Environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field that examines the relationship between environments and human behavior. Here the term environment is defined very broadly - it encompasses material objects, plants, animals and human beings. Unlike other branches of psychology, environmental psychology does not focus on the interaction among people but on the interaction between people and their surroundings. Here people and organisms in general are seen as part of an ecosystem with a focus on the interdependence of organisms and the environment. Environmental psychology is a holistic and naturalistic field of science that appeared during the 1960s. It has become increasingly important due to widespread environmental problems caused by pollution, population boom and depletion of natural resources.
Environmental psychology was born from the mutual desire of social scientists and designers, particularly architects, to work together and create buildings that would be better for people. Although the initial enthusiasm has waned considerably, some design fields such as interior design and landscape architecture are showing increased interest in behavioral science research, which is not unusual considering the belief that design can make a difference in people's lives. Still, there is a direct link between environmental psychology and design, which is clear from the existence of special guidelines for design of specialized facilities such as medical facilities, facilities for people with special needs, daycare centers and schools.
Environment is said to influence human behavior at different levels. For example, the way we interact with other people in the same room may be influenced by the arrangement of the furniture. The nature and type of environment in a country shapes the personality of its people. Some scholars even posit that different races have different characteristic personalities as for generations they have been subjected to influence of different environments. One example of how the environment can influence people's behaviors is the effect that climate is said to have on people's temperament. Cold climate is considered to make people practical and to foster linear intelligence, making their approach to the environment more aggressive and competitive. The reason for this is that the cold climate leads to a feeling of insecurity and a need to keep working in order to keep the body warm. Such harsh environment also makes people plan ahead, hoard food, firewood and other resources. Warm climate is, in contrast, assumed to make people lazy and inert due to the fact that it is unpleasant to keep working when it is hot and it is easy to extract resources throughout the year. This kind of climate makes people less aggressive and competitive, with an attitude of fear and superstition toward the environment. On the other hand, people who live in places with moderate climate are seen as having a holistic, intuitive and well-balanced temperament. These people are aware of the fact that the environment plays a vital role in their well-being, which results in a need to preserve the natural environment.
Humans, like other animals, tend to develop deranged behaviors when placed in unnatural settings. Many animals living in unnatural or caged conditions show symptoms of abnormal behavior. Studies have shown that the natural habitats of animals are closely related to their behavior needs. For example, a polar bear feels a need to perform the movements involved in catching fish, a natural activity for survival in the wild, even when in captivity. In addition, if the population density of a species grows beyond the optimum point, this is said to lead to aggression and breakdown of behavior. In a similar way urbanization may have a negative effect on human behavior, a theory that has been supported by a number of studies. When living in artificial and overpopulated urban conditions, people tend to become more aggressive or experience other types of behavior breakdown. For example, the rates of mental illnesses and crime are highest in big cities.
Another topic of study for environmental psychologists is how different types of neighborhood (for example red light areas and slums) influence emerging behavior patterns in people. Researchers are also interested in how behavior of inmates is affected by various characteristics of the institutions they are placed in. The effects of monotonous environments and isolation are also a research area for environmental psychologists. By studying the effects that different settings have on people's behavior environmental psychologists may help create, maintain and protect environmental conditions that enhance reasonable and creative behavior. Environmental psychology is also seen as a way to study and alter ecologically destructive behaviors.