Environmental Psychology Essay Topics


Linda Steg | Jan Willem Bolderdijk | Kees Keizer | Goda Perlaviciute

Many environmental behaviours involve a conflict between hedonic and gain goals versus normative goals; people often need to incur some costs to benefit the environment. Based on this assumption, we propose an integrated theoretical framework for understanding behaviour change that identifies two routes to encourage pro-environmental behaviour. First, the conflict between goals can be reduced by decreasing the (hedonic and gain) costs of pro-environmental choices. Although this route is important when pro-environmental choices are very costly, it may not result in sustained pro-environmental actions. Second, normative goals can be strengthened. This strategy may encourage pro-environmental actions, even when it is somewhat costly. We propose that the strength of normative goals depends on values and situational factors that influence the accessibility of these values. We discuss theoretical implications of our reasoning, and indicate how the integrated framework adopted in this paper may advance theory development and environmental policy making. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


Liisa Tyrväinen | Ann Ojala | Kalevi Korpela | Timo Lanki | Yuko Tsunetsugu | Takahide Kagawa

This study investigated the psychological (perceived restorativeness, subjective vitality, mood, creativity) and physiological (salivary cortisol concentration) effects of short-term visits to urban nature environments. Seventy-seven participants visited three different types of urban areas; a built-up city centre (as a control environment), an urban park, and urban woodland located in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Our results show that the large urban park and extensively managed urban woodland had almost the same positive influence, but the overall perceived restorativeness was higher in the woodland after the experiment. The findings suggest that even short-term visits to nature areas have positive effects on perceived stress relief compared to built-up environment. The salivary cortisol level decreased in a similar fashion in all three urban environments during the experiment. The relations between psychological measures and physiological measures, as well as the influence of nature exposure on different groups of people, need to be studied further. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Martin Greaves | Lara D. Zibarras | Chris Stride

This paper presents a study using the theory of planned behavior (TPB) to explore environmental behavioral intentions in a workplace setting. The first stage of the research process was the development of a questionnaire covering TPB constructs, their antecedent beliefs, and environmental behavioral intentions across three scenarios (switching off PCs every time employees left their desks for an hour or more; using video-conferencing for meetings that would otherwise require travel; and recycling as much waste as possible), using best practice guidelines to ensure that it was specific and precisely defined for the target population. This was then administered to N = 449 participants, with the resulting dataset used to test hypotheses relating antecedent beliefs to behavioral intentions via the potentially mediating effect of TPB constructs. TPB constructs were found to explain between 46% and 61% of the variance in employee intentions to engage in three environmental behaviors, and to mediate the effects of specific antecedent beliefs upon employee intentions to engage in these behaviors. The results form a basis upon which interventions could be developed within the host organization, and are discussed in relation to their implications, in terms of theory, practice and future research. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Jungsoo Kim | Richard de Dear

Open-plan office layout is commonly assumed to facilitate communication and interaction between co-workers, promoting workplace satisfaction and team-work effectiveness. On the other hand, open-plan layouts are widely acknowledged to be more disruptive due to uncontrollable noise and loss of privacy. Based on the occupant survey database from Center for the Built Environment (CBE), empirical analyses indicated that occupants assessed Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) issues in different ways depending on the spatial configuration (classified by the degree of enclosure) of their workspace. Enclosed private offices clearly outperformed open-plan layouts in most aspects of IEQ, particularly in acoustics, privacy and the proxemics issues. Benefits of enhanced 'ease of interaction' were smaller than the penalties of increased noise level and decreased privacy resulting from open-plan office configuration. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Mathew P. White | Sabine Pahl | Katherine Ashbullby | Stephen Herbert | Michael H. Depledge

Exposure to natural environments can help restore depleted emotional and cognitive resources. However, investigation of the relative impacts of different natural environments among large samples is limited. Using data from 4255 respondents drawn from Natural England's Monitoring Engagement with the Natural Environment survey (2009-2011), we investigated feelings of restoration (calm, relaxed, revitalized and refreshed) recalled by individuals after visits to different natural environments within the last week. Controlling for demographic and visit characteristics we found that of the broad environmental categories, coastal visits were associated with the most restoration and town and urban parks with the least. In terms of specific environmental types two "green space" locations (woodlands/forests and hills/moorland/mountains) were associated with levels of restoration comparable to coastal locations. Urban playing fields were associated with the least restoration. Restoration was positively associated with visit duration (a potential dose-response effect), and visits with c hildren were associated with less restoration than visits alone. There was little evidence that different activities (e.g. walking, exercising) were associated with differences in restoration. The data may improve our understanding of the "cultural eco-system services" provided by different natural environments and help decision makers keen to invest scare resources in those environments most associated with psychological benefits. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Ellen Van der Werff | Linda Steg | Kees Keizer

Biospheric values and environmental self-identities are considered to be important antecedents of environmental preferences, intentions, and behaviour. Although various authors suggest a relationship between values and self-identity, this has rarely been studied empirically. This paper aimed to clarify the relationship between biospheric values and environmental self-identity and to study how both are related to environmental preferences, intentions, and behaviour. We hypothesized that biospheric values are related to environmental self-identity, and that self-identity is in turn related to preferences, intentions, and behaviour. Results of three studies including a wide range of environmental preferences, intentions, and behaviour support our reasoning and show that biospheric values are related to environmental self-identity, even when measured months before. Moreover, we found that the relationship between biospheric values and environmental preferences, intentions and behaviour was fully mediated by environmental self-identity, indicating that biospheric values are related to preferences, intentions, and behaviour via one's environmental self-identity. This suggests that values need to be linked to the self in order to be influential in choices made. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Kim Pong Tam

In recent years, environmental psychologists have shown interest in the notion of connection to nature, and considered it to have an important role in helping mitigate the environmental crisis. Together they have developed a number of concepts and measures related to this notion. However, the convergence or divergence of these concepts and measures has rarely been examined. The present research thus aims to empirically examine their similarities and differences. Using one undergraduate Hong Kong Chinese sample (N = 322) and one diverse American sample (N = 185), it demonstrates that these measures can be considered as markers of a common construct: They were strongly inter-correlated, converged to a single factor, shared highly similar correlations with various criterion variables, and did not show much unique predictive power when their common factor was controlled for. Nevertheless, there is also evidence of divergence: Some measures had stronger correlations with the criterion variables than did others, and had unique, though small, incremental predictive power. These findings bear important implications for the theoretical understanding of connection to nature. On the one hand, recognizing the commonalities among the various concepts and measures allows one to integrate existing research findings. On the other hand, identifying the distinctiveness of some concepts and measures reveals that certain ways of conceptualizing connection to nature (e.g., a multidimensional framework) are promising. Directions for future research are suggested accordingly. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Christine Kormos | Robert Gifford

© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. Do self-reports match objective behavior? We performed a meta-analysis to quantify the association between self-reported and objective measures of proenvironmental behavior, and to evaluate the moderating influence of two socio-demographic and seven methodological moderators. Data from 6260 individuals or households, involving 19 measures of association in 15 studies, revealed a positive and nominally large (Cohen, 1988) effect size (r = 46). However, this means that 79% of the variance in the association between self-reported and objective behavior remains unexplained, which is especially troubling given the environmental context. We conclude that although this effect size is conventionally large, it is functionally small for testing theory and devising intervention campaigns, possibly leading researchers to draw misleading conclusions about the usefulness of theories that employ self-reports to predict objective behavior. These findings highlight a crucial need for research that strengthens the validity of self-reports for well-defined types of environmental behavior.


Sander van der Linden

© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. This study advances a detailed social-psychological model of climate change risk perceptions by combining and integrating cognitive, experiential, and socio-cultural factors. The conceptual model is tested empirically on a national sample (. N=808) of the UK population. Results indicate that the full climate change risk perception model (CCRPM) is able to explain nearly 70% of the variance in risk perception. Gender, political party, knowledge of the causes, impacts and responses to climate change, social norms, value orientations, affect and personal experience with extreme weather were all identified as significant predictors. Experiential and socio-cultural factors explained significantly more variance in risk perception than either cognitive or socio-demographic characteristics. Results also confirm that the factor analytic structure of climate change risk perceptions can be conceptualized along two key dimensions, namely: personal and societal risk judgments and that both dimensions have different psychological antecedents. Implications for theory and public risk communication are discussed.


Sebastian Bamberg

This article takes the model of action phases (MAP, Heckhausen & Gollwitzer, 1987) as a theoretical basis for conceptualizing behavioral change as a transition through a time-ordered sequence of four qualitatively different stages: predecisional, preactional, actional, and postactional. The constructs of goal intention, behavioral intention, and implementation intention provide the criteria for when an individual transits from one stage to the next. However, because MAP does not describe in detail psychological factors contributing to stage progression, constructs taken from the norm-activation model (Schwartz & Howard, 1981) and the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991) are integrated. Results of a first correlational study (N = 908) identified four homogeneous stage subgroups. As expected, the probability of stage assignment was associated significantly with the three intention types marking the transition from one stage to the next. The proposed sets of stage-specific social-cognitive variables were powerful predictors of these three intention types. Potential implications of the model for systematic intervention development are discussed. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Lucy Chan | Brian Bishop

With evidence suggesting conservation attitudes and moral norms lack discriminant validity, the study's aim was to test if this could be established for recycling, as well as how moral norms can extend the theory of planned behaviour (TPB). A sample of 271 participants that consisted predominantly of students was obtained for this correlational study (117 males and 154 females, M age=24 years). Since confirmatory factor analysis indicated convergent validity (r=.69, p < .05), path analysis was conducted on a model that replaced attitudes with moral norms in the TPB. This model was found to fit the data well, with 39% and 41% of the variance in recycling intention and behaviour explained respectively. Overall, results supported the utility of appealing to moral norms as it was associated with a higher recycling intention (β=.33, 95% CI [.23, .43]), and ultimately, actual recycling. © 2013.


Eleanor Ratcliffe | Birgitta Gatersleben | Paul T. Sowden

Natural environments, and particularly visual stimuli in nature, are usually perceived as restorative following stress and attention fatigue. Studies extending these findings to auditory natural stimuli have used soundscapes comprising multiple types of sound. Birdsong recurs as a type of sound used in such studies, but little is known about restorative perceptions of bird sounds on their own and how these may relate to existing theories of environmental restoration. Via semi-structured interviews with twenty adult participants, bird songs and calls were found to be the type of natural sound most commonly associated with perceived stress recovery and attention restoration. However, not all bird sounds were regarded as helpful for such processes. Three themes formed the basis of these perceived relationships: affective appraisals, cognitive appraisals, and relationships with nature. Sub-themes of the acoustic, aesthetic, and associative properties of bird sounds were also related to restorative perceptions. Future studies should quantitatively examine the potential of a variety of bird sounds to aid attention restoration and stress recovery, and how these might be predicted by acoustic, aesthetic, and associative properties, in order to better understand how and why sounds such as birdsong might provide restorative benefits. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Megan Hurst | Helga Dittmar | Rod Bond | Tim Kasser

A growing body of evidence suggests that materialistic values may be negatively associated with pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors. This research used meta-analytic techniques to assess: the mean effect size of the correlation between materialistic values and pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors; the 'true effect size' adjusting for the reliability of the measures; and the effects of gender, age, population type and publication year on the size of the correlation. A significant, medium-sized association was found between materialistic values and both environmental attitudes and behaviors; these relationships were moderated by population type and publication year, but not by gender or age. Adjusted for reliability, the effects increased considerably, largely due to the low reliability of both types of environmental measures. The implications for future research are discussed, particularly with regard to the importance of using more reliable environmental measures and collecting data from more cultures. Practical applications are also highlighted, particularly as they might apply to environmental campaigns. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Catharine Ward Thompson

This paper reviews research into the relationships between attributes of outdoor environments and levels of activity and exercise in populations using those environments. It takes an environmental designer's view of relevant and effective research and research approaches that can provide evidence for policy and practice. The paper has a tripartite structure, examining theories, research methods, and findings that contribute to understanding links between physical activity and the planning and design of outdoor spaces. It considers concepts, methods and evidence relevant to adults', older adults' and children's activities and identifies those that appear to offer greatest potential for future research. It also identifies gaps in our understanding, the need for well-conceptualized models of environment-behaviour interactions to elucidate these, and the importance of collecting and presenting evidence in ways that are sympathetic to design practice. If evidence is to lead to effective and salutogenic changes in our physical environment, then findings that translate readily into a design framework will be most beneficial. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Astrid de Leeuw | Pierre Valois | Icek Ajzen | Peter Schmidt

© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. This study relied on the theory of planned behavior (TPB) to identify the beliefs that influence young people's pro-environmental behavior. High-school students completed a questionnaire regarding the performance of pro-environmental behaviors early in the school year and reported on their behavior toward the end of the year. In addition to the standard TPB constructs, the initial questionnaire assessed descriptive norms, moral norms, sex, and empathic concern. Results revealed an excellent fit for the standard TPB model; attitudes, descriptive subjective norms, and perceptions of control made independent contributions to the prediction of intentions, and intentions together with perceived control predicted behavior. Behavioral, normative, and control beliefs predicted, respectively, attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control. Empathic concern influenced intentions and behavior indirectly by its effects on behavioral, normative, and control beliefs. Examination of the effects of specific beliefs revealed important implications for designing effective behavior-change interventions.


Silvia Collado | Henk Staats | José A. Corraliza

The present study evaluates how a stay in a summer holiday camp changes children's willingness to display ecological behaviour and the affective and cognitive factors that may be responsible for this change. The study included two types of nature camps, one with an Environmental Education (EE) program and one without it, with an urban camp without EE as an additional control group. Nature experiences increased children's emotional affinity towards nature, their ecological beliefs, and willingness to display ecological behaviour. No differences were found between the nature camps with and without EE. Emotional affinity towards nature and ecological beliefs independently mediated the direct effect that exposure to nature has on children's ecological behaviours, the strength of each mediator differing according to the type of ecological behaviour. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.


Kate E. Lee | Kathryn J.H. Williams | Leisa D. Sargent | Nicholas S.G. Williams | Katherine A. Johnson

© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. Based on attention restoration theory we proposed that micro-breaks spent viewing a city scene with a flowering meadow green roof would boost sustained attention. Sustained attention is crucial in daily life and underlies successful cognitive functioning. We compared the effects of 40-s views of two different city scenes on 150 university students' sustained attention. Participants completed the task at baseline, were randomly assigned to view a flowering meadow green roof or a bare concrete roof, and completed the task again at post-treatment. Participants who briefly viewed the green roof made significantly lower omission errors, and showed more consistent responding to the task compared to participants who viewed the concrete roof. We argue that this reflects boosts to sub-cortical arousal and cortical attention control. Our results extend attention restoration theory by providing direct experimental evidence for the benefits of micro-breaks and for city green roofs.


Charis E. Anton | Carmen Lawrence

© 2014 The Authors. This study explores the relationships between place of residence, living in a threatened place and the subsets of place attachment: place identity and place dependence. Six hundred participants living in south-west Western Australia in rural and urban areas with varying degrees of bushfire risk responded to surveys asking about their reasons for living in their local area, their place attachment and their socio-demographic details. MANOVAs revealed a significant effect of place of residence on place identity with rural residents reporting higher place identity than urban dwellers. Urban dwellers reported lower place dependence than rural dwellers except when they lived in a fire prone area, in which case their place dependence was on par with that of rural residents. Socio-demographic predictors of both place identity and place dependence to the home and local area were also explored, these included length of residence, education, and owning one's home.


Joop De Boer | Hanna Schösler | Jan J. Boersema

This paper addresses the relationship between meat eating and climate change focusing on motivational explanations of environmentally-relevant consumer behavior. Based on a sample of 1083 Dutch consumers, it examines their responses to the idea that they can make a big difference to nature and climate protection by choosing one or more meals without meat every week. This idea can be seen as a new opportunity to help mitigation, but also as a counterproductive message that might trigger negative responses among consumers who are skeptical about climate change. As hypothesized, the meat-free meal idea was received more positively by consumers who valued care for nature and more negatively by those who did not value it. Also as hypothesized, the meat-free meal idea was received more negatively by consumers who were skeptical about the seriousness of climate change. The idea was not received more positively by those who did take it seriously. The results support the notion that the meat-free meal idea may serve as a counterproductive message. From the perspective of motivation, it is preferable not to isolate the meat-climate issue but to develop an approach that combines multiple values regarding food choices, including health and nature-related values. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

Are you a psychology student pondering what research topics to pursue in the course of conceptualizing your thesis proposal? This article is tailored right for your needs. You may explore the 5 research topics presented below and come up with your relevant psychology-based research topic on climate change. Specific research questions are offered for your guidance.

I was prompted to write this article because a colleague asked me how her undergraduate psychology students should conduct their study in relation to the key result areas which the university is aligning its research programs, projects and activities. More specifically, she asked what topics could be explored by psychology students in relation to say, climate change adaptation as one of the key result areas.

I initially gave several ideas that students can pursue during the lecture but these ideas still appear to be too general. Or maybe I have not put the topic in clear perspective.

I, therefore, came up with the following specific research topics based on the initial list of topics I enumerated during a brief research orientation lecture with a group of undergraduate students and several College of Arts and Humanities faculty members. The students are currently conceptualizing their research proposal in compliance with the thesis requirement for graduation.

The 5 examples on psychology research topics related to climate change are products of my online search as well as my research experience on environmental research and knowledge gained during my training in the graduate school. Specifically, the following research topics are psychology research topics related to climate change that students can explore.

Of course, they need to do a literature review first to find out which topics and what particular issues were already explored.

Psychology Research Topics Related to Climate Change

I drew out the following ideas mainly from the topics identified by the  American Psychological Association. I rephrased the topics presented in that site to avoid duplication of words as I am conscious of plagiarism understanding that articles written using similar words will impact on the quality of articles written online. I also wrote these questions in such a way that it can be done under local conditions, i.e., relevant to the thrusts and priorities of universities in the tropical regions. But these can likewise be done in temperate countries.

1. How can well-designed environment-directed messages increase people’s behavior that are beneficial to the environment?

Examples of environment-beneficial behavior will be the three R’s of recycling, reduction, and reuse of materials. I remembered that I wrote an article about an indigenous person who reused otherwise unusable materials from a nearby mining company to build a mini-hydro power plant in a remote place in Bataraza. See how Boyet, the Tagbanua, made use of materials in a materials recycling facility here.

2. Is there a relationship between climate change evidences like sea level rise, warming temperatures, and changing agricultural production to the quality of life of the members of the community?

It would be great to know the relationship of the continuing fluctuations of the weather to people’s quality of life. Will these events be beneficial or detrimental in the long term? Many studies can arise from this simple question alone.

The results of this study will enhance the quality of policy makers’ decisions on those government initiatives that impact on people’s lives. This also streamlines their interest and attention to deal with relevant steps to address the negative effects of climate change.

3. What prevents people from complying with the most efficient and effective policies of government?

It will be interesting to know how people make decisions, whether to follow or not follow the rules and regulations, the ordinances, and the laws that pertain to climate change. What keeps people from complying to these policies and what encourages them to follow voluntarily or willingly?

This is an issue I already discussed in my previous post on research topics about climate change and governance. You may read the article here.

The decision making scenario can actually be represented in a model which will help predict people’s compliance to policies of government. Policy makers will then have a better view of his constituency’s sentiments. This is what people call science-based policy making.

4. Why is there a general concern about nature? What are the reasons behind such interest in conserving or protecting the environment? What can be gained from the environmental programs, projects and activities?

Surely, everybody knows some of the answers. But which of these answers are the foremost reasons why people try to keep the environment intact or at the very least minimize exploitation? You may get exciting answers to the questions posed above.

5. How does climate change as evidenced by unpredictable weather events affect people?

I remembered the disastrous flooding events in Marikina in Manila in 2009 and Iloilo City in the Western Visayas due to Typhoon Frank. The residents of Marikina as well as Iloilo never expected the flooding to occur for so many years. This caused a lot of damages to property and even loss of life.

How do you think those people affected feel? What are in their minds on those times when life-threatening disasters strike? Should they have survived had they been prepared for such unpredictable event? Being prepared matters a lot.

At this point, I do hope that with these research topics more ideas will pop out of your head. You can draw out and remember theories from the lectures given you by your teachers on human psychology that will serve as your theoretical framework as you embark to write down your conceptual framework. If you do not know yet the difference between these two concepts, read my article on the difference between the theoretical and the conceptual framework here.

© 2012 November 19 P. A. Regoniel

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