Ecological psychology is an interdisciplinary field that emphasizes the relationship between people and their environment. This field is also referred to as “environmental psychology” by some. But many people believe the two are slightly different sub-fields, with ecological psychology being more concerned with human beings in natural settings, while environmental psychology is concerned with humans in both natural and man-made environments.
One of the tenets of ecological psychology is that humans and other animals are, in large part, products of their environment; and so, in order to understand people’s behavior, you have to understand the environment the person is in. As an example, people act differently in a church than they do in a bar. To understand a person’s behavior, therefore, the person’s environment must be studied.
Ecological psychology theory suggests that, since humans as a species lived out in nature for centuries before civilization began, humans are inherently conditioned to function in a natural environment. Ecological psychologists study animals and humans in natural settings in order to determine the roles they were originally intended to play in nature. By studying how animals react out in nature to their surrounds, psychologists can learn much about natural human behavior and instincts.
Ecological psychologists believe that people who were raised in man-made environments have made unnatural adjustments in their attitudes and personalities that have fundamentally altered them, and not necessarily for their betterment. One basic idea is that spending time out in nature can help people re-discover basic instincts and behaviors that have been stunted or altered by contact with civilization.
Degrees in Ecological Psychology
At the undergraduate level, degree programs aren’t currently available for ecological psychology, though you might find a school that offers a minor or a concentration in it. Students need to get a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in either general psychology or social psychology, preferably the latter.
Here are some recommended undergraduate subjects for students of ecological psychology:
- Abnormal psychology
- Social psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Cognition and learning
- Sensation and perception
- Psychological research
- Research methods
- Learning and motivation
It’s hard to find master’s degree programs in ecological psychology. There are a few available that combine ecological psychology with either environmental psychology or community psychology into one degree program. Some schools offer a concentration in ecological psychology. You might have to build your own program.
However, there are many relevant master’s programs available including: Master’s in Human Relations, Master’s in Psychology with a concentration in Ecopsychology , Master’s in Applied Psychology with a concentration in Human Factors, Master’s in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental/Conservation Psychology, Master of Philosophy in Human Ecology, and Master of Science in the Built Environment.
In addition to loading up on classes in ecology and the natural world, here are some other typical graduate classes:
- History and Theory in Ecological Psychology
- Field Research in Psychology
- Quantitative Research Design and Analysis in Psychology
- Models of Community Change
- Statistics in Social Psychology
- Intervention and Social Change
- Advanced Social Psychology
- Ecological Social Psychology
- Ecological Foundations of Psychology
- Introduction to Complex Systems
- Approaches to Emergent Structure
- Cognitive Systems Theory
- Control and Coordination of Movement
- Ecological and Computational Theories of Perception
- Nonlinear Dynamics and Movement Control
- Evolution and Development
- Measuring and Modeling Neural Activity
Master’s degrees can usually be completed in two years, as can doctor’s degrees. A handful of schools offer doctor’s degree programs in ecological psychology.
Expect to spend time out in nature. Ecological psychologists believe that the sterile environments of laboratories aren’t conducive to experiments, preferring instead to conduct them in the outdoors.
Ecological psychologists often work for environmental groups, governmental agencies, universities or non-profit organizations, often as part of a team.
Some ecological psychologists can also become community or environmental activists, striving for social change. Other career opportunities include:
- Environmental Psychologist
- Environmental Market Research Analyst
- Environmental Psychology Professor
- Human Factors Specialist
- Research Coordinator
- Urban Planning Project Manager
- Ergonomics Specialist
- Community Development Coordinator
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median 2012 annual wage for “psychologists. other” (which includes ecological psychologists) was $88,400 and the mean hourly wage was $42.50.