This article aims to describe the fundamental elements for the understanding of environmental Psychology as a discipline within the behavioral sciences. It presents the methodological generalities, the most representative theoretical approaches and the possibilities in the field of research and social action.


The human experience is largely dependent on the place where it occurs. The sensations, memories, and feelings of our past and present are linked to the experiences we have had, and these are linked to the places around which our existence develops. We’re the places where we were. It is this intuitive experience that underpins environmental psychology: Human Experience is linked to the spatial experience.

Environmental psychology is based on the study of the individual’s relationship with the environment within which it evolves. The environment is not a neutral space and except for values, it is culturally marked.

The environment conveys meanings that are an integral part of the cognitive and behavioral functioning of the individual. The relation to a given space is, ‘’beyond the present’’ a tributary of it’s past and future: the environmental context, the object of perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors deployed within it take all its significance about the temporal dimension.

It refers not only to space but to the history of the place, which is linked to the history of individuals. Environmental Psychology is interested in both the context and how the place of life is appropriate for those who inhabit it. The environment is not just a neutral space, it has a real function as it is an integral part of human behavior.

The framework of life in which individuals live and develop seeks the identity of the individual and places it in both the social, economic and cultural spheres. The environment informs us about individuals, about their values and interests.

This concept covers both the natural environment (ecosystems, natural resources, natural phenomena) and the built or conditioned environment (habitat).

In environmental psychology, the notions of space and place are very important, even central, because they allow recognizing the level of control of individuals over the environment. There are four levels of interaction between individuals and their environment, with strong implications for environmental research (Moser & Uzzell, 2003).

Environmental Psychology levels

Environmental Psychology levels

Level I. Micro-Environment: Private Or Individual Space

These are the places from which we have total control, important for individual well-being. It is the place of permanence, of stability (sense of security), where private life develops. It is a personalized space, delimited by physical or symbolic barriers but, above all, protected from the intrusion of the other. If it is a permanent place that produces attachments, we talk about primary territories, but if it is a transitional place, we talk about secondary territories.

Level II. Proximity Atmosphere: Space Semi-Public Or Semi-Private

It is the space of proximity, space is shared the same as the control. Affective attachment may or may not be strong depending on whether space is hostile or not; If this is the case, there are emotional investments if there are correspondences, interests, not only on the physical character (beautiful, comfortable) but also social (existence of social ties).

Level III. Macro-Environment: Public Space

The control is mediated and above all delegated. It is an aggregate of individuals in a common space. The city becomes the space of variety and diversity of choices. From the Middle Ages, the city was conceived as an insurance place, a place of opportunity. Because the industrialization and extension of the cities became places of anonymity. As a result, deviations are tolerated and a feeling of vulnerability, insecurity due to crime, pollution, and agglomeration arises.

Level IV. Global Environment: Planetary Dimension

The control is out of the individual possibilities. We can observe the emergence of so-called ecological behaviors. The appearance of the notion of the common good.

Environmental psychology is a growing discipline. It made its appearance in the early 1970s, knowing a rapid evolution thanks to publications in specialized journals (mainly Anglo-Saxon), and the multiplication of international meetings and conferences. In 1973, the American Psychological Association (APA) created a research section on the relationship between physical environments and behavior. In 1981, The Journal of Environmental Psychology of the Academic press published the journal of environmental psychology, which seeks to be the privileged publication of this discipline. However, environmental psychology has known unspeakable problems to define itself, to find its borders.

An important issue is a relationship between research and social praxis. Saegert (1987) proposes three prototypes of approaches to the relationship between knowledge accumulation and social change:

  • A technological model, which is interested in the collection of information and is aimed at decision-making.
  • An interpretative model that emphasizes the social processes produced by the research itself.
  • A transformative model, synthesis of the two previous models, which seeks to know to change.

In these three types of approaches, the author is more interested in the role of the researcher than in the possibilities of the production of scientific knowledge. In general, however, the development of education is closely linked to social needs, it is inductive and is based almost exclusively on field studies.

For his part, Stokols (1990) presents three perspectives that, according to him, define the different strategies of the explanation-intervention in the face of the problems of the individual-environment relationship:

  • A minimalist perspective that ignores or minimizes the consequences of the individual-medium physical relationship.
  • An instrumentalist perspective that emphasizes the physical environment, understanding it as a source of economic success, and
  • A spiritualist perspective that considers the environment as an end in itself, that is, as symbolic and effective opportunities.

Theoretical Approaches To Environmental Psychology

Theoretical Approaches

Environmental psychology has developed around three theoretical perspectives:

Deterministic Perspective

It is interested in the direct impact of the medium on the perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of individuals. The work in this perspective is carried out around the following topics: stimulation level, environmental overload and adaptation level (Wohlwill).

Interactionist Perspective

It suggests that the individual is placed in his or her environment according to his or her personal needs, expectations and competences, in interaction with the limits (physical and social), thus attempting to achieve his or her goals, manipulating the medium and being manipulated by him or her. The work in this perspective is carried out around the following topics: stress and control, stress and adaptation, behavioral elasticity (Moser), mental maps (Lynch) and environmental assessment.

Transactionalist Or Also Called Systemic Perspective

It states that neither the individual nor the medium is characterized separately, that is, the medium exists to the extent that the individual perceives it. The works in this perspective are developed around the following themes: behavioral areas, (Barker), ” Affordance ” (Gibson) and place theory (Canter; Proshansky).

Representations, Practices, And Identity Socio-Spatial Urban

The study of socio-spatial representations offers an original light, favoring an understanding of the relationships between the individual, the social group and the urban environment. In this perspective, urban practices are considered as indicators of the relationship between the individual and the city.

The problems are thus based on,

  1. The individual and social construction of meanings of urban space and its breakdown into coherent units;
  2. The identification of associated social groups; and
  3. The dynamics of identity construction based on strategies of social differentiation, through specific environmental investments.

We are interested in the importance related to urban morphology, to the societal disposition, and to access to urbanity in the dynamics of intra-and inter-individual processes of construction of relationships at the different scales of the urban environment.

Social representations occupy a central position between ideological and social contexts on the one hand and everyday practices on the other. Point of articulation between the psychological and the social, the social representations account for how the subject interprets the reality to which he is confronted (Moscovici, 1961; Jodelet, 1989; Abric, 1994). The condition of production of a social representation depends at the same time on ideology, societal values, and practices developed about the object.

Ecological Behavior

The conflict between representation and imposed practice, as well as behavioral habits make it possible to discount the installation of desirable behaviors in the long term. In the perspective of individual responsibility, it is important to identify appropriate means of raising awareness of environmental issues and the transmission of pro-environmental values within small groups and communities, as well as the call for moral sense and ethical principles.

This approach focuses on recent findings about the need for better consideration of human factors in the management of ecological risks and extreme situations. This approach seeks to understand the individual and societ determinants of perceptions, judgments, assessments, and representations of physical and social environmental risks.

This type of research is based on the modalities of the interrelationship between representations and social and spatial practices, with the complex environmental structures within which they develop (the city, the neighborhood or the environment of some specific place).

They should seek to describe and identify life forms and behaviors (social life, habitat use, appropriation, civility, insecurity) based on the perception, evaluation, and spaces of representation, and also determine the incidence of urban and/or environmental characteristics on behavior.

Finally, we can say that the possibilities of applying the results of research in environmental psychology are very important. They are, above all, capable of guiding public policies and particularly development programs in the following areas:

  • Processes of conditioning of the built environment
  • Process of conditioning of natural spaces, parks, and gardens
  • Preservation of the environment (ecological behavior)
  • Development of training programs and educational tools for environmental education
  • Prevention of risky behavior
  • Environmental disaster management
  • Environmental risk conditions: environmental stress, noise, pollution, agglomeration


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