A Year of Writing About Environmental Psychology Summarized in 10 Points

It’s been a year since I started writing about relations between people’s environment and their feelings, thoughts and behaviour. I find Mind Shaped Box’s first birthday a great opportunity to summarize what were, for me, the most significant points over the past year. I decided that there should be 10 of them.

by hownowdesign

With 29 topics in environmental psychology covered, I’d like to start with 3 of my favourites posts:

Point No.1 The first is the post about research revelling that children residing in higher-quality housing were found to have greater socioemotional wellbeing, independently of family income. Thus, a good home doesn’t equal wealthy home, but the one with accessible children’s resources, and the one that’s safe, clean, private etc. For me, this is the core of what environmental psychology should be about – stressing the importance of taking care of our environment and supporting the idea with research. However, this turned out to my most neglected post, since out of 12 000 visits to the blog, only 17 people actually read this post. Go figure.

photo by hownowdesign

Point No.2 Another post, based on a review of literature on consequences of high-rise living, represents a topic I’d like to know more about. I wish there were more research including architectural and design variables like housing type, housing size, floor plans, window size, etc.

Wilis Tower, Chicago; photo  by contemplative imaging

Point No.3 Being a school psychologist, I feel strongly about the relation between academic performance and school building condition.

Then, here are the 3 most popular posts (funny, but I can never guess which posts will be liked more than others; it’s always a surprise to me):

Point No.4 The post about environmental cues that prompt us to eat more got its 3000 visitors after being submitted to a Reddit sub forum about weight loss.

Point No.5 The idea that thinking process could be affected by ceiling height of the room was also interesting to some Redditors making it the second most popular post with around 2000 visits.

Seattle Public Library, U.S.; photo by David Zeibin

Point No.6 The third most popular is a post about counseling office decor, and most people who read it, had found it via search engines. I did a follow-up on displaying diplomas in therapist offices, since it seems that in the field where psychology and decor overlap, most people are looking for info on counseling decor.

 photo by favaro JR.

I am very curious about how people find my site, so I was surprised find out that after Reddit and Google, my most influential refferer was a blogger (obviously a popular one) Ran Prieur, a writer and thinker who just randomly mentioned one of my posts. If anything, it thought me of the importance of networking. The truth is, I could really benefit from the feedback by other people interested in this field, so I’ll easily set my priorities for the next year: continuous writing (maybe with a broader range of topics – as an empirically trained psychologist, I’m still warming up to the idea that I could write anything that’s not supported by research!), and, yes, networking!

What’s that in London?; photo by Jonnee

Here come the major challenges I expect on that journey – from my limited experience so far, I could sort reactions on research in environmental psychology into three categories:

Point No.7 Random people who don’t have any professional interest in the field or anywhere close will say: “That’s kind of obvious. I can’t belive that somebody actually investigated this.”  For instance, they think it’s obvious that high ceilings facilitate abstract thinking, and low ceilings facilitate sequential, detail-oriented thinking.

It’s an elephant in London!; photo by king_david_uk
Point No.8 Psychologists won’t be bothered by the lay people’s reaction and will call it a hindsight bias, but will say: “The flaws of this research design are that, that, that and that. You can’t be sure in this conclusion.”  They’ll question the validity of the conclusion that high ceilings help abstract thinking, because the research design isn’t perfect. By the way,  it’s not possible for a research design in social sciences to be flawless, but we are just very well-trained in finding flaws, so that’s what we do (is it because we like to show off how smart we are in this domain?). We always find discussing flaws to be more interesting than actually dealing with the findings.

An elephant in Singapore; photo by chooyutshing

Point No.9 And architects, well, they’ll show what they’re good at. “High ceilings were used by this famous architect, and that famous architect, and in this era and that era.” I don’t really get the feeling that they think of implementing research findings into their work. I might be wrong, but it seems to me that they’re getting professional acclaim  for being individualist, daring, and pushing people out their comfort zone, and not so much for serving their clients well and making comfy homes for them. I belive that there’s room for Eiffel towers of the world, that is, ingenious dwellings which are ahead of their time, and are thus misunderstood and disliked by their contemporists. However, it’s good that there’s only one Eiffel tower in Paris. Most of the existing architecture is and should be comfotable for common people to look at and live in, and I think  that kind of architecture deserves more attention.

An elephant in Amsterdam; photo by asmo23

Point No.10 Well, if there was to be only one point of this post, it would be this one. What I miss about the aforementioned three reactions is communication. Even though there’s a scientific field that connects the interests of psychologists, architects and all the people who want to improve their homes, we manage to remain in parallel universes by treating findings the way it suits us.

Elephant parade 2010, London; photo by Matt From London

I hope that, by now, you’re wondering what’s the deal with all the elephants. My images are rarely that random. Well, here’s the deal. This lack of real communication between different experts reminds me of the story of 6 blind men and the elephant. If you don’t know of it, here it is: Six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.

Elephant parade 2011, Singapore; photo by chooyutshing

They all stick to what is known to them and belive that they’re right and that others must be wrong. Since they all are right, but partly, only by accepting the experiences of others they would be able to gain a greater understanding of what an elephant is. It’s very similar with environmental psychology because there needs to be real, constructive interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration in order for it to grow to its full potential.

Elephant parade 2010, London; photo by visionet

Environmental psychology is one of my elephants and intend to examine it from different angles. It would be great if more people would add up to this journey. I belive that it has a lot to offer when it comes to improving our quality of life, but if depends on every one of us how much we are willing to accept.

***Anyway, happy bithday, MSB!***

by Diego Dalmaso


10 Responses to “A Year of Writing About Environmental Psychology Summarized in 10 Points”

  1. I visited your blog yesterday for the first time and I would like to say that I’m loving it! I am a lay person (when speaking about environmental psychology), who has a keen interest in interior design, and I’ve been trying to find information on the link between environment (especially “home”), the effects that it has on you psychologically, and specifically how you can design an environment to promote mental wellness and overall happiness. Your blog is the most informative website that I have found so far in months of searching.

    Your post about children and their quality of housing was my favourite – so even if it wasn’t the most popular post, I hope that you continue to write blog posts like this.

    Congratulations on one year of writing! I’m looking forward to being here for your next year of writing!

  2. Hey, thank you for stopping by and commenting! It’s great to know that that you like and search for the same things as I do. Please feel free to share your insights anytime. Lets make the most of research in environmental psychology 😉

  3. Congratz & keep inspiring me! 😉

  4. Hi, I just discovered your blog. Thanks for the interesting collection of research and thoughts on the impact of built environment on people.

    On your points 9 and 10, I did a presentation to point out the mutual interest of architects and researchers to work together more. It’s here: http://prezi.com/opv_ru1mk1te/health-by-design/?goback=%2Egmr_3315452%2Egde_3315452_member_95743817

    Keep up the good work – I’ll be back for more inspiration.

    • Hi Peter, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I checked your presentation and I must say I really liked the skin-clothes-buildings parallels. And your prezi design is great, too! It would make a great poster for, say, collaborative symposium for researchers and practitioners in the field of architecture and design.

  5. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I hate that psychology often gets stuck as just part of the elephant and isn’t integrated as I feel holistic thinking is what really makes a difference and promotes progress. I have similar goals I feel to you, but coming not from an environmental angle but a holistic medicine angle. It is so important to increase communication between experts of different arenas!

    • I agree, it’s sometimes hard to belive how experts can be blinded by one dominant paradigm, when it clearly can’t explain all the phenomena of interest. Medicine is a great example of such field where one model doesn’t help as we’d like it to. However, it seems to me that medicine is opening up in recent years to “new” ideas, no? For one thing, it implements the findings of environmental psychology research quite well.


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