Theories in Environmental Psychology

Theories in Environmental Psychology

Theories in Environmental Psychology

The steps in the scientific method often involve the formulation of theories and models

What is the scientific method? It is a procedure for obtaining knowledge that uses empirical data as the basis for evaluating facts and theories.


  • Make empirical observations
  • Pose questions
  • Formulate hypotheses
  • Test hypotheses
  • Formulate theories

Hypotheses - Formulate hypotheses - how are two or more variables are related

Hypotheses are the predicted explanations for the outcome of research.

Theories are sets of propositions or principles that are used to explain, predict, and organize empirical data.

These propositions include sets of concepts and how they are related to each other

Models are often more complex than theories but the term is used in much the same way

e.g., Moos Integrative Model of Crowding

Purpose or Function

  1. Theories explain environmental behavior

Why don’t people help as much in crowded or high density environments

  1. Theories help to predict and control behavior and cognition

The environmental stress model allow us to predict how certain stimuli will impact health

  1. Theories help to organize empirical findings

There is a large body of research on stressors and other factors such as perceived control.

  1. Theories focus and direct new research.
  2. Provide generalizations - Theories can apply to several phenomena
  3. Help to generalize and focus on the related concepts

What makes a good theory

1. Fits known facts

2. Predicts new discoveries

3. Is falsifiable (capable of being disproven)

4. Is parsimonious or simple

5. Generalizability

The 1970's and 80's saw the first major steps in the formulation of theory in environmental psychology

ex. environmental load theory and adaptation level theory

These theories and models can apply to a number of areas in the field of environmental psychology

Deterministic Theories

Most theories in science including psychology focuses on a Deterministic approach to environment and behavior

Environ. conditions ---> Behavioral Consequences


Misleading, and overly simplistic??

Adaptational or Transactional Approaches

Environmental psychologists has been more interested in adaptational or transactional models or approaches

Envir. cond. <-> adaptive psych. processes <-> Beh. Conseq.

The effects of the environment on behavior are seen as mediated (or moderated) by a variety of adaptive psychological process e.g., social support, cognitive appraisal, perceived control

Transactional Approaches

The transactional approach also focuses on the pattern of relationships rather than on simple cause and effect or deterministic approaches

Some Key Envir. Psy Theories (text)

  • Stimulation theories
  • Control theories
  • Behavior Setting theory
  • Decision Making theories
  • Integral theories
  • Operant or learning theories
  • Enviro.-centered and Ecopsychological


  • Newer theories tend to be integrative
  • Focus on both the person and environment
  • No one theory is comprehensive enough to explain all behavior or topic
  • The development of newer theories is crucial to the advancement of the field