Environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on the interplay between individuals and their surroundings. It examines the way in which the natural environment and our built environments shape us as individuals. The field defines the term environment broadly, encompassing natural environments, social settings, built environments, learning environments, and informational environments.
Environmental psychology was not fully recognized as its own field until the late 1960s when scientists began to question the tie between human behavior and our natural and built environments. Since its conception, the field has been committed to the development of a discipline that is both value oriented and problem oriented, prioritizing research aimed at solving complex environmental problems in the pursuit of individual well-being within a larger society. When solving problems involving human-environment interactions, whether global or local, one must have a model of human nature that predicts the environmental conditions under which humans will respond well. This model can help design, manage, protect and/or restore environments that enhance reasonable behavior, predict the likely outcomes when these conditions are not met, and diagnose problem situations. The field develops such a model of human nature while retaining a broad and inherently multidisciplinary focus. It explores such dissimilar issues as common property resource management, wayfinding in complex settings, the effect of environmental stress on human performance, the characteristics of restorative environments, human information processing, and the promotion of durable conservation behavior. Lately, alongside the increased focus on climate change in society and the social sciences and the re-emergence of limits-to-growth concerns, there has been increased focus on environmental sustainability issues within the field.
The origins of this field of study are unknown, however, Willy Hellpach is said to be the first to mention "environmental psychology". One of his books, Geopsyche, discusses topics such as how the sun and the moon affect human activity, the impact of extreme environments, and the effects of color and form (Pol, E., 2006, Blueprints for a history of environmental psychology (I): From first birth to American transition. "Medio Ambiente y Comportamiento Humano", 7(2), 95-113). Among the other major scholars at the roots of environmental psychology were Jakob von Uexküll, Kurt Lewin, Egon Brunswik, and later
Gerhard Kaminski and
Carl Friedrich Graumann.
The end of World War II brought about a higher demand for developments in the field of social psychology particularly in the areas of attitude change, small group processes, and intergroup conflict. This demand caused psychologists to begin applying social psychology theories to a number of social issues such as prejudice, war and peace. It was thought that if these problems were addressed, underlying notions and principles would surface.
Although this period was crucial to the development of the field, the methodologies used to carry out the studies were questionable.[according to whom?] At the time, studies were being conducted in a laboratory setting, which caused some doubt[to whom?] as to their validity in the real world. Consequently, environmental psychologists began to conduct studies outside of the laboratory, enabling the field to continue to progress. Today environmental psychology is being applied to many different areas such as architecture and design, television programs and advertisements.