Becoming an Environmental Psychologist
What is Environmental Psychology?
Whether we know it or not, every day we are affected in some way by the environments we live, work and play in. For example, some environments may make us feel secure or productive, while others may make us feel cramped or nervous. An "environment" can refer to a number of different settings, large or small, natural or man-made. An environment can also be considered certain situations as well, such as a social situation or family situation. A few of the common environments that humans surround themselves with include:
- Cultural centers
- Natural settings
Environmental psychology is a field of psychology that focuses on the study of how humans are affected by their environments, or surroundings. They study human reactions to environments in order to gain some insight on how the environments can be changed to manipulate people’s feelings, thoughts, and possibly actions in them. For example, an environmental psychologist might study store patrons in to figure out how to make them stay longer and purchase more. Or they might study employees in a company to figure out how to make them more productive.
Why Do We Need Environmental Psychologists?
As mentioned above, our surroundings affect us much more than many of us even realize. Did you know that windows that are too small or ceilings that are two low can make most people feel as though they are in a tiny, cramped room? However, a larger window and higher ceilings in a room of the same size typically feels much larger to us.
An environmental psychologist’s purpose is to determine which aspects of an environment can be changed to change a person’s perception of their environment, and how those changes should take place. Generally speaking, an environmental psychologist can help manipulate how people feel and act in certain spaces.
Of course, environmental psychologists will typically use their power for good rather than evil, and use their skills to create more pleasant environments for everyone. One example is the work of an environmental psychologist in a workspace; by changing just a few aspects of the space - paintings, lighting, or certain restrictions - an environmental psychologist can create a space where employees feel more comfortable and therefore more productive.
What Does an Environmental Psychologist Do?
Many environmental psychologists choose to specialize in specific areas of this field. Some work to create more harmonious interior spaces, for instance, while others work to create more pleasant and enjoyable outdoor spaces.
One of the main duties of environmental psychologists is to study humans and their reactions to certain aspects of their environments. Through these studies, psychologists will often see how people’s actions and thoughts are affected by their environments. This might be done through direct observation, or through focus groups or surveys. Armed with this knowledge, these psychologists can make a reasonable assumption as to how the environments can be changed for the better.
Environmental psychologists will also usually make suggestions on how to change these environments in order to accomplish certain goals. These goals may be as simple as making people feel more at ease in certain social situations to making people feel more comfortable as they walk through their cities.
As an environmental psychologist, you might also have a hand in creating spaces and environments for people to live, work, play, and relax in. For example, you might be called upon to help set up the interior of a building or recommend design elements that create a sense of well-being. Overall, the role of an environmental psychologist focuses on solving problems and creating positive perception of spaces, big and small.
What are the Education Requirements for an Environmental Psychology Career?
If you wish to pursue an environmental psychology career, you should start by earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology or similar subject. You should then go on to earn at least a graduate degree in environmental psychology, or even a graduate degree in psychology with a concentration in environmental psychology. Although you may be able to find some entry-level positions with just a master’s degree, you should strongly consider earning your doctoral degree, as this will help open doors to more employment positions.
While you are earning your psychology degree, you’ll most likely take a number of courses in the principles of psychology as well as courses in human perception and sociology. Some courses that you might take may include social psychology, social ecology, environmental science, human perception, public space, and urban studies.
Where Do Environmental Psychologists Work?
Environmental psychologists will often be able to find employment in a number of different areas. For instance, they might work in the public or private sectors, doing research and consulting. Architecture firms, government agencies, urban planning centers, and consumer research centers might also have a need for an environmental psychologist.