Psychology has always focused on humans, examining them in their “inner life” made of cognitions, emotions, personalities, but recent decades researches show us that it is impossible to predict human behavior regardless of “where” it takes place. The environment and architecture have fundamental influences in shaping our identity, our thoughts and our emotions. Men are the human beings who can change the environment to suit their purposes through territory changes and architectural choices. Environmental Psychology is the branch of psychology whose purpose is to study individual’s relationship with the social and physical environment. In addition, it teaches us that men, with their behavior, can have destructive and harmful effects on the environment. The 2009 report of APA TASK FORCE, summarizes the present scientific literature and reflections on how people understand the risks of climate change, the crucial psychological and contextual actions of human behavior that affect the climate; the psycho-social impact of climate changes; how people adapt to face the threats related to climate change. Psychologists should help effectively humanity to mitigate and adapt. Climate change is a difficult issue to address because it evokes a different human response compared to other global crises. Altruistic or support community responses are associated with natural disasters, while the uncertainties and divisions are associated with technological disasters. Psychologists can use disasters psychology regarding long-term adaptation, recognizing that the answers are different from natural and technological disasters. Indeed, they have identified the psychological impact of climate change associated with extreme climatic conditions, natural disasters and degraded environments with a direct damage to mental health, with consequences such as anxiety and doubts; with a psycho-social impact that causes populations’ migration, movement and chronic environmental stress.
FOUR WAYS ECOPSYCHOLOGY IS DEVELOPING TODAY:
- The study of the man-nature relationship in other cultures, making interesting correlations between the quality of relationship with nature, quality of interpersonal relationships and quality of every society’s values.
- Nature is a living being, which we are part of. If we want to safeguard not only the physical survival but also the balance and the psychological and spiritual welfare, we need nature around us.
- An application in a therapeutic field that faces social and individual disadvantage, correlating it also to the environmental context in which we live. The natural landscape can become a new therapeutic setting, recognizing that the meeting with colors, spaces, rhythms and sounds encourages mind relaxation and contact with emotions, as well as offering a precious opportunity to discharge physiological tension and stress.
- New strategies elaboration to promote the environmentalist cause, setting our speech on an active, practical and optimistic involvement, to solve problems.
The environmentalist writer Derrick Jensen writes that we can not create a culture of sustainability without having a green soul ourselves. The “GREEN” identity could be a valuable fulcrum to build a certain level of consistency in our attitudes and in our actions. In particular, it seems there are two levels where identity can operate: strengthen a specific ecological behavior or stimulate, generically, a number of ecological sub-actions. Environmental Psychology field, is divided into a plurality of research lines that, for necessity of schematization, can be grouped based on what they study:
- The effects that different characteristics from the environment have on possible users’ behaviors of these same environments;
- The ways in which individual aspects (of attitude, personality, environmental experience) influence the type of relationship and behavior the individual establishes with specific or general environment aspects.
The vision outlined in the Handbook for Environmental psychology is called “transactional or context”, is characterized by a psycho-social orientation that mainly emerges in the following two directions:
- The environment goes from simple physical variables characterization to the consideration of increasingly molar units, such as the one of ” behavioral or socio-physical setting”.
- The fundamental role assigned to the socio-cultural context in which, on one side, occur considered psychological phenomena, and on the other define the socio-physical environment characteristics, with a strong preference towards field research, carried out in a context where studied phenomena, of course, take place.
A study conducted by the Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute’s researchers, in Toronto has shown that simply walking in a natural park can bring benefits, in cognitive and affective terms, in depressed people (diagnosed with major depression). The starting point of the study is the Attention Restoration Theory (ART) according to which people focus better after spending a bit of time in contact with nature, or after looking at natural landscapes pictures. People, remaining in contact with a quiet, peaceful and natural environment, would not be bombarded by many typical urban distractions that put a strain on the working memory and attention. Participants in the study who had walked in contact with nature for an hour, showed an improvement of 16% in working memory and attentional performance, than those who had walked in the city center. Even the presence of positive emotions is higher in the walk in nature results, compared to the urban setting. From a mood point of view, instead, it would appear that is not the environment in which is held the walk to have an effect on mood, but the walk itself, since negative emotions improve in both setting during the walk. Should be emphasized that the effects on mood did not correlate to effects on cognitive performance, suggesting the presence of distinct and partially independent mechanisms that are subjects to cognitive and emotional changes after the contact with nature. “Environmental Psychology is the study of human welfare and behavior in relation to the socio-physical environment”, this is the definition that the quoted Handbook proposes today for this new Psychology field, implying that the interest of the field should be oriented both toward understanding the basic psychological processes, and towards the ability to anticipate change/intervention proposals and projects, in view of a human well-being.
By Dr. Floriana De Michele