Environmental Psychologist Careers

The Basics

If you have ever felt tense and alert in a room with red walls and more relaxed in a room the color of the blue sky, you are not alone. Even ceiling height has an effect on thought process and our ability to solve certain types of problems. We tend to feel productive and safe in some surroundings, while other environments can make us feel uneasy and confined.

Environmental psychology is concentrated on solving environmental problems with an eye toward enhancing the wellbeing of people within the context of society. The results of environmental psychology research are used to predict human behavior and create appropriate environments for the task at hand.

What is an Environmental Psychologist?

An environmental psychologist investigates how people are affected by their environments. They examine how the home, workplace and school make people feel, and how these environments prompt people to act. They look into natural settings as well as the layout of towns and cities, and the cultural centers within them.

Environmental psychologists make recommendations for changing the environment to encourage a particular behavior. For example, they may look at a store in order to find ways to encourage shoppers to buy more products, or they may be hired by a company to improve the workplace environment in order to enhance the productivity of workers.

What Does an Environmental Psychologist Do?

Environmental psychologists deal with issues such as how environmental stress affects performance, what constitutes a restorative environment, and how people process information in various types of environments. They focus on natural environments and social settings as well as constructed buildings.

There is an increasing understanding that an individual’s surroundings have a profound effect on how they feel, think and behave. Environmental psychologists study how the environment can have an effect on people in unintentional ways. They look at environmental consequences and the social as well as physical environment in order to determine the ideal settings for various populations as they go about their daily lives.

Environmental psychologists may contribute ideas and recommendations to people in government, in private industry, in hospitals, in schools and in a retail environment. For example, they may take into consideration smells, sounds and temperature when making suggestions in schools to encourage productivity and learning.

Environmental psychologists may conduct studies and analyze data. They then communicate their findings to the people who make the decisions and set policy within a company or an organization. The environmental psychologist often takes a multidisciplinary approach and specializes in a particular area. For example, an environmental psychologist interested in studying buildings may have a background in architecture and construction as well as psychology.

An environmental psychologist interviews people, makes direct observations and reviews an organization’s plans for the future. They might conduct experiments to find the best solution to improve existing features of the environment. They determine how an individual’s thoughts and actions are affected by their environment. They may be called upon to present their ideas and recommendations in public forums, especially in the case of municipal and civil projects that affect residents.

What are the Benefits of Environmental Psychology?

Studies show that our environment affects us more than we ever realized. Lighting, open spaces, color and crowding all have an effect on human behavior. By researching the environment and making suggestions for positive change, environmental psychology can enable people to learn better in a school environment, feel more comfortable and relaxed at home and become more productive at work.

Environmental psychology can help people become more creative and innovative, or pay more attention to detail just by changing their physical environment. Research shows that a task like doing algebra that demands focus and accuracy is best done in a space with a low ceiling and red walls. However a task requiring creativity is best done in a room with plenty of windows, sky blue walls and high ceilings.

Using color coded pathways in sprawling hospitals and appropriate signage inside complex buildings is an example of the benefit of environmental psychology. Open spaces and plazas in cities, benches and winding pathways in public spaces are another example. Environmental psychology has shown that customers tend to feel more favorable to a business that publicizes its support of environmental protection.

Where Does an Environmental Psychologist Work?

An environmental psychologist may work in either the private or the public sector. They often conduct research and consult with decision makers to improve the environment for employees, homeowners, educational institutions or the public at large. Environmental psychologists may be employed by a governmental agency, an architectural firm, an urban planning center or a consumer research center where they do marketing research.

What are the Requirements to Become an Environmental Psychologist?

Aspiring environmental psychologists begin by earning a four-year bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related subject area. They then earn a graduate degree in environmental psychology or a graduate degree in psychology with a concentration in environmental psychology. Those with a master’s degree may find an entry-level position, but for optimum career advancement opportunities a doctoral degree is required. Furthermore, in most states, licensure is required before one can call him/herself a “psychologist”.

The Master of Science in Environmental Psychology is a two-year course of studies designed for aspiring psychologists, architects and environmental designers. Environmental psychology students study human perception and sociology as well as general principles of psychology, along with social psychology, public space, environmental science and urban studies. Lab and classroom courses instruct students on monitoring the effects of the environment on behavior. They learn how to implement restorative environments, help with property resource management and put durable conservation plans into effect. A thesis or project is generally required for graduation.

A two – five year doctoral program provides coursework in foundations of social, personal and environmental psychology, statistics and research design in the first year. The second year focuses on a research project and advanced quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as social science theories. Students may take courses in ethnography, social justice, visual methods and youth marginalization. During the third, fourth and fifth years of doctoral study, the student completes a project, takes electives, takes a second doctoral examination and presents a dissertation proposal.

Environmental psychologists generally must obtain a license to practice, although requirements vary by state. Psychologists typically need to have an APA accredited doctoral degree and hands-on training through supervised experience, a year-long internship or a residency program. Professional certifications and licenses allow psychologists to practice within the scope of their expertise. The Association of State and Provincial Licensing Boards provides specific information on specific state requirements. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) awards certification in several specialty areas.

What Does it Take to be an Environmental Psychologist?

  • Observational Skills: Environmental psychologists need strong observational skills to gather information and identify environmental problems.
  • Analytic Skills: Environmental psychologists need analytic skills to assess the results of their research and make recommendations based on their findings.
  • Communication Skills: Individuals in this field need excellent communication skills to present their ideas and recommendations to decision makers.
  • Problem-solving Skills: Environmental psychologists need problem-solving skills to figure out effective ways to improve the environment.
  • Detail Oriented: One must pay attention to details so that their research results are accurate.
  • Critical Thinking Skills: Environmental psychologists must be able to design appropriate experiments and comprehend data results.
  • Creativity: Environmental psychologists must have an open mind and be open to innovative solutions to environmental problems.

What Do You Learn in an Environmental Psychology Degree?

Environmental psychology coursework provides students with an understanding of human behavior and how it is affected by social, natural and constructed environments. Courses may include:

  • Human attention to the environment: This topic covers human affect, cognition and behavior as it relates to natural, social and constructed environments.
  • Ethics: Environmental ethics focuses on the moral relationship of people to the environment, including topics like biodiversity as an ethical goal, social ecology and anthropocentrism (human centeredness).
  • Human coping mechanisms: Students learn about coping mechanisms like adaptive mechanisms that offer positive help, attack mechanisms that push discomfort onto others, and avoidance mechanisms that avoid the issue altogether.
  • Environmental stress: Stress occurs when an event or stimulus requires the individual to change in some way. This course studies environmental stressors such as noise, crowding, air quality, colors, natural disasters, war, light and insects.
  • Statistics: Statistics courses deal with the study of collection, analysis, interpretation, presentation and organization of data.
  • Conservation behavior and psychology: The scientific study of reciprocal relationships between people and nature, focusing on encouraging the conservation of the natural world.
  • Research methods: Students are taught to conduct experiments in the natural environment of the participants in situations that are set up artificially.
  • Perception and cognitive maps: Coursework focuses on how people perceive the world around them and how they form cognitive maps, a type of mental representation which enables the person to acquire, store and recall information about his environment.
  • Preferred environments for humans: The study of places where people feel competent to make sense of the environment while being engaged with it. In a preferred environment, people have a sense of coherence where all the parts of the environment fit together and feel right, increasing health, a sense of wellbeing and behavioral effectiveness.

What is an Online Environmental Psychology Degree?

There are many online environmental psychology programs available throughout the U.S., all at the master’s or doctoral levels. Some of these programs pair the study of environmental psychology with another discipline, such as population studies, applied psychology, or environmental studies. Some programs terminate with a master’s degree while others allow students to pursue a master’s degree en route to a doctorate. Institutions that do not offer a degree in environmental psychology may offer areas of specialization within the field of environmental psychology as part of studies in another area of psychology, such as health psychology.

Like campus-based programs, online environmental psychology programs typically focus on the following areas of study:

  • Environmental health
  • Ecology
  • Human coping mechanisms
  • Conservation
  • Perception and cognitive maps
  • Human-environment interaction

Online programs facilitate learning through rich, interactive environments. Students in these programs interact with one another and their professors through email, voice and video chats, and online class chat experiences. Students are able to ask and answer questions, get feedback from professors, and submit their assignments, all completely online. This option makes for highly convenient learning for students that have other duties to attend to, such as family or work obligations.

Studies in environmental psychology usually take two years to complete a master’s program. This includes a thesis component, which most programs in this field require. Students that wish to pursue a doctorate should plan on an additional 3-5 years of study beyond that in the graduate program.

To be admitted to a graduate program in this field, students typically must have a bachelor’s degree. Some programs further require the bachelor’s degree to be in a related area of study, such as psychology, natural resources, or human behavior. Many graduate programs also require applicants to earn a satisfactory score on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) as well as have appropriate grades, letters of recommendation from faculty members, and a written personal statement outlining why they are pursuing a degree in environmental psychology.

How Much Does an Environmental Psychologist Make?

According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual wage for all psychologists in May, 2012 was $69,280. The top ten percent earned over $110,880, while the lowest ten percent earned less than $38,720. The median annual wage for psychologists other than industrial-organizational, clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $90,020.

What is the Job Outlook for Environmental Psychologists?

According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the employment picture for all psychologists is expected to expand by 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is around the same for the average of all occupations.

Growth in employment for psychologists will vary according to the psychologist’s area of specialty. Industrial-organizational psychologists are projected to see employment growth of a whopping 53 percent, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Competition for employment will also vary according to specialty. Those with a master’s degree will face stiff competition due to the large number of qualified candidates. Employment prospects are best for those with a specialist or doctoral degree.

What Careers are Similar to Environmental Psychology?

Cognitive Psychologist: Cognitive psychologists focus on how people acquire, process and store information.

Sports Psychologist: Sports psychologists work with professionals and amateurs to help them do their best in sports. They study what makes some people natural competitors, and how playing sports affects people both emotionally and mentally.

Market Research Analyst: Market research analysts examine the factors that typically motivate customers to make a purchase or avail themselves of a service.

City Planner: A city planner or an urban planner analyzes land use and works to optimize the effectiveness of a city’s infrastructure.

Environmental Health Professional: An environmental health scientist studies how the air, water and land affect our health, as well as man-made or constructed environmental elements.

Researcher: A researcher collects and analyzes data to increase our understanding of the topic being investigated.

Social Psychologist: A social psychologist studies individuals and their relationship with other people. They focus on how a person’s behavior and feelings are influenced by their social interactions.

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