayton & Myers, 2009). As the natural environment provides people with the resources by which they create their surroundings, and the provisions of food, water, shelter, and other human necessities, so must humans learn to care, nurture, conserve, and protect their only environment, in essence, the hand that feeds them (Clayton & Myers, 2009).
Theoretical Approaches to Environmental Psychology
Evolutionary psychology posits the mind and human behavior evolved as a means to enhance the ability for the species' survival. Evolutionary theories aim to identify parts of the mind or its systems, such as perception, thought processes, and biases that can be associated with various components of the environment. Evolutionary theory engages the idea that changes in human systems were necessitated for the human organism's need for adaptation, which was necessary to its survival. The natural environment dictated the particular changes necessary, such as social organizing, mating, and the ability to use language as a means of communication. Rather than deciding on what they would learn, the environment dictated how and what needed attention specifically for survivability. Thought processes and systems that did not enhance survivability were never initiated. The human mind has evolved as a result of the environmental challenges it has encountered and to aid in its survival, has had to surmount them. As the species has been molded according to the demands of the environment, it has also determined how the species relates to nature.
The biophilia hypothesis postulates the human need to adapt to the environment created an intrinsic genetically based predisposition to associate with and depend on the natural environment. This theory claims human behavior and emotions are responses to external stimuli rather than directly inherited traits, although certain types of responses can be genetically correlated (Clayton & Myers, 2009). For example, it served the human species to make note of edible plants and safe environments provided by nature, and an awareness of predators and other specific threats. Biophobia refers to negative responses to the environment that directly add to human reproductive success, such as the fear of dangerous animals, toxic substances, and fatal situations. According to Clayton and Myers (2009), this could have led to an intrinsic preparedness toward universally dangerous phenomena such as spiders, bad-smelling foods, or positioning oneself into small spaces. Some of the most common phobias provide examples for such intrinsic preparedness, as these fears are easily learned, and unlearned with significant difficulty. Developing appropriate intrinsic fears as well as adopting a preference to supportive landscapes has been supportive to human evolution (Clayton & Myers, 2009).
The Importance of Research in Environmental Psychology
As stated by Clayton and Myers (2009), the relationship between humans and their natural environment is complex, and as humans affect and alter their environment, so the natural environment determines human survival. The two are inextricably entwined and the investigation and research into the relationship has become an essential component of human survival. As has recently become evident, the pollution of the environment and the human affect on the natural balance of nature may claim the demise of the race if not adequately addressed in a timely manner (Hansla, Gamble, Juliusson, & Gärling, 2008). In designing a fundamental parameter by which humans can fully understand their practical and emotional role in attending to the environment, they may essentially fulfill adaptation requirements for the species. Certainly, as humans strive to become conscious of their natural environment, they become more conscious of themselves.
According to Kaplan (1995), natural environments are essential for restorative experiences, and research benefits both nature and the human species in creating an integrative parameter to protect the relationship between the two. Only through scientific research will people become fully apprised of the affect each has on the other (Hansla, Gamble, Juliusson, & Gärling, 2008). As a benefit to human evolution, understanding the vital psychological role nature plays in daily life is consequential (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1995). Although the common environmental anecdote is pervasive among many Americans, human affects continue to disturb the natural ecological balance. Scientific study and empirical evidence is necessary to gain a more articulate understanding of our role in maintaining the precise natural balance that most accurately sustains the human species' survival (Hansla, Gamble, Juliusson, & Gärling, 2008). Although many people have their favorite place they know and love, few know how to preserve it (Korpela, 1989).
Whereas most organisms behave within a system of checks and balances that supports not only the species, but also the environment on which it relies, the human species deviates from such a balanced system, and must rely on a discipline to teach, explain, direct, and design appropriate rules of human engagement. Using theories of environmental psychology, people can restore the natural balance of the environment. Without the conservation, care, and maintenance of the natural habitat, the human organism can neither function nor thrive, and will eventually cease to exist. The natural environment directly supports and maintains the system by which humans thrive.
Clayton, S. & Myers, G. (2009). Conservation psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.
Hansla, A., Gamble, A., Juliusson, A., & Gärling, T. (2008). The relationships between awareness of consequences, environmental concern, and value orientations. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28(1), 1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2007.08.004
Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3), 169-182. doi: 10.1016/0272-4944(95)90001-2
Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1995). The experience of nature: a psychological perspective. Michigan: Cambridge University Press.
Korpela, K. (1989). Place-identity as a product of environmental self-regulation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 9(3), 241-256. doi: 10.1016/S0272-4944(89)80038-6