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Analysis of Theories in Environmental Psychology

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Published: Fri, 23 Feb 2018

1. Place theory

Place is used as a manner of examining the environment and breaking the environment down into conceptual components. It is difficult to examine space and environment as they are too general.

To understand the concept of environmental psychology, one would firstly have to establish the meaning of place theory as people’s interaction with their physical environment is a principal in environmental psychology. The place theory has three aspects that are interlinked with each other (see figure 1). These three aspects are physical attributes, conceptions and human activities. According to Canter (1997) a place is a state of harmony created by the dialogue between human activities, conceptions and the physical attributes of the environment viewed from a historical perspective. However, Castello (2006) states that place is a unit where human experiences and physical form are fused together, creating a unitary context.

The physical attributes of the place theory demonstrates the surroundings or environment in which a person finds himself, such as a bedroom, an office etc. A geographer, Edward Relph (1976), has a similar notion of place but replaced Canter’s (1997) aspect of conceptions with experiences. Thus, allowing more information to be gathered about the place as experiences are a result of an individual’s history and everyday life. The types of human activities and the way in which it is carried out are contingent on factors such as knowledge, cultural background, values, as well as formal and informal controls (Ndubisi, 2002). As a result, the place theory suggests that places are viewed as holistic units of activities, physical form and meaning shaped by the goals and purposes of individuals.

The place theory also works in concurrence with place identity and place attachment. Many researchers explore this dynamic relationship between people and place. Place identity and place attachment are concepts that demonstrate the significant relations between a person and place. Moreover, when individuals interact with their environment, they create bonds and links and their environment develops meaning.

1.1 Place identity

There are many factors that shape human identity, and identity is (among other things) a product of the psychical environment (Hauge, 2007). Dixon and Durrheim (2000) state that a key moment in environmental psychology’s critique of a disembodied notion of identity was the publication of Proshansky, Fabian, and Kaminoff’s paper on place identity. Place identity, according to Proshansky (1987), can be defined as:

    “a sub-structure of the self-identity of the person consisting of broadly conceived cognitions about the physical world in which individuals live”.

Pretty et al (2003) state that place identity is a cognitive structure which contributes to global self-categorisation and social identity processes. According to Knez (2005): Breakwell (1986, 1992, 1993), Twigger-Ross and Uzzell (1996), Twigger-Ross et al (2003), and Vignoles (2000) has suggested four processes related to place identity:

  1. place-related distinctiveness (e.g. I am a South African)
  2. place-referent continuity (e.g. I am living there because it reminds me of my past)
  3. place-related self-esteem (e.g. I am proud to live in this town)
  4. place-related self-efficacy (e.g. The town satisfies my needs and wants)

Consequently, these processes encourage our self-esteem and identity as individuals. Hence the questions of “who we are” are often intimately related to questions of “where we are” (Dixon & Durrheim 2000; Pretty et al 2003). The places people belong to does not just encourage their self-esteem but also their environmental preferences, and how they see themselves. Place identity could also lead to place attachment because when an individual identifies himself with the environment, individuals tend to feel attached to the same environment.

1.2 Place attachment

Every single one of us has developed an unconscious bond towards some place over a period of time. It is suggested by Inalhan and Finch (2004) that the concept of place attachment is complex and multi-faceted, as place attachment has been studied by scholars from several disciplines such as; anthropology, architecture, family and consumer studies, folklore, gerontology, landscape architecture, psychology and urban planning. Place attachment can vary from place to place and can change easily depending on the degree of belonging of the person (Knez 2005). Thus, the degree of attachment a person has towards a place may determine the perceptions and satisfaction of the person in the specific place. Our attachment to a place grows with length of time living in a place and age, but mostly through positive interaction with a community. According to Milligan (1998) place attachment could be defined as:

    “place attachment occurs when a particular interaction was accompanied by significant meaning”

However place attachment, according to Knez (2005), can be defined as:

    “the affective positive bond between a person and a place; more specifically, a strong tendency of that person to maintain closeness to such a place”.

Many studies and researchers show that there is no single accepted definition of place attachment. The definition offered by Milligan (1998) serves a better purpose for this study. From this definition it is clear that place attachment is an emotional bond formed by an individual to a physical setting due to the meaning given to the location through processes of person-environment interactions (Casakin & Kreitler, 2008).

According to Halpenny (2005), one of the factors that could play a role in the formation of place attachment is satisfaction with a place. Moreover, if individuals are satisfied with their environments they tend to protect that place more and return to it.

Payton (2003) and Warzecha et al (2000) state that place attachment has two main concepts that have been prevalent in literature: functional place attachment and emotional place attachment.

Functional place attachment refers to the functionality or the ability of the resources to meet the needs or goals of individuals. Furthermore, functional place attachment is also closely linked to the kind of activities users pursue. This is because some activities are more complex and require specific aspects while other activities are more general. Shumaker and Taylor (1983) suggest that functional attachment is also referred to as place dependence. The concept is affected by two factors (Shumaker & Taylor, 1983):

  1. The quality of place is determined by the individual’s satisfaction and,
  2. The quality of the place depends on how it compares to other available places.

Emotional place attachment refers to the emotional attributes of a person-place relationship and how place contributes to an individuals identity. Shumaker and Taylor (1983) declare that emotional attachment is also referred to as symbolic attachment. Moreover, emotional place attachment can be based on emotional ties to a specific place and is formed over a certain period through many encounters with the environment. According to Warzecha et al (2000), emotional place attachment may also be expressed as an identity with a symbolic meaning or idea.

Place theory and all its aspects mentioned above form a fundamental starting point for any study in environmental psychology.

2. Introduction to Environmental psychology

There are numerous people who do not know what environmental psychology is and what it consists of. Traditionally, environmental psychology has focused on the interrelationship between environments and human behaviour (De Young, 1999; Garling & Golledge, 1993). According to Gifford (1997) individuals change the environment and their behaviour and experiences are changed by the environment. Furthermore, each individual’s behaviour and experience is unique and differs from the person standing next to him/her in the same environment. These environments could be natural environments, social settings, built environments, learning environments and informational environments (Veith & Arkkelin, 1995).

Environmental psychology also consists of environmental psychological-processes in terms of a clear social-psychological perspective (Bonnes, 2003). These processes are individual processes such as perception, cognition and personality, and social processes such as territoriality, personal space, crowding and privacy.

In addition, environmental psychology has continual elements that help to define this relatively unknown field. According to Garling and Golledge (1993), Kaplan and Kaplan (1982) these elements are:

  1. Attention – Understanding an individual’s behaviour begins with understanding how he/she notices and perceives the environment. This includes two types of stimuli: those that unwillingly, even distractingly, demand human notice, as well as those places, things or ideas to which humans must willingly, and with endeavour direct their awareness. Re-establishing and enhancing the individual’s competence to willingly express his/her attention is a major factor in maintaining human effectiveness in an environment.
  2. Perception and cognitive maps – How people perceive the natural and built environment has been an important aspect of environmental psychology. Information is memorised in the brain as spatial networks which is known a cognitive maps. This information links experiences with an individual’s perception of current actions, ideas and emotions. It is through these spatial networks that individuals recognize and perceive the environment, plan and conduct these plans.
  3. Ideal environments – People have a tendency to look for places where they feel self-assured and competent, where they can familiarise themselves with the environment whilst also being engaged with it. Research has extended the concept of environmental psychology to embrace unity (a sense that things in the environment work together) and legibility (the assumption that an individual can walk around in an environment without being lost) as contributors to environmental understanding. To investigate an environment and to engage in it requires that the environment has complexity (that it has enough information and diversity to make it worth learning about) and mystery (the expectation of acquiring more information about an environment). Maintaining, re-establishing and developing an ideal environment enhances an individual’s sense of well being and behavioural effectiveness in a person.
  4. Environmental stress and managing – Research has recognized various behavioural and cognitive results including poor physical health, reduced selflessness and weaknesses, as well as paying no attention to the environment. Individuals can adjust their physical or social surroundings to create a more supportive environment (e.g. smaller scaled settings, territories, privacy, personal space) where they can supervise the course of information or stress inducing stimuli. Individuals can also seek to understand or make sense of circumstances as a way to resolve its stressful effects, often sharing these interpretations with other individuals as a part of their culture.
  5. Involvement – Environmental psychology is dedicated to improve an individual’s participation in environmental design. It is focused not only on promoting an individual’s understanding of environmental issues but on ensuring their early and actual participation in the design, adjustment and organisation of environments.
  6. Protective behaviour – Environmental psychology has also played a key role in conveying psychological awareness to abide by the matter of developing an ecologically protracting society. The field also investigates environmental attitudes, perceptions and principles as well as planned involvement techniques for promoting environmentally appropriate behaviour.

These continual elements form an essential part in an individual’s perception of their environment as well as what to expect in that environment.

Gifford (1997) states that environmental psychology is also studied at three levels of analysis. The first level of analysis sorts and arranges each individual’s occurrence of the environment according to perceptions, cognition and personality. The next level of analysis is the collective organisation of space, which consists of four aspects namely; personal space, territory, crowding and privacy. The last level of analysis is the physical settings in which individuals find themselves every day.

2.1 Level of analysis

2.1.1 Perceptions, cognition and personality

As previously mentioned, individuals form certain perceptions of their environment and surroundings. According to Veith and Arkkelin (1995), perception is one of the most basic and fundamental psychological processes in which humans engage. In addition Veitch and Arkkelin (1995) also state that perceptions are highly cognitive, which means that all environments carry a set of meanings acquired through their specific attributes. Consequently, these meanings are established from the environment by the perceiver with reference to his or her personal beliefs, values and attitudes. Furthermore, Bechtel et al (2002) point out that the forming of perceptions of a physical setting is associated with a “molecular” approach to the spatial-physical environment. This means that it places specific attention on the discrete sensory-perceptual features of the environment. According to Bell et al (2005) the term sensory-perceptions has been applied to relatively straightforward activity of human sensory systems in reacting to a simple stimuli and forming a perception of the particular environment.

According to Bonnes et al (1995) the term environmental perception is also often used interchangeably with “environmental image”, “mental map” and “cognitive map”. However, according to Bell et al (2005) cognitive maps refer to a mental framework that holds some representation for the spatial arrangement of the physical environment. Furthermore, Salmi (2002) states that wayfinding and cognitive mapping are inseparable, and most humans carry many cognitive maps in their heads. Therefore, cognitive maps assist individuals with another aspect of environmental psychology namely; wayfinding.

Wayfinding according to Prestopnik and Roskos-Ewoldsen (2000) can be defined as the ability to navigate successfully through the environment. However, wayfinding according to Passini (1984) can be defined as the ability to identify one’s location and arrive at destinations in the environment, both cognitively and behaviourally.

Prestopnik and Roskos-Ewoldsen (2000) suggests that wayfinding can not be predicted in humans as different factors; internal and external, come into play. Internal factors include aspects of each individual, such as, gender, familiarity with the environment and the types of strategies the person uses to navigate through the environment (Hölscher et al 2006 and Spiers & Maguire 2008). External factors include aspects of the physical setting, such as, the density of the built environment, the availability of meaningful landmarks, and the pattern of the streets and intersections as well as staffed information booths (Salmi 2002).

Hölscher et al (2006; 2009) identified three wayfinding strategies that are used to support route choice decisions in three dimensional multi-level buildings.

  • Firstly, the central point strategy as sticking oneself, as much as possible, to main hallways and main places in the building, especially if the individual is unfamiliar with the building.
  • Secondly, the direction strategy of deciding on routes that leads towards the horizontal position of the goal as directly as possible, irrespective of changes in different levels.
  • Thirdly, the hierarchically organised navigation plan strategy. This strategy is based on cognitively sectioning the building into areas which guide navigation decisions.

However, Spiers and Maguire (2008) identified their own wayfinding strategies that assist individual’s with their wayfinding experience.

  1. Least-angle strategy suggests that paths are chosen that minimise deviation from the angle pointing directly to the goal.
  2. Fine-to-coarse strategy proposes that routes are planned in fine detail in the currently occupied region, but only coarsely when planning navigation between regions.
  3. Least-decision-load strategy implies that individuals will often choose the path with the least number of possible decision points.

As stated above, environmental psychology and the physical environment are influenced through wayfinding in a building, cognitive maps as well as perceptions of the environment. Another aspect that influences environmental psychology is personality of an individual. Gifford (1997) pointed out that there are five reasons why personality is an important part in environmental psychology. These five reasons are:

  1. Personality is strongly linked to the physical environment;
  2. Information of a person’s personality helps us to comprehend and foretell environmentally relevant behaviour;
  3. Individuals have dispositions that are particularly related to person-environment transactions;
  4. Personal dispositions are an essential aspect to one of environmental psychology’s most important concepts – environmental compatibility;
  5. The notion of personality can be applied to places instead of people.

Bonnes et al (1995) agree with Gifford (1997) on the third reason. They suggest that personality and the environment are related to the disposition of individuals.

2.1.2 Collective organisation of space

Spatial organisation or organisation of space is considered the first major component in wayfinding design because it not only defines the wayfinding problems of future users, but also affects the ease or difficulty users will experience in comprehending and cognitively mapping the setting (Passini, 1984). According to Prestopnik and Roskos-Ewoldsen (2000) spatial orientation tasks are influenced by the familiarity of the environment. Furthermore, Iachini et al (2009) state that unfamiliar participants learn the environment through a map, whereas familiar participants rely on their long term experiences with the environment.

According to Salmi (2002) there are key points to look out for in organisation of space. These points include:

  1. Architectural features in the building define different areas such as hallways, staircases etc. which assist the user with orientation in the building and increase the cognitive experience;
  2. Make sure that large-scale buildings have destination zones, such as an atrium, since it would assist the user to retrace his/her own path;
  3. Establish spatial overview opportunities so that a visitor can visualise a building’s design from different vantage points as it helps individuals to build a improved cognitive map;
  4. Consider the design of the building as a whole, the layout should not be confusing or allow visitors to get lost easily.

2.1.3 Physical settings

According to Salmi (2002) physical settings must accommodate an increasingly, diverse population as it is critical that the setting be designed to be as inclusive and universally accessible as possible, addressing the requirements of a wide range of physical, sensory and cognitive abilities and needs. Veitch and Arkkelin (1995) state that any number of behaviours can occur within any physical setting. Moreover, Bell et al (2005) declare that physical settings both facilitate and constrains or limits the behaviour that occurs in it. Veitch and Arkkelin (1995) added that attitude towards an environment will influence a person’s behaviours such as littering and attachment to the place.

With environmental psychology being such a diverse field with many different aspects, the interactions between the four phenomenon’s (privacy, crowding, territoriality and personal space) help to address problems associated with environmental psychology. Gifford (1997) also states that environmental psychology is aimed at making buildings more humane and improving our relationship with the natural environment.

3. Privacy

Privacy is an important phenomenon that each individual wants to achieve on a daily basis. There are many laws that have been established regarding individuals’ privacy, such as the right to privacy. Thus allowing individuals to have their own level of privacy. The level of privacy is measured in relation to the other social processes of environmental psychology namely; personal space, territoriality and crowding (Gifford 1997; Veitch and Arkkelin 1995, Bonnes et al 1995). In addition, according to Harris et al (1995) and Altman (1975) people use complex combinations of verbal, paraverbal, nonverbal and spatial mechanisms to attain a desired level of contact and degree of privacy. Faulkner et al (1994) state that the level of privacy is physical (sleeping, dressing) and psychological (for development and renewal).

According to Demirbas and Demirkan (2000), the definition of privacy varies for each individual due to the different personal characteristics, cultural backgrounds, sex, age, economical, educational and social backgrounds. Ding (2008) defines privacy as the personal control over interactions and/or communications with others. However, Gritzalis et al (2009) state that privacy can generally be defined as the right “to be left alone”, meaning that it represents a sphere where it is possible to remain separate from others, anonymous and unobserved. Therefore, it is evident that privacy refers to the manner in which individuals control or regulate other individuals’ access to themselves. However privacy does not necessary mean withdrawing from people (Pederson, 1999; Marshall, 1972), instead it involves controlling the amount and type of contact one has with others.

Gifford (1997) further declares that it is not easy to assess privacy because of its complex nature; as it has been measured in terms of preference, behaviour, need and expectation of each individual. Bonnes et al (1995) also state that the major interest of empirical research has been to study and measure the more strictly motivational and evaluative aspects such as; needs, expectations and values that individuals variously associate with privacy. Harris et al (1995) state that the universal aspects of privacy regulations are suggested by the apparent relationship between privacy, place attachment and quality of life.

Cassidy (1997) pointed out that not everyone will react in the same way with regard to privacy. According to Altman (1975) and Westin (1970) there are certain characteristics that influence privacy such as:

  • Individuals’ need for privacy is a continuing dynamic of changing internal and external conditions
  • External and internal conditions are affected by privacy achieved
  • Individuals effort to control privacy may be unsuccessful at some times
  • Privacy can take different forms as it has many dimensions.

3.1 Types of privacy

Demirbas and Demirkan (2000) also state that there are four types of privacy namely; solitude, reserve, anonymity and intimacy. Solitude refers to being alone and unobserved by others, which is either a neutral or desirable condition. Reserve, in turn, means that individuals form barriers between themselves and their environments which regulate intrusion. Anonymity is a type of privacy that gives individuals a chance to move around in a public environment without other people recognising them. Intimacy refers to an individual’s aspiration to encourage close personal relationships with only preferred individuals. Additionally, Pederson (1999) identifies two more types of privacy; intimacy with family (being alone with family) and intimacy with friends (being alone with friends).

According to Harris et al (1995) social functions of privacy and privacy regulation are central to psychological well-being. Privacy regulation refers to selective control over access to the self or to one’s group (Altman 1975). Thus, making it clear that regulation of the types of privacy, mentioned above, is a function of both personal and situational factors. Personal factors refer to the individual’s need for privacy, personal attractiveness, interpersonal skills, personality variables and ability to utilise privacy control mechanisms (Pederson, 1999). Situational factors may be social or physical. Social factors are presence, willingness and personal characteristics of others who have the potential for social interaction. Physical factors entail aspects such as barriers, location, layout and distances (Pederson, 1999).

3.2 Benefits and functions of privacy

The psychological benefits of privacy reflect the function of privacy. Privacy supports social interaction which, in turn, affects our competence to deal with our world, which affects our self-definition (Altman, 1975). Therefore, the benefits of privacy arise from achieving its functions. According to Margulis (2005) the benefits of privacy are:

  • Privacy is a basis for the development of identity,
  • Privacy protects personal autonomy,
  • Privacy supports healthy functioning by providing needed opportunities to relax, to one’s self, to emotionally vent, to escape from the stresses of daily life, to manage bodily and sexual functions and to cope with loss, shock, and sorrow.

However Keenan (2005) identifies other categories that capture the kinds of benefits privacy holds for people:

  • Natural and psychological benefits: privacy provides physical, psychological and spiritual benefits to individuals. Individuals have certain needs, such as security and connectedness, that they want to satisfy, but invasion of privacy destroys one’s sense of connectedness;
  • Creative benefits: many people see privacy as conductive to creativity. Individuals have the need to have their own rooms where they are away from other people and regulate their privacy;
  • Protective benefits: this refers to physical invasion of individuals’ sense of being safe and secure such as, the protection of one’s home from burglary;
  • Social benefits: individuals have the ability to regulate their own invasion of privacy and allow people they know or do not know to invade that privacy on a social basis;
  • Democratic benefits: privacy is self-determining – each individual has the “right to be left alone”.

According to Veitch snd Arkkelin (1995) the functions of privacy are: the achievement of a self-identity and the management of interactions between oneself and the social environment. According to Margulis (2005), privacy is important because it provides us with experiences that support normal psychological functioning, stable interpersonal relationships, and personal development.

3.3 Achieving privacy in design

Individuals have a definite desire to a certain level of privacy in their homes. Privacy, in an architectural manner, can be defined as; the ability of individuals and families to lead their own lives without either interfering – or being interfered by the lives of others (Goodchild 1997). According to Faulkner et al (1994) a home provides privacy from outsiders with walls that protect the individual from physical, visual and various degrees of acoustical intrusion. Furthermore, Goodchild (1997) identifies three types of privacy in designing a house, whether in the house or outside the house:

Firstly, privacy means circumventing problems with neighbours. Problems could arise when the layout of the resident and the type of housing is not correct such as; the walls of the enclosed area of each person’s house are not high enough, which influences privacy.

Secondly, privacy means a sense of seclusion. It means freedom from overlooking and freedom form invasive noise. This could be achieved by using noise insulation techniques and higher walls to increase space between neighbours.

Thirdly, privacy means freedom from disturbance from other people, either guests or members of the same family, within the home. The level of privacy inside the home is determined by the number of different rooms in relation to the family size. Faulkner et al (1994) also states that the floor plan sets the privacy levels at which the home functions such as; open floor plan or closed floor plan.

3.4 Mechanisms of privacy

Four aspects of privacy regulation mechanisms have been identified through data by Westin (1970) and Kent (1993). Firstly, privacy controls provide standards of behaviour for individuals and groups. Secondly, privacy creates an option between isolation and interaction, and can create the perception of being by yourself. Thirdly, individuals, groups, and societies tend to enter the privacy of others; curiosity is an example of this aspects. Fourthly, as society moves form primeval to contemporary, the physical and psychological opportunities for privacy increase.

According to Bonnes et al (1995) and Altman (1975) personal space and territorial behaviour are used by individuals primarily to regulate privacy and to maintain their openness/closedness towards others at optimal levels. Additionally, Harris et al (1996) suggest that when individuals are confronted with negative privacy experiences, they will use a variety of privacy regulation mechanisms including verbal and nonverbal behaviours, cognitive, environmental, temporal and cultural mechanisms. Altman (1975) further suggests that the effectiveness and ease of implementing privacy regulation mechanisms may vary considerably across individuals and across social, physical and temporal context. Consequently, by combining these mechanisms individuals can efficiently express their needed level of privacy to others in order to attain the optimal level of privacy.

Altman (1975) developed a framework for understanding the mechanisms of privacy regulation. This framework can be used as a summary of all of the above mentioned aspects of privacy (see figure 2). This figure indicates that privacy is a central concept that links the different phenomenons of environmental psychology (personal space, territoriality and crowding) with privacy regulation mechanisms.

4. Territoriality

The phenomenon territoriality is extremely widespread in the field of environmental psychology since it consists of many different definitions. According to Gifford (1997) there are different variables that influence territoriality such as; dominance, conflict, security, claim staking, arousal, vigilance, behaviour and cognition to place. Gifford (1997) also states that a formal definition for territoriality is:

“is a pattern of behaviour and attitudes held by an individual or group that is based on perceived, attempted, or actual control of a definable physical space, object or idea that may involve habitual occupation, defense, personalisation and marking of it.”

However territoriality, according to Veitch and Arkkelin (1995) can be defined as:

    “behaviour by which an organism characteristically lays claim to an area and defend it against intrusion by members of his or her own species”.

According to Altman (1975) territories exist to meet both physical and social needs, while being temporarily or permanently owned, controlled, marked or personalised and potentially defended by occupants or owners. On the other hand, territoriality comprises a specific set of affective, cognitive and behavioural tendencies expressed towards the territory (Altman 1975). Faulkner et al (1994) agrees with Altman (1975), however sug

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