Environmental Psychology

trillium, April 2009
trillium, April 2009

Yesterday was the first sunburn of the season, gained walking, cycling and photographing before the thunderstorms set in. I’m very fair, and I know I shouldn’t go out without sunblock and I should limit my UV exposure and all those other skin-cancer prevention strategies, but I can’t help it; in the face of a sunny day with everything budding and blooming, I crumble. (Keep in mind, too, that I’m allergic to anything with fur, feathers, pollen or spores, so that one might expect I would be the last person to spend time outside; instead I’m outside whenever I can possibly manage it.)

The trilliums are just shy of blooming. I give them another week before the flowers are open. Bloodroot was everywhere a week ago; I didn’t see much of it this weekend, though. Is it over already? The trout lilies were wide open, bent back, and will be going to seed soon.

It’s not that I’m opposed to creature comforts (as I sit here on the couch in my pajamas with my laptop), but outside, oddly, is home.

All right, I’m strange. No matter how much you enjoy the outdoors, you probably feel more at home on your sofa than in the woods. But studies in environmental psychology repeatedly show the benefits to people of exposure to non-human nature. Those who are ill recover faster in a room with a view of a tree. A forty-minute walk in a natural setting is more restorative than a similar walk in an urban setting. No matter how we try to separate civilization from nature, the former remains entirely a subset of the latter; no matter how much we pretend to be separate, humans are still animals.

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So why are so few of us nature-lovers? How can we so easily accept intellectually an idea–the separation of humans from the rest of the world–entirely at odds with fact and with our health? You’d think that getting people to fall in love with nature would be easy.

3 thoughts on “Environmental Psychology”

  1. I never before heard the term “environmental psychology.”

    Some people eat chocolate when they feel bad. Like you, I take a walk outside. I find it restorative. Of course, both you and I live in places with easy access to woodlots.

    1. Environmental Psychology is a whole field, mostly concerned with what environmental designs make for good mental health (anything from architecture to interior design to gardens to density etc. etc.), but traditional definitions of “environmental” i.e. green are a popular and important subset.

      I’ve never known chocolate and walks to be mutually exclusive–if people can walk and chew gum at the same time, surely they can walk and eat chocolate? And it doesn’t have to be wild, or big, or native, or anything really; a tree outside a hospital window hardly counts as access to a woodlot, but it helps. It’s just so odd to me, that something that makes people feel good and looks beautiful and is good for our health so routinely loses out to television (which people report feeling depressed while watching, and it is also bad for our health etc.). You’d think, or I’d think, that getting people to love non-human nature would be as easy as getting them to love their kids. Yet it clearly is not.

  2. Now that I know what enviro psychology is : ) I interpret this post a bit differently. I was thinking more about how people self-medicate for depression or loneliness — hence the chocolate reference.

    The campus where I work has two buildings, one old and one new. In the old building, the conference rooms are located along the edges of the building — that is, beside the windows. People work in cubicles in the interior; they get no natural light and can’t see the outside, since the conference room walls block the windows. In the new building, on the other hand, the conference rooms are in the interior and the cubicles are along the edges. Also the ceilings & windows are quite high. So from any cube in that new building, you can see the sky. Guess which building people enjoy the most?

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