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Policy and Social Behaviour: Introduction to Environmental Psychology


Admission requirements

MSc in Psychology students.


Many of the pressing issues that confront society involve social behaviour in relation to the environment. This course will address how social behaviour affects the environment and vice versa, and how policy measures, and interventions more in general, can be an effective tool for behavioural change.

Each meeting will be devoted to a specific issue within environmental psychology. For example:

  • we will discuss the way people evaluate the presence of large crowds, and situations of high density, how they react to these situations and how environmental alterations may improve well-being.

  • We will focus on environmental determinants of crime, safety and risk, and how people cope with these: What determines their experience of risk, how does this deviate from experts’ risk assessments, and what measures can be appropriate to reduce risk.

  • We will not only look at the built environment and the technology that surrounds 21st-century man, but also at nature. People generally like nature, but why, and to what extent? What effects can be expected from exposure to natural environments?

  • Attention will also be given to the difference between individual and collective interests (social dilemmas), which plays a role in a range of environmental issues, ranging from the number of parking places in a neighbourhood to the greenhouse effect. What psychological mechanisms drive environmentally relevant behaviour and how can interventions be designed to change behaviour in a pro-environmental sense?
    For each meeting students will read a set of papers in advance, to be discussed during the session.

Course objectives

The student

  • Has specialized knowledge of social psychological theories about behaviour in social-environmental settings.

  • Can, at basic level, make use of theories that are common in social psychology to get a grip on environmental problems.


Policy and Social Behaviour: Introduction to Environmental Psychology (2011-2012):

Mode of instruction

Seven seminars/lectures, presentations of research.

Assessment method

Final written exam with essay questions.

From January 1, 2006 the Faculty of Social Sciences has instituted the Ephorus system to be used by instructors for the systematic detection of plagiarism in students’ written work. Please see the information concerning fraud .


Information on

Reading list

Program and papers discussed in Meeting 1 to 7 (e-links provided in Blackboard)

Meeting 1: Setting the Scene.

Introduction of the course and discussion of 5 papers that give an impression of the history, wide range of topics, and “feel” of environmental psychology

  • Wohlwill, J. F. (1970). The emerging discipline of environmental psychology. American Psychologist, 25, 303-312

  • Goldberg, T. (1969). The Automobile. A Social Institution for Adolescents. Environment and Behavior, 1, 152-185

  • Wells, M. M., Thelen, L., & Ruark, J. (2007). Workspace personalization and organizational culture. Does your workspace reflect you or your company? Environment and Behavior, 39, 616-634.

  • Du Nann Winter, D. (2000). Some big ideas for some big problems. American Psychologist, 55, 516-522

  • Lederbogen, F. Kirsch, P., Haddad, L. et al.(2011). City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans. Nature, 474, 498-501

Meeting 2: Going into town.

Classic and current papers on urban psychology. Information overload, stress, altruism, criminality and social safety, wellbeing

  • Milgram, S. (1970. The experience of living in cities. Science, 167, 1461-1464

  • Moser, G., & Corroyer, D. (2001). Politeness in the urban environment: Is city life still synonymous with civility? Environment and Behavior, 33, 611-625

  • Lofland, L. H. (1989). Social life in the public realm. A review. Journal of Contemporary Ethography, 17, 453-482

  • Canter, D. & Larkin, P. (1993). The environmental range of serial rapists. Journal of Environmental Psychology 13, 63-69

  • Kuo, F. E., & Sullivan, W. C. (2001). Agression and violence in the inner city. Effects of environment via mental fatigue. Environment and Behavior, 33, 543-571

  • Keizer, K., Lindenberg, S., Steg, L. (2008). The spreading of disorder. Science, 322, 1681-1685.

  • Evans, G. W., Lepore, S. J., & Schroeder, A. (1996). The role of interior design elements in human response to crowding. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 41-46

Meeting 3: Taking a break. The psychology of restorative environments.

Nature, preference for nature, biophilia, and fear of nature.

  • Ulrich, T. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from stress. Science, 224, 420-421

  • Hartig, T., & Staats, H. (2006). The need for psychological restoration as a determinant of environmental preferences. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 26, 215-226.

  • Koole, S. L., & Van den Berg, A. E. (2005). Lost in the wilderness: Terror management, action orientation, and nature evaluation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 1014-1028.

  • Kaplan, R. & Austin, M. E. (2004). Out in the country: sprawl and the quest for nature nearby. Landscape and Urban Planning, 69, 235-243.

Meeting 4: Planning and design and their consequences for beauty, well-being, risk and health.

What is beauty, consensus, contrasts between architects and clients; how living conditions determine health risks and well-being

  • Russell, J. A., & Lanius, U., F. (1984). Adaptation level and the affective appraisal of environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 4, 119-135.

  • Gifford, R., Hine, D. W., Muller-Clem, W., Reynolds, D. J. Jr., & Shaw, K. T. (2000). Decoding modern architecture. A lens model for understanding the aesthetic differences of architects and laypersons. Environment and Behavior, 32, 163-187.

  • Nasar, J. L. (2003). Does Neotraditional Development Build Community? Journal of Planning Education and Research, 23, 58-68

  • Evans, G. W., & Kim, P. (2007). Childhood poverty and health. Cumulative risk exposure and stress dysregulation. Psychological Science, 18, 953-957

  • DeFur, P. L., Evans, G. W., Cohen Hubal, E. A., Kyle, A. D., & Morello-Frosch, R. A. (2007). Environmental Health Perspectives, 115, 817-824.

Meeting 5: Doing right. The analysis of environmental behavior.

Explanation of major theoretical approaches to understand environmentally relevant behavior.

  • Hardin, G. (1968). The Tragedy of the Commons. Science, 162, 1243-1248.

  • Thögersen, J., & Ölander, F. (2006). The dynamic interaction of personal norms and environment-friendly buying behavior: a panel study. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36, 1758-1780.

  • Kahneman, D., & Knetsch, J. L. (1992). The purchase of moral satisfaction. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 22, 57-70.

Meeting 6: Doing better. Changing environmental behavior.

Intervention techniques to change environmental behavior

  • De Young, R. (1993). Changing behavior and making it stick. Environment and Behavior, 25, 485-505

  • Staats, H., Harland, P., & Wilke, H.. A. M. (2004). Effecting durable change. A team approach to improve environmental behavior in the household. Environment and Behavior, 36. 341-367.

  • Goldstein, N. J., Griskevicius, V., & Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Invoking social norms. A social psychology perspective on improving hotel‘s linen-reuse programs. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 48, 145-150.

Meeting 7: Wrapping up.

Overview paper, showing of part of the famous Al Gore documentary, and a paper reporting on its effects. Final comments on papers from earlier sessions and opportunity to ask questions for the exam

  • Vlek, C. (2000). Essential psychology for policy making. International Journal of Psychology, 35, 153-167

  • Nolan, J. M. (2010). “An inconvenient truth” increases knowledge, concern, and willingness to reduce greenhouse gases. Environment and Behavior, 42, 643-658.


Master’s introduction and enrolment day

Make a reservation in your agenda so you will not miss any information that you will need during your master’s programme MSc in Psychology. Please consult the Agenda master meetings

Exam registration

Registration for the (re)exam is not automatic. Students, who haven’t registered, cannot participate in the (re)exam

Contact information

Dr. Henk Staats
Room 2A40
Tel.: +31 (0)71 527 4104