Natural environments can help reduce stress and improve cognitive functioning. However, much of our consumer behaviour alters and sometimes destroys such natural environments and depletes the natural resources it is dependent upon. Environmental Psychologists specifically study the relationship between people and their physical environment.
Around 20% of the world population uses around 80% of the world’s non-renewable resources (Dürr, 1994). To support the high-consumption lifestyles of Western households for the whole world population the continuous use of about twice the total land surface of earth is needed (Goodland et al, 1994). It seems useful therefore to examine the factors that drive consumption and to determine potential options for change. Such research is interdisciplinary in nature and has been the focus of much of my work to date.
Examples of research projects to date are:
The car is the main mode of transport for 63% of all UK trips and more than 70% of UK commuters travel to work by car (DfT, 2005). The use of private transport is one of the most energy consuming activities in modern households. My work has concentrated on examining why people use different travel modes and how they might be persuaded to use non-car modes more often.
Examples of research projects conducted are:
Research in environmental psychology has shown that natural scenes, particularly unspectacular scenes such as parks, can reduce stress, and improve mood, concentration and task performance. This interesting area of Environmental Psychology was the focus of my Masters dissertation which I conducted in 1994. More recently I have become involved again in various studies examining the restorative effects of natural environments, mainly through the supervision of dissertation projects.
Some examples of research projects are:
Since 2000 I have been Course Director of the Modular MSc programme in Environmental Psychology (http://www.surrey.ac.uk/postgraduate/environmental-psychology). I convene two modules on this course: ‘Key Questions in Environmental Psychology’, ‘The Psychology of Sustainable Development’ as well as two general MSc modules, ‘Preparation for Academic Research in Psychology’ and ‘The Dissertation’. In addition I teach on several other MSc modules including: ‘Inquiry and Design’, ‘Ergonomics and Human Factors’, ‘Self and Identity in Context’, ‘Social Change and Influence’ and an intensive statistics course.
I am module convenor of the Level 3 module ‘Environmental Psychology’.
At the moment I supervise three PhD students: Eleanor Ratcliffe studies the restorative potential of bird song; Emma White examines the meaning of naturalness in environmental restoration research and Laura Cowen looks at people’s understanding of energy. I am also involved in supervising two PsychD students: Alison Greenwood looks at nature experiences among teenagers and Michael Eko looks at environmental restoration for people with depression.
Birgitta was board member of the International Association of People Environment studies. An International association gathering all those disciplines which share a fundamental interest in environment and behaviour studies.
More information about IAPS can be found here: http://www.iaps-association.org/
Birgitta is member and cofounder of the Virtual Centre for Transport and Psychology. The CTP is a centre of excellence bringing together expertise in psychology and transport planning to work towards sustainable travel.
Birgitta is coordinator and panel member of the Jonathan Sime Award for best UK undergraduate dissertation in people environment studies. More information about this award can be found here.
Moral motives are important for pro-environmental behavior. But such behavior is not only motivated by moral or environmental concerns. We examined what higher-order motives, other than morality, may be important for understanding pro-environmental behavior, by studying consumer identities. In three studies (N = 877) four consumer identities were distinguished: moral, wasteful, frugal, and thrifty. Frugal and moral consumer identities were most salient and were the strongest predictors of pro-environmental behaviors, but in different ways. Frugality, which is related to, but distinct from thriftiness, was particularly important for behaviors associated with waste reduction of any kind (including money). The findings suggest that people adopt the same behavior for different reasons, in ways consistent with their consumer identities. People manage multiple consumer identities simultaneously and environmental policy is likely to be more effective if it addresses these multiple identities.
Few householders have the time or motivation to systematically weigh up all the facts when judging the energy consumption of their household appliances. It is likely that they instead rely on simple heuristics such as the size heuristic, which has been reported in a small number of previous studies. The studies showed that people’s perceptions of the size and energy consumption of appliances were positively correlated but the studies differed in their methods and effect sizes. The present study re-tests the use of the size heuristic using two methods of data collection (between-participants and within-participants) and three methods of correlation. On average, correlations between size and energy estimates were moderately strong but they (and the accuracy of the energy estimates) varied greatly between individual participants. Understanding householders’ perceptions of energy is vital to designing more effective energy-saving policies. The findings highlight the importance of choosing and clearly reporting methods.
Adolescents are experiencing an increasing number of psychological difficulties due to mental fatigue and stress. Natural environments have been found to be beneficial to psychological wellbeing by reducing stress and improving mood and concentration for most people. However, a number of studies have suggested that this may not be the case for adolescents perhaps because they have different social and emotional needs (to be with friends, not to be bored), although evidence is lacking. In a field experiment with 120 16-18 year olds in the UK we tested restoration of stress and mental fatigue in an outdoor or indoor environment, alone, with a friend or while playing a game on a mobile phone. The findings showed greater restoration amongst adolescents who had been in an outdoor setting containing natural elements, compared with those who had been in an indoor one. Moreover, being with a friend considerably increased positive affect in nature for this age group. The findings indicated that spending short school breaks in a natural environment with a friend can have a significant positive impact on the psychological wellbeing of teenagers.
Abstract: Biophilic design has received increasing attention as a design philosophy in recent years. This review paper focused on the three Biophilic design categories as proposed by Stephen Kellert and Elizabeth Calabrese in “The Practice of Biophilic Design”. Psychological, peer reviewed literature supporting the benefits of Biophilic design was searched for through the lens of restorative environments. Results indicate that there exists much evidence supporting certain attributes of Biophilic design (such as the presence of natural elements), while empirical evidence for other attributes (such as the use of natural materials or processes) is lacking. The review concludes with a call for more research on restorative environments and Biophilic design.
Despite the importance of demand response, there has been little exploration of its potential impact on the individual or society. To address this gap, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 21 households in the south of England, in which two demand response vignettes were presented: peak pricing and remote demand control during critical peaks. Peak pricing was seen as inequitable, burdening the less affluent, the less healthy, families and working mothers. Adverse societal outcomes may result from peak pricing, with potential for disruption of time-dependent household routines including the socially vital ritual of family mealtimes. Householders perceived their peak-time consumption to be determined by society’s temporal patterns and not within their control to change. Third-party control in demand side management was perceived to contravene householders’ rights of control inside their homes. Alternative approaches to shifting peak demand, which combine technological, economic and socio-psychological insights, are considered.
The positive psychological and physical health effects associated with exposure to natural environments are well recognised. However, previous research in this field has focused almost exclusively upon the visual aspects of the environment, largely ignoring the role of the other senses. This paper reassesses these findings by examining the role senses other than sight play in blind people’s experiences of natural environments. Six people with visual impairments were interviewed regarding their experience of natural environments; interview transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis. The analysis revealed that if the participants felt safe, they reported experiencing restorative effects in the majority of natural environments. Three main themes that contribute to an understanding of the processes involved in psychological restoration emerged: restoration, challenges, sources of experiences. Environmental restoration was reported by participants as being mostly experienced through sound and to a lesser extent through touch and smell.
The introduction of electricity monitors (in-home displays; IHDs), which show accurate and up-to-the-minute energy usage, is expected to lead to reduction in consumption. Studies of feedback on domestic electricity use have generally supported this view. However, such studies also demonstrate wide variation between households. Examining the heterogeneity of responses is essential for understanding the actual and potential effectiveness of IHDs and in order to target interventions effectively. To explore differences between households’ responses to IHDs, we conducted a qualitative study with 21 households who had an IHD for more than six months. Of the 21, only four households continued to refer to the IHD and the findings suggest that attempts to reduce energy consumption were situated in wider social and physical contexts. Further, the participants demonstrated energy saving behaviour before and outside of IHD usage. The patterns of energy behaviours and attempts at electricity conservation could best be understood by categorising the households into three types: the Monitor Enthusiasts (20%), the Aspiring Energy Savers (60%) and the Energy Non-Engaged (20%). The factors of importance in energy behaviour differed between the categories. Financial savings contributed to efforts to reduce energy use but only up to boundaries which varied considerably between households. Social practices and social relationships appeared to constrain what actions households were prepared to undertake, illuminating aspects of inter-household variation. Within the household, all energy users were not equal and we found that women were particularly influential on energy use through their primary responsibility for domestic labour on behalf of the household. The implications of the findings for environmental campaigning are discussed. The research was funded by the Digital Economy Programme of the Research Councils UK, a cross-council initiative led by EPSRC (www.epsrc.ac.uk) and contributed to by AHRC, ESRC and MRC, under the REDUCE project grant (no EP/I000232/1). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
Despite national plans to deploy smart meters in small and medium businesses in the UK, there is little knowledge of occupant energy use in offices. The objectives of the study were to investigate the effect of individual feedback on energy use at the workdesk, and to test the relationship between individual determinants, energy use and energy reduction. A field trial is presented, which monitored occupant energy use and provided individual feedback to 83 office workers in a university. The trial comprised pre- and post-intervention surveys, energy measurement and provision of feedback for 18 weeks post-baseline, and two participant focus groups. The main findings were: statistically significant energy reduction was found, but not for the entire measurement period; engagement with feedback diminished over time; no measured individual variables were related to energy reduction and only attitudes to energy conservation were related to energy use; an absence of motivation to undertake energy reduction actions was in evidence. The implications for energy use in offices are considered, including the need for motivations beyond energy reduction to be harnessed to realise the clear potential for reduced energy use at workdesks. © 2013 The Authors.
People tend to recover more quickly from stress and mental fatigue in natural than in urban environments. But natural environments may not always be restorative. Dense wooded areas may evoke fear and stress and require directed attention to avoid getting lost or tripping over. Little is known about the restorative potential of such environments. Two experiments were conducted to examine restoration in natural settings with different levels of accessibility, prospect (clear field of vision) and refuge (places to hide). An on-line survey (n=269) examined perceived restoration of environments presented in a slide show. An experiment examined actual restoration in response to walks in a real outdoor setting (n=17) and in response to videos of the same walks (in a laboratory; n=17). The findings demonstrate that exposure to natural environments with high levels of prospect and low levels of refuge, is indeed restorative. However, exposure to natural environments low in prospect and high in refuge is not, and may even further increase levels of stress and attention fatigue. These findings demonstrate that natural places may not always be restorative places.
Research has overwhelmingly shown that spending time in nature can be beneficial. Yet the field is dominated by studies which compare built and manicured natural environments. Therefore relatively little is known about experiences in wild or untamed natural environments and what personal factors may affect these experiences. This study compares visitor experiences, measured as affective appraisals and transcendence, in two distinct natural environments (wild cliffs and manicured gardens), and how the trait ‘connectedness to nature’ may influence these experiences (N=253). Significant differences were found between visitor’s experiences at the wild cliffs (disturbing, aweinspiring and diminutive transcendence) and the manicured gardens (calming, boring, and deep flow transcendence). Regression analysis revealed three significant interactions and two significant non-linear results. High levels of ‘connectedness to nature’ at the cliffs positively predicted transcendence and a sense of awe; at the gardens, similarly high levels predicted a sense of calm. Nonlinear analyses revealed a convex (U) relationship between the trait of ‘connectedness to nature’, and experiencing an environment as calming, as well as a concave (inverted U) relationship with experiencing an environment as disturbing. The need to broaden experiential research content and ground research methods is discussed.
Growing evidence supports a range of non-instrumental factors influencing travel mode. Amongst these, identity has been proposed. However, to date, the relationship has not been systematically investigated and few investigations have harnessed a theoretical framework for identity. Drawing on role theory (Stryker, S., 1980, Symbolic interactionism: A social structural version. CA: Benjamin Cummings), we hypothesised that multiple identities, of varying importance, are related to travel mode choice. The study of 248 UK urban/suburban, working, car-owning parents used survey-based data to test the influence of seven identities on travel mode choice in regular travel. Multiple and logistic regression analyses found multiple identities to be significantly related to travel mode to work, on escort education and on other regular journeys. The study demonstrated different patterns of relationship between identity on different types of journey and found evidence for travel mode choice as embedded within social identities. In addition to the study‟s contribution of new empirical findings, its application of a theoretical focus on identity offers additional strategies in attempting to change travel behaviours towards sustainability.
Despite widespread acceptance of the need to change individual behaviour towards sustainability, resistance to change remains a continuing challenge. Past behaviour or habit, and psychological reactance, have been explored as components of resistance. Growing evidence for the influence of self-identity on behaviour suggests self-identity as a further factor. The current study draws on Identity Process Theory (Breakwell, 1986) to propose that threat to self-identity contributes to resistance to change, over and above the influence of past behaviour. Using travel-related vignettes to trigger threat, a study with 295 working parents in England found evidence supporting the relationship between self-identity threat and resistance to change travel behaviour, controlling for past behaviour. The findings further suggest identity threat as an alternative theoretical perspective on reactance. The results build theoretical understanding of resistance as a barrier to behaviour change. The application of an identity theory to understanding resistance is argued to add potentially new ways to encourage change towards sustainable behaviour. In addition, the findings suggest rich avenues for future research on the theoretical and empirical implications of the relationship of identities and sustainable behaviours.
The importance of understanding and promoting pro-environmental behaviour among individual consumers in modern Western Societies is generally accepted. Attitudes and attitude change are often examined to help reach this goal. But although attitudes are relatively good predictors of behaviour and are relatively easy to change they only help explain specific behaviours. More stable individual factors such as values and identities may affect a wider range of behaviours. In particular factors which are important to the self are likely to influence behaviour across contexts and situations. This paper examines the role of values and identities in explaining individual pro-environmental behaviours. Secondary analyses were conducted on data from three studies on UK residents, with a total of 2694 participants. Values and identities were good predictors of pro-environmental behaviour in each study and identities explain pro-environmental behaviours over and above specific attitudes. The link between values and behaviours was fully mediated by identities in two studies and partially mediated in one study supporting the idea that identities may be broader concepts which incorporate values. The findings lend support for the concept of identity campaigning to promote sustainable behaviour. Moreover, it suggests fruitful future research directions which should explore the development and maintenance of identities.
Recently there has been a surge in the number of green roofs and façades (vegetation on the roofs & walls of a building) installed in the UK, with advocation of their use by policy-makers and claims that they are aesthetically pleasing and promote restoration. But these claims rely on generalisations from different landscapes, raising concerns about validity. The present study examined whether houses with vegetation would be more preferred than those without, be perceived as more beautiful and restorative, and have a more positive affective quality. Differences between types of building-integrated vegetation were also examined. Two studies were conducted: an online survey in which participants (N = 188) rated photographs of houses with and without vegetation on each of these measures, and interviews (N = 8) which examined preference and installation concerns. Results showed that houses with (some types of) building-integrated vegetation were significantly more preferred, beautiful, restorative, and had a more positive affective quality than those without. The ivy façade and meadow roof rated highest on each. These findings are consistent with other areas of landscape research and the claims of those in the industry, and suggest that building-integrated vegetation would be a valuable addition to the urban environment.
With ever-increasing concerns about the consequences of climate change, households are an important focus for change. There is increasing pressure on households to change lifestyles and adopt behaviours that require less energy and natural resources. At the same time, retailers and producers of consumer goods aim to persuade people to consume more through commercial advertisements. Social science research examining sustainable behaviours often fails to examine the relative influence of both environmental concern and materialism simultaneously. Moreover, most of this research focuses on explaining or promoting behaviours with pro-environmental intent, thereby ignoring many consumer behaviours that may have a significant environmental impact. This article aims to address some of these shortcomings by examining the relationships between materialistic and environmental values and different consumer behaviours. Survey data from 194 individuals from 99 households were analysed. The findings show that quite a number of people express both relatively high levels of environmental concern and relatively high levels of materialism simultaneously. Moreover, materialism and environmental concern appear to be related to different types of behaviours. This raises important questions for the promotion of sustainable lifestyles, which may need to address not only environmental concerns but also materialistic concerns.
Although natural environments can help promote health, they also contain a number of dangers. This study attempted to examine how variations in the physical structure of a simulated natural environment influenced perceptions of both overall and specific types of danger, fear and preference before exploring the relationships between these variables. Three simulated walks through a natural environment differing in levels of prospect-refuge were created for the study. Respondents were randomly assigned to one of the conditions and asked to imagine taking the walk for real. In support of the typology, the results found that the walks with higher levels of prospect-refuge (higher visibility, fewer hiding places and more accessibility) were perceived as less dangerous and fearful and more preferred than walks with lower levels of prospect-refuge. However despite levels of prospect-refuge appearing to impact on the perceived likelihood of encountering a physical danger or becoming lost, they were not found to impact on the perception of encountering a social danger.
Promoting bicycling is important for individual health, environmental sustainability and transport demand management. However, very few people use a bicycle on a regular basis. This paper explores what views bicyclists and non-bicyclists in England may hold about the typical bicyclist and how such views are related to bicycling behaviour and intentions. A survey was conducted among 244 bicyclists and non-bicyclists. On the basis of a range of statements on behaviour, motivation and characteristics of the typical bicyclist, four different stereotypes could be distinguished: responsible, lifestyle, commuter and hippy-go-lucky. These views differed between bicyclists and non-bicyclists. Moreover, independent of past bicycling behaviour, reported intentions to use a bicycle in the future were positively related to perceptions of the typical bicyclist as a commuter or hippy-go-lucky bicyclist. These findings have implications for encouraging bicycling, which may benefit from promoting bicycling as a common day-to-day activity rather than something that is only relevant for a few.
It is now generally accepted that human activities are damaging the natural environment we live in and the natural resources that we depend upon. In the long run this development can have severe consequences for the quality of human life; indirectly, by depleting the natural resources necessary to sustain our material welfare, but also directly by damaging the quality of the natural environment (air, water, nature) in which we live. The presence of sustainability and global climate change on the political agenda has led to an increase in academic research on the relationship between people and their natural environment. Environmental psychologists study the interaction between people and their physical (built or natural) environment. This paper presents ten findings of environmental psychology research on people and their natural environment. Nature in this paper refers to any non-human living environmental features including plants, trees, water features, but also animals. However, the majority of research in this area focuses on green nature: i.e., the presence of plants and trees in the environment. This paper shows that most people are drawn towards natural environments and that passive as well as active exposure to the natural world has beneficial effects on the health and well-being of individuals (for overviews see Maller, Townsend, Pryor, Brown and St Leger (2005), Kahn (1997), Ulrich (1993) and Frumkin (2001). The paper will also show that although there is a lot we know, there is also a lot we don’t know, particularly in relation to the psychological processes which underlie the interaction between people and the natural 2 environment. This is just one of the potential areas wherein environmental and counselling psychologists might collaborate.
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