What is Meant by Healthy Building?


Healthy building refers to an emerging area of interest that supports the physical, psychological, and social health and well-being of people in buildings and the built environment. Buildings can be key promoters of health and well-being since most people spend a majority of their time indoors. According to the National Human Activity Pattern Survey, Americans spend “an average of 87% of their time in enclosed buildings and about 6% of their time in enclosed vehicles.”

Healthy building can be seen as the next generation of green building that not only includes environmentally responsible and resource-efficient building concepts, but also integrates human well-being and performance. These benefits can include “reducing absenteeism and presenteeism, lowering health care costs, and improving individual and organisational performance.” In 2017, Joseph G. Allen and Ari Bernstein of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building: ventilation, air quality, thermal health, moisture, dusts and pests, safety and security, water quality, noise, and lighting and views.

Refer to Mental Environment and Healing Environments.

Integrated Design

Healthy building involves many different concepts, fields of interest, and disciplines. 9 Foundations describes healthy building as an approach built on building science, health science, and building science. An integrated design team can consist of stakeholders and specialists such as facility managers, architects, building engineers, health and wellness experts, and public health partners. Conducting charrettes with an integrated design team can foster collaboration and help the team develop goals, plans, and solutions.

Buildings and Health Components

There are many different components that can support health and well-being in buildings.

Indoor Air Quality

Spengler considers indoor air quality as an important determinant of healthy design. Buildings with poor indoor air quality can contribute to chronic lung diseases such as asthma, asbestosis and lung cancer. Chemical emissions can be outgassed by building materials, furnishings, and supplies. Air fresheners, cleaning products, paints, printing, flooring, and wax and polish products can also be a source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semi-volatile compound (SVOCs). The LEED v4 Handbook posits that indoor air quality is “one of the most pivotal factors in maintaining building occupants’ safety, productivity, and well-being.”


Higher rates of ventilation affect indoor pollutants, odours, and the perceived freshness of air by diluting contaminants in the air. ASHRAE’s Standard 55-2017 has minimum standards of 8.3 L/s/person. In one study, raising the rate to 15 L/s/person increased performance by 1.1% and decreased sick building symptoms by 18.8%. Whole Building Design Guide recommends separating ventilation from thermal conditioning so as to increase comfort.

Natural ventilation is discouraged in buildings that have strict filtration requirements, contaminant dilution concerns, special pressure relationships, speech privacy concerns, and internal heat load demands. The San Joaquin ASHRAE chapter recommends assessing the outside air quality and configuration of the façade and building before demonstrating compliance and control of natural ventilation. ASHRAE Standard 55-2017 section 6.4 requires the natural ventilation be “manually controlled or controlled through the use of electrical or mechanical actuators under direct occupant control.” Chris Schaffner, CEO of the Green Engineer, describes operable windows as the “HVAC engineer’s ultimate safety factor.” Spengler and Chen recommend natural ventilation being used wherever possible.

Dust and Pests

Dust and dirt can be a source of exposure to VOC and lead as well as pesticides and allergens. High efficiency filter vacuums can remove particles such as dander and allergens that otherwise result in breathing issues. A study of asthmatic children in inner city urban communities suggests they became sensitive to the presence of cockroaches, mice, or rats due to their presence in their homes.

The Use of Disposable Material

The US culture relies heavily on disposable products, especially within healthcare, to minimize on cost and time. In hospitals, for example, healthcare providers cut on costs associated with sterilising equipment between patient cares by using ready-to-use disposable trays. However, this may at a cost to the environment; in one study, disposable cotton towels were suspected to have an adverse environmental impact. It is estimated that cotton production requires 6.6 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents and 0.024 kg of nitrogen emissions, in addition to a substantial amount of water, fertiliser and work. Healthcare managers are urged to request transparency of medical product production (and waste management) lines to provide assurance that products used have zero or minimal impacts on human health and our environment.

Thermal Comfort

Thermal comfort is influenced by factors like air temperature, mean radiant temperature, relative humidity, air speed, metabolic rate, and clothing. Thermal conditions can affect learning, cognitive performance, task completion, disease transmission, and sleep. ASHRAE defines an acceptable thermal environment as one that 80% of occupants find acceptable, though individual occupant thermal control results in higher satisfaction of occupants. Indoor spaces that are not air conditioned can create indoor heat waves if the outside air cools but the thermal mass of the building traps the hotter air inside. Cedeño-Laurent et al. believe these may become worse as climate change increases the “frequency, duration, and intensity of heat waves” and will be harder to adjust to in areas that are designed for colder climates.

Moisture and Humidity

The Whole Building Design Guide recommends the indoor relative humidity to be between 30 and 50% to prevent unwanted moisture and to design for proper drainage and ventilation. Moisture is introduced into the building either by rainwater intrusion, outside humid air infiltration, internally generated moisture, and vapor diffusion through the building envelope. High temperatures, precipitation, and building age enable mould. It contributes to mould and poor indoor air quality. Vapor retarders have traditionally been used to prevent moisture in walls and roofs.


While noise is not always controllable, it has a high correlation and causation relationship with mental health, stress, and blood pressure. One study suggests that there is a higher correlation of noise irritation and bodily pain or discomfort in women. Effects of excessive noise pollution include hearing impairment, speech intelligibility, sleep disturbance, physiological functions, mental illness, and performance. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends creating a “National Plan for a Sustainable Noise Indoor Environment” specific to each country.

Water Quality

Water quality can be contaminated by inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals, and microorganisms. The WHO considers waterborne diseases to be one of the world’s major health concerns, especially for developing countries and children. WHO recommends following water safety plans that include management, maintenance, good design, cleaning, temperature management, and preventing stagnation. Stagnant water is found to deteriorate the microbiological quality of water, and increase corrosion, odours, and taste issues. The bacterial pathogen Legionella may have a higher potential for growth in large buildings due to long water distribution systems and not enough maintenance.

Awareness of these issues is recommended by the WHO in order to maintain water quality:

  • Backflow
  • Cross connections
  • External quality management
  • Independent water supply
  • Material use
  • Minimisation of dead ends and stagnation
  • Seasonal use areas
  • Storage tank integrity
  • Water pressure
  • Water temperature

Safety and Security

Concerns of safety affect the mental and possibly physical health of residents by reducing the amount of physical activity. Fear of crime can result in less physical activity as well as increased social isolation. Atkinson posits that crime is based on motivated offenders, targets, and the absence of guardians. Adjusting these in buildings may increase presumed safety.

Lighting and View

The type and timing of light throughout the day affects circadian rhythms and human physiology. In a study done by Shamsul et al., cool white light and artificial daylight (approximately 450-480 nanometres) was associated with higher levels of alertness. Blue light positively affects mood, performance, fatigue, concentration, and eye comfort and enabled better sleep at night. Bright light during winter has also been shown to improve self-reported health and reduce distress.

Daylighting refers to providing access to natural daylight, which can be aesthetically pleasing and improve sleep duration and quality. The LEED handbook writes that daylighting can save energy while “increasing the quality of the visual environment” and occupant satisfaction.

Views to green landscapes can significantly increase attention and stress recovery. They can also have a positive influence on emotional states. Ko et al. consider views to be “important for the comfort, emotion, and working memory and concentration of occupants.” Providing a view to nature through a glass window may benefit occupants’ well-being and increase employee’s effectiveness.

Site Selection

Creating a walkable environment that connects people to workplaces, green spaces, public transportation, fitness centres, and other basic needs and services can influence daily physical activity as well as diet and type of commute. In particular, proximity to green spaces (e.g., parks, walking trails, gardens) or therapeutic landscapes can reduce absenteeism and improve well-being.

Building Design

There are many aspects of a building that can be designed to support positive health and well-being. For example, creating well-placed collaboration and social areas (e.g. break rooms, open collaboration areas, café spaces, courtyard gardens) can encourage social interaction and well-being. Quiet and wellness rooms can provide quiet zones or rooms that help improve well-being and mindfulness. Specifically, a designated lactation room can support nursing mothers by providing privacy and helping them return to work more easily.

Biophilic design has been linked to health outcomes such as stress reduction, improved mood, cognitive performance, social engagement, and sleep. Ergonomics can also minimize stress and strain on the body by providing ergonomically designed workstations.

Occupant Engagement

While some components of healthy buildings are inherently designed into the built environment, other components rely on the behavioural change of occupants, users, or organisations residing within the building. Well-lit and accessible stairwells can provide building occupants the opportunity to increase regular physical activity. Fitness centres or an exercise room can encourage exercise during the work day, which can improve mood and performance, leading to improved focus and better work-based relationships. Exercise can also be promoted by encouraging alternative means of transportation (e.g. cycling, walking, running) to and from the building. Providing facilities such as bicycle storage and locker/changing rooms can increase the appeal of cycling, walking, or running. Active workstations, such as of sit/stand desks, treadmill desks, or cycle desks, can encourage increased movement and exercise as well. “Behavioural measures” can be taken to “encourage better public health outcomes: e.g. reducing sedentary behaviours by increasing access to stairways, using more active transportation options, and working at sit-to-stand desks.” Other examples that can promote health and well-being include establishing workplace wellness programmes, health promotion campaigns, and encouraging activity and collaboration.

Infectious Disease

ASHRAE states that “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.” Current recommendations include increasing air supply and exhaust ventilation, using operable windows, limiting air recirculation, increasing hours of ventilation system operation and upgraded filtration. Joseph Allen of the Healthy Buildings Programme at Harvard suggests 4-6 air changes per hour in classrooms, especially when masks are off.

Proper ventilation of areas has been found to have the same effect as vaccinating 50-60% of the population for influenza. Enhanced filtration using a MERV 13 filter would be adequate to protect against transmission of viruses. Allen mentions three ways humidity can affect transmission: respiratory health, decaying, and virus evaporation. Drier air also dries out the respiratory cilia that catch particles. Viruses decay faster between 40 and 60% humidity. Respiratory droplets that become aerosols are less likely to do so at higher humidity. After 60%, mould growth begins to be encouraged.

Sustainable design of patient rooms, intensive care units, and courtyards could offer opportunities to not only maximise on human safety and wellbeing, but also environmental energy efficiency, waste management recycling, and performance optimization – all of which constitute the core of sustainability. However, this may come at an unexpected cost of enabling growth and spread of opportunistic microbes.

Health and Well-being in Standards and Rating Systems

There are several international and governmental standards, guidelines, and building rating systems that incorporate health and well-being concepts:

  • AirRated
  • ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1-2014, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings
  • Fitwel
  • General Services Administration Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service (P-100)
  • Green Building Initiative Green Globes
  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
  • United States Department of Defence Unified Facilities Criteria Programme
  • WELL Building Standard

GreenSeal Standards for Healthy Buildings and Schools

Founded in 1989, GreenSeal is a leading global ecolabeling organization (that is part of The Global Ecolabelling Network) that has set strict criteria for occupant health, sustainability, and product performance. The Healthy Green Schools & Colleges initiative assists facility managers in locating low- or no-cost actions that have a significant impact on indoor air quality and health. The curriculum covers the full spectrum of facilities management methods and was created in collaboration with renowned school facility management professionals:

  • Indoor Air Quality Testing and Monitoring
  • Cleaning and Disinfecting
  • Integrated Pest control
  • Sustainable Purchasing
  • HVAC and Electric management
  • Training and intercommunications

WELL Building Standard Certification

The WELL Building Standard Certification was first launched in 2014 (WELL v1), and it focuses on the well-being and health of occupants in buildings. It was developed by Delos Living LLC and is currently administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) who released the second version (WELL v2) in 2020. Generally speaking, WELL v2 has updated requirements for investigating the relationship between building design and human health, adds more diversity to spaces and applications of the standard, and features a single rating system that resembles USGBC LEED’s efforts.

More specifically, WELL v1 discussed 100 performance features that can be considered for the certification of a building. Those 100 performance features are classified into 7 “concepts” as follows: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind. Of these 100 features, 41 were required preconditions, and 59 were optional optimisations. In order to achieve a WELL certification, a building has to meet the following:

  • For a WELL silver certification: 41 required preconditions.
  • For a WELL gold certification: all the requirements for silver certification plus 40% optimisations.
  • For a WELL platinum certification: all the requirements for gold certification plus 80% optimisations.

On the other hand, WELL v2 uses a four-certification system that mimics LEED’s scoring system. The required preconditions are decreased to only 23 (vs. 41 in v1), and the optimisations rose to 92 (vs. 59 in v1). WELL v2 also added 3 more “concepts”: Sound, Materials and Community. With these updates, more buildings could qualify for a certification under the new system:

  • For a WELL bronze certification: 40 points are required (this is only available for shell and core buildings)
  • For a WELL silver certification: 50 points are required.
  • For a WELL gold certification: 60 points are required.
  • For a WELL platinum certification: 80 points are required.

There are some caveats with WELL v2, however. For instance, a building has to meet all required 23 preconditions before qualifying a certification. If one precondition is not satisfied, the building may not proceed with WELL standard certification irrespective of how many points achieved. Additionally, a building must earn at least 4 points in the “Thermal Comfort” and “Air” concepts, and 2 points at minimum in the remainder of the concepts. Lastly, a building can attain a maximum of 110 points because of an additional 10 points that could be achieved for innovation and performance.

Based on most recent surveys more than 72M square feet of residential and commercial spaces have been certified around the globe to date.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healthy_building >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

An Overview of Healing Environments


Healing environment, for healthcare buildings describes a physical setting and organisational culture that supports patients and families through the stresses imposed by illness, hospitalisation, medical visits, the process of healing, and sometimes, bereavement. The concept implies that the physical healthcare environment can make a difference in how quickly the patient recovers from or adapts to specific acute and chronic conditions.

Refer to Mental Environment and Healthy Building.


The original concept of the healing environment was developed by Florence Nightingale whose theory of nursing called for nurses to manipulate the environment to be therapeutic (Nightingale, F. 1859). Nightingale outlined in detail the requirements of the “sick room” to minimise suffering and optimise the capacity of a patient to recover, including quiet, warmth, clean air, light, and good diet. Early healthcare design followed her theories outlined in her treatise, “Notes on Hospitals”. Following the discoveries by Louis Pasteur and others which lead to the Germ Theory, plus other technologies, the role of the environment was dominated by infection control and technological advances.

Starting in the 1960s, healing environments have been linked with evidence-based design (EBD), giving the concept a strong scientific base. While in some respects it can be said that the concept of healing environments has evolved into EBD, it’s mainly in the area of reduction of stress that this overlap occurs; as EBD goes beyond the healing environments dimension to consider the effect of the built environment on patient clinical outcomes in the areas of staff stress and fatigue, patient stress, and facility operational efficiency and productivity to improve quality and patient safety. A 1984 study by Roger Ulrich found that surgical patients with a view of nature suffered fewer complications, used less pain medication and were discharged sooner than those who looked out on a brick wall. Since then, many studies have followed, showing impact of several environmental factors on several health outcomes.

Today, the philosophy that guides the concept of the healing environment is rooted in research in the neurosciences, environmental psychology, psychoneuroimmunology, and evolutionary biology. The common thread linking these bodies of research is the physiological effects of stress on the individual and the ability to heal. Psychologically supportive environments enable patients and families to cope with and transcend illness.


The goal of creating a healing environment is to reduce stress, and thereby reduce associated problems such as medical error, inability to concentrate, and physical symptoms of stress that can affect logical thought process. While use of EBD techniques would not necessarily make an environment a healing one, through EBD we can define environmental factors that can help to ease stress and thereby result in a healing environment. Malkin emphasizes the contribution of research to concepts that can create a healing environment, but just the inclusion do not make setting a ‘healing environment’. The design team needs to translate the EBD into design solutions unique to the individual hospital.

According to “The Business Case for Creating a Healing Environment” written by Jain Malkin, the physical setting has the potential to be therapeutic if it achieves the following:

  • Eliminates environmental stressors such as noise, glare, lack of privacy and poor air quality;
  • Connects patients to nature with views to the outdoors, interior gardens, aquariums, water elements, etc.;
  • Offers options and choices to enhance feelings of being in control – these may include privacy versus socialisation, lighting levels, type of music, seating options, quiet versus ‘active’ waiting areas;
  • Provides opportunities for social support – seating arrangements that provide privacy for family groupings, accommodation for family members or friends in treatment setting; sleep-over accommodation in patient rooms;
  • Provides positive distractions such as interactive art, fireplaces, aquariums, Internet connection, music, access to special video programmes with soothing images of nature accompanied by music developed specifically for the healthcare setting; and
  • Engenders feelings of peace, hope, reflection and spiritual connection and provides opportunities for relaxation, education, humour and whimsy.

Importance of Lighting and Sound


80% of what we interpret of our surroundings comes to us from what we see of our environment and that is greatly affected by the light available in that environment. Lighting design in healthcare environments is a major factor in creating healing situations. Since the design of healthcare environments is said to influence patient’s outcomes, yet high costs prevent most hospitals from renovating or rebuilding, changes in lighting becomes a cost-effective way to improve existing environments. It is proven that people who are surrounded by natural light are more productive and live healthier lives. When patients are sick, and surrounded by medical equipment and white walls, the last thing they need is a dark, stuffy room. This is why it is important for every room to have a window for natural light to come into and help create a healing environment for the patient.

The Auditory Environment

While so much of the patient’s experience is based on visual cues, the majority of meaning of their experience is auditory. The many sounds of a hospital are foreign to their experience and their line of sight is limited. Nightingale claimed that sounds that create “anticipation, expectation, waiting, and fear of surprise … damage the patient.” Add to the perception and meaning attribute to any sound the factors of age-related hearing impairment common to older patients, heavy medication, pain, and other conditions, cognition is impacted as is the ability to understand language. Hospital noise, at any volume level, is credited with being the primary cause of sleep deprivation, a contributing factor in delirium, and a risk factor for errors. The current pressure to reduce noise at night has been mistakenly understood to mean undue quiet at night when patients most need cues that people are around them and available if they need help. Just s lighting must be designed to serve both day and night, so much the auditory environment be designed to support activity, cognition, rest, and sleep.

Adding to the above, patients need positive visual and auditory stimulation. Nightingale called for variety, colour, and form as a means of arousing creativity and health in patients. Currently, using appropriate art, nature imagery and music are found to improve the experience of the patient. Technologies have afforded patients infinite options to use media as the choose. The addition of beauty must also be accompanied by an attention to orderliness: removal of clutter, trash, and other distractions.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healing_environments >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

An Overview of Environmental Psychology


Environmental psychology is a branch of psychology that explores the relationship between humans and the external world.

It examines the way in which the natural environment and our built environments shape us as individuals. Environmental Psychology emphasizes how humans change the environment and how the environment changes humans’ experiences and behaviours. The field defines the term environment broadly, encompassing natural environments, social settings, built environments, learning environments, and informational environments. According to an article on APA Psychnet, environmental psychology is when a person thinks of a plan, travels to a certain place, and follows through with the plan throughout their behaviour.

Environmental psychology was not fully recognised as its own field until the late 1960s when scientists began to question the tie between human behaviour and our natural and built environments. Since its conception, the field has been committed to the development of a discipline that is both value oriented and problem oriented, prioritising research aimed at solving complex environmental problems in the pursuit of individual well-being within a larger society. When solving problems involving human-environment interactions, whether global or local, one must have a model of human nature that predicts the environmental conditions under which humans will respond well. This model can help design, manage, protect and/or restore environments that enhance reasonable behaviour, predict the likely outcomes when these conditions are not met, and diagnose problem situations. The field develops such a model of human nature while retaining a broad and inherently multidisciplinary focus. It explores such dissimilar issues as common property resource management, wayfinding in complex settings, the effect of environmental stress on human performance, the characteristics of restorative environments, human information processing, and the promotion of durable conservation behaviour. Lately, alongside the increased focus on climate change in society and the social sciences and the re-emergence of limits-to-growth concerns, there has been an increased focus on environmental sustainability issues within the field.

This multidisciplinary paradigm has not only characterised the dynamic for which environmental psychology is expected to develop, but it has also been the catalyst in attracting other schools of knowledge in its pursuit, aside from research psychologists. Geographers, economists, landscape architects, policy-makers, sociologists, anthropologists, educators, and product developers all have discovered and participated in this field.

Although “environmental psychology” is arguably the best-known and most comprehensive description of the field, it is also known as human factors science, cognitive ergonomics, ecological psychology, ecopsychology, environment–behaviour studies, and person–environment studies. Closely related fields include architectural psychology, socio-architecture, behavioural geography, environmental sociology, social ecology, and environmental design research.

Refer to Mental Environment.

Brief History

The origins of the field can be traced to the Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth and Coleridge who drew attention to the power of nature and the significance of human interaction with it. Darwin pointed to the role of the environment in shaping evolution. This idea was quickly applied to human interactions with the surroundings. An extreme Victorian acceptance of this were ‘environmental determinists’ who insisted the physical environment and climate influenced the evolution of racial characteristics. Willy Hellpach is said to be the first to mention “environmental psychology”. One of his books, Geopsyche, discusses topics such as how the sun and the moon affect human activity, the impact of extreme environments, and the effects of color and form (Pol, E., 2006, Blueprints for a history of environmental psychology (I): From first birth to American transition. “Medio Ambiente y Comportamiento Humano”, 7(2), 95-113). Among the other major scholars at the roots of environmental psychology were Jakob von Uexküll, Kurt Lewin, Egon Brunswik, and later Gerhard Kaminski and Carl Friedrich Graumann.

The end of World War II brought about a demand for guidance on the urgent building programme after the destruction of war. To provide government planning requirements many countries set up research centres that studied how people used space. In the UK the Building Research Centre studied space use in houses and later noise levels, heating and lighting requirements. The glass maker Pilkingtons set up a daylight research unit, led by Thomas Markus to provide information on the influence of natural lighting in buildings and guidelines on daylight requirements. Peter Manning developed this further at the Pilkington Research Unit at the University of Liverpool in the 1960s. He studied offices, employing one of the first people to obtain a Ph.D. in environmental psychology, Brian Wells. Markus went on to set up the Building Performance Research Unit at the University of Strathclyde in 1968 employing the psychologist David Canter who had been supervised by Wells and Manning for his Ph.D. with the Pilkington Research Unit. Canter then went on to the University of Surrey to set up Environmental Psychology programme there in 1971 with the Department of Psychology. The head of that Department was Terence Lee who had conducted his Ph.D. on the concept of neighbourhood under the supervision of Sir Frederick Bartlett at the University of Cambridge.

In parallel with these developments people in the US had begun to consider the issues in environmental design. One of the first areas was the consideration of psychiatric hospitals. Psychiatrists worked with architects to take account of the experience of patients who were mentally ill. Robert Sommer wrote his book on ‘Personal Space’ and Edward T Hall commented as an anthropologist on how people related to each other spatially. Amos Rapoport caused considerable interest amongst architects with his book ‘House Form and Culture’, showing that the form of buildings was not solely functional but had all sorts of cultural influences. This contributed to the emergence in architecture of ‘post-modernism’ which took the symbolic qualities of architecture very seriously. These early developments in the 1960s and 1970s were often seen as part of ‘architectural psychology’. It was when Harold Proshansky and William Ittelson set up the Environmental Psychology program at the City University of New York Graduate Center that the term Environmental Psychology replaces Architectural Psychology as the widely used term for the study of the ways in which people made sense of and interacted with their surroundings. This was institutionalised when Canter established The Journal of Environmental Psychology in 1980 with Kenneth Craik a personality psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley. President Nixon’s campaign to deal with depredations of the environment gave impetus to a change of direction in the field from aspects of buildings and making sense of cities to the broader issues of climate change and the impact of people in the global environment.

Environmental Psychologist

Environmental psychologists are the ones who study the relationship between human behaviour and the environment that surrounds them. These psychologist study any type of environment, even the ones who are “built” such as peoples homes. They study how we as humans behave and interact in the world. As of May of 2020, the annual salary of an environmental psychologist is $82,180. The two sub-disciplines:

  • Conservation Psychology which is the study of the development of attitudes in the environment; and
  • Ecopsychology which is similar to conservation psychology, but it focuses on the ties of environmental and societal degradation.


Problem Oriented

Environmental psychology is a direct study of the relationship between an environment and how that environment affects its inhabitants. Specific aspects of this field work by identifying a problem and through the identification of the said problem, discovering a solution. Therefore, it is necessary for environmental psychology to be problem-oriented.

One important aspect of a problem-oriented field is that by identifying problems, solutions arise from the research acquired. The solutions can aid in making society function better as a whole and create a wealth of knowledge about the inner workings of societies. Environmental psychologist Harold Proshansky discusses how the field is also “value-oriented” because of the field’s commitment to bettering society through problem identification. Panyang discusses the importance of not only understanding the problem but also the necessity of a solution. Proshansky also points out some of the problems of a problem-oriented approach for environmental psychology. First, the problems being identified must be studied under certain specifications: they must be ongoing and occurring in real life, not in a laboratory. Second, the notions about the problems must derive directly from the source – meaning they must come directly from the specific environment where the problem is occurring. The solutions and understanding of the problems cannot come from an environment that has been constructed and modelled to look like real life. Environmental psychology needs to reflect the actual society, not a society built in a laboratory setting. The difficult task of the environmental psychologist is to study problems as they are occurring in everyday life. It is hard to reject all laboratory research because laboratory experiments are where theories may be tested without damaging the actual environment or can serve as models when testing solutions. Proshansky makes this point as well, discussing the difficulty in the overall problem oriented approach. He states that it is important, however, for the environmental psychologist to utilise all aspects of research and analysis of the findings and to take into account both the general and individualized aspects of the problems.

Environmental psychology addresses environmental problems such as density and crowding, noise pollution, sub-standard living, and urban decay. Noise increases environmental stress. Although it has been found that control and predictability are the greatest factors in stressful effects of noise; context, pitch, source and habituation are also important variables. Environmental psychologists have theorised that density and crowding can also have an adverse effect on mood and may cause stress-related illness or behaviour. To understand and solve environmental problems, environmental psychologists believe concepts and principles should come directly from the physical settings and problems being looked at. For example, factors that reduce feelings of crowding within buildings include:

  • Windows – particularly ones that can be opened and ones that provide a view as well as light
  • High ceilings
  • Doors to divide spaces (Baum and Davies) and provide access control
  • Room shape – square rooms feel less crowded than rectangular ones (Dresor)
  • Using partitions to create smaller, personalized spaces within an open plan office or larger work space.
  • Providing increases in cognitive control over aspects of the internal environment, such as ventilation, light, privacy, etc.
  • Conducting a cognitive appraisal of an environment and feelings of crowding in different settings. For example, one might be comfortable with crowding at a concert but not in school corridors.
  • Creating a defensible space (Calhoun)

Personal Space and Territory

Proxemics is known as the study of human space. It also studies the effects that population has on human behaviour, communication, and social interaction. Having an area of personal territory in a public space, e.g. at the office, is a key feature of many architectural designs. Having such a ‘defensible space’ can reduce the negative effects of crowding in urban environments. The term, coined by John B. Calhoun in 1947, is the result of multiple environmental experiments conducted on rats. Originally beginning as an experiment to measure how many rats could be accommodated in a given space, it expanded into determining how rats, given the proper food, shelter and bedding would behave under a confined environment.

Under these circumstances, the males became aggressive, some exclusively homosexual. Others became pansexual and hypersexual, seeking every chance to mount any rat they encountered. As a result, mating behaviours were upset with an increase in infant mortalities. With parents failing to provide proper nests, thoughtlessly ditching their young and even attacking them, infant mortality rose as high as 96% in certain sections. Calhoun published the results as “Population Density and Social Pathology” in a 1962 edition of Scientific American.

Creating barriers and customising the space are ways of creating personal space, e.g., using pictures of one’s family in an office setting. This increases cognitive control as one sees oneself as having control over the competitors to the personal space and therefore able to control the level of density and crowding in the space. Personal space can be both good and bad. It is good when it is used as stated above. Creating “personal space” in an office or work setting can make one feel more comfortable about being at work. Personal space can be bad when someone is in your personal space. In the image to the right, one person is mad at the other person because she is invading her personal space by laying on her.

Systems Oriented

The systems-oriented approach to experimenting is applied to individuals or people that are a part of communities, groups, and organisations. These communities, groups, and organisations are systems in homeostasis. Homeostasis is known as the “state of steady conditions within a system.” This approach particularly examines group interaction, as opposed to an individual’s interaction and it emphasizes on factors of social integration. In the laboratory, experiments focus on cause and effect processes within human nature.

Interdisciplinary Oriented

Environmental psychology relies on interaction with other disciplines in order to approach problems with multiple perspectives. The first discipline is the category of behavioural sciences, which include: sociology, political science, anthropology, and economics. Environmental psychology also interacts with the inter-specialisations of the field of psychology, which include:

  • Developmental psychology;
  • Cognitive science;
  • Industrial and organisational psychology; psychobiology;
  • Psychoanalysis; and
  • Social neuroscience.

In addition to the more scientific fields of study, environmental psychology also works with the design field which includes: the studies of architecture, interior design, urban planning, industrial and object design, landscape architecture, and preservation.

Space-Over-Time Orientation

Space over time orientation highlights the importance of the past. Examining problems with the past in mind creates a better understanding of how past forces, such as social, political, and economic forces, may be of relevance to present and future problems. Time and place are also important to consider. It’s important to look at time over extended periods. Physical settings change over time; they change with respect to physical properties and they change because individuals using the space change over time. Looking at these spaces over time will help monitor the changes and possibly predict future problems.


Nature Restoration

Environmental health shows the effects people have on the environment as well as the effects the environment has on people. From early studies showing that patients with a view of nature from their hospital recovered faster than patients with a window view of a brick wall, how, why, and to which extent nature has mental and physical restorative properties has been a central branch of the field. Although the positive effects of nature have been established, the theoretical underpinning of why it is restorative is still discussed. The most cited theory is the Attention Restoration Theory, which claims nature is a “soft fascination” which restores the ability to direct attention. It is said that being in nature can reduce stress. Studies show that it can reduce anger, improve mood, and even lower one’s blood pressure. Secondly, Stress reduction theory claims that because humans have evolved in nature, this type of environment is relaxing, and more adjusted to the senses. Newer theoretical work includes the Conditioned Restoration Theory, which suggests a two-step process. The first step involves associating nature with relaxation, and the second step involves retrieving the same relaxation when presented with an associated stimulus.

Place Identity

For many years Harold Proshansky and his colleagues at the Graduate School and University Centre of the City University of New York, explored the concept of place identity. Place identity has been traditionally defined as a ‘sub-structure of the self-identity of the person consisting of broadly conceived cognitions about the physical world in which the individual lives’. These cognitions define the daily experiences of every human being. Through one’s attitudes, feelings, ideas, memories, personal values and preferences toward the range and type of physical settings, they can then understand the environment they live in and their overall experience.

As a person interacts with various places and spaces, they are able to evaluate which properties in different environments fulfil his/her various needs. When a place contains components that satisfy a person biologically, socially, psychologically and/or culturally, it creates the environmental past of a person. Through ‘good’ or ‘bad’ experiences with a place, a person is then able to reflect and define their personal values, attitudes, feelings and beliefs about the physical world.

Place identity has been described as the individual’s incorporation of place into the larger concept of self; a “potpourri of memories, conceptions, interpretations, ideas, and related feelings about specific physical settings, as well as types of settings”. Other theorists have been instrumental in the creation of the idea of place identity. Three humanistic geographers, Tuan (1980), Relph (1976) and Buttimer (1980), share a couple of basic assumptions. As a person lives and creates memories within a place, attachment is built and it is through one’s personal connection to a place, that they gain a sense of belonging and purpose, which then gives significance and meaning to their life.

Five central functions of place-identity have been depicted: recognition, meaning, expressive-requirement, mediating change, and anxiety and defence function. Place identity becomes a cognitive “database” against which every physical setting is experienced. The activities of a person often overlap with physical settings, which then create a background for the rest of life’s interactions and events. The individual is frequently unaware of the array of feelings, values or memories of a singular place and simply becomes more comfortable or uncomfortable with certain broad kinds of physical settings, or prefers specific spaces to others. In the time since the term “place identity” was introduced, the theory has been the model for identity that has dominated environmental psychology.

Place Attachment

According to the book, “Place Attachment”, place attachment is a “complex phenomenon that incorporates people-place bonding”. Many different perceptions of the bond between people and places have been hypothesized and studied. The most widespread terms include place attachment and sense of place. One consistent thread woven throughout most recent research on place attachment deals with the importance of the amount of time spent at a certain place (the length of association with a place). While both researchers and writers have made the case that time and experience in a place are important for deepening the meanings and emotional ties central to the person-place relationship, little in-depth research has studied these factors and their role in forging this connection.

Place attachment is defined as one’s emotional or affective ties to a place, and is generally thought to be the result of a long-term connection with a certain environment. This is different from a simple aesthetic response such as saying a certain place is special because it is beautiful. For example, one can have an emotional response to a beautiful (or ugly) landscape or place, but this response may sometimes be shallow and fleeting. This distinction is one that Schroeder labelled “meaning versus preference”. According to Schroeder the definition of “meaning” is “the thoughts, feelings, memories and interpretations evoked by a landscape”; whereas “preference” is “the degree of liking for one landscape compared to another”. For a deeper and lasting emotional attachment to develop (Or in Schroeder’s terms, for it to have meaning) an enduring relationship with a place is usually a critical factor. Chigbu carried out a rural study of place-attachment using a qualitative approach to check its impact on a community, Uturu (in Nigeria), and found that it has a direct relationship to the level of community development.

Environmental Consciousness

Leanne Rivlin theorised that one way to examine an individual’s environmental consciousness is to recognise how the physical place is significant, and look at the people/place relationship.

Environmental cognition (involved in human cognition) plays a crucial role in environmental perception. All different areas of the brain engage with environmentally relevant information. Some believe that the orbitofrontal cortex integrates environmentally relevant information from many distributed areas of the brain. Due to its anterior location within the frontal cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex may make judgments about the environment, and refine the organism’s “understanding” through error analysis, and other processes specific to the prefrontal cortex. But to be certain, there is no single brain area dedicated to the organism’s interactions with its environment. Rather, all brain areas are dedicated to this task. One area (probably the orbitofrontal cortex) may collate the various pieces of the informational puzzle in order to develop a long term strategy of engagement with the ever-changing “environment”. Moreover, the orbitofrontal cortex may show the greatest change in blood oxygenation (BOLD level) when an organism thinks of the broad, and amorphous category referred to as “the environment”. Research in this area is showing an increase in climate change related emotional experiences that are seen to be inherently adaptive. Engagement with these emotional experiences leads to a greater sense of connection with others and increased capacity to tolerate and reflect on emotions.

Because of the recent concern with the environment, environmental consciousness or awareness has come to be related to the growth and development of understanding and consciousness toward the biophysical environment and its problems.

Behaviour Settings

The earliest noteworthy discoveries in the field of environmental psychology can be dated back to Roger Barker who created the field of ecological psychology. Founding his research station in Oskaloosa, Kansas in 1947, his field observations expanded into the theory that social settings influence behaviour. Empirical data gathered in Oskaloosa from 1947 to 1972 helped him develop the concept of the “behaviour setting” to help explain the relationship between the individual and the immediate environment. This was further explored in his work with Paul Gump in the book Big School, Small School: High School Size and Student Behaviour. One of the first insightful explanations on why groups tend to be less satisfying for their members as they increase in size, their studies illustrated that large schools had a similar number of behaviour settings to that of small schools. This resulted in the students’ ability to presume many different roles in small schools (e.g. be in the school band and the school football team) but in larger schools, there was a propensity to deliberate over their social choices.

In his book Ecological Psychology (1968), Barker stresses the importance of the town’s behaviour and environment as the residents’ most ordinary instrument of describing their environment.

“The hybrid, eco-behavioral character of behavior settings appear to present Midwest’s inhabitants with no difficulty; nouns that combine milieu and standing behavior are common, e.g. oyster supper, basketball game, turkey dinner, golden gavel ceremony, cake walk, back surgery, gift exchange, livestock auction, auto repair.”

Barker argued that his students should implement T-methods (psychologist as ‘transducer’: i.e. methods in which they studied the man in his ‘natural environment’) rather than O-methods (psychologist as “operators” i.e. experimental methods). Basically, Barker preferred fieldwork and direct observation rather than controlled experiments. Some of the minute-by-minute observations of Kansan children from morning to night, jotted down by young and maternal graduate students, may be the most intimate and poignant documents in social science. Barker spent his career expanding on what he called ecological psychology, identifying these behaviour settings, and publishing accounts such as One Boy’s Day (1952) and Midwest and Its Children (1955).

Natural Environment Research Findings

Environmental psychology research has observed various concepts relating to humans’ innate connection to natural environments which begins in early childhood. One study shows that fostering children’s connectedness to nature will, in turn, create habitual pro-ecological behaviours in time. Exposure to natural environment may lead to a positive psychological well-being and form positive attitudes and behaviour towards nature. Connectedness to nature has shown to be a huge contributor to predicting people’s general pro-ecological and pro-social behaviours. Connectedness to nature has also been shown to benefit well-being, happiness, and general satisfaction. “Nature-deficit disorder” has recently been coined to explain the lack of connectedness to nature due to a lack of consciousness identification and nature disconnect. Further research is required to make definitive claims about the effects of connectedness to nature.


Impact on the Built Environment

Environmental psychologists rejected the laboratory-experimental paradigm because of its simplification and skewed view of the cause-and-effect relationships of human behaviours and experiences. Environmental psychologists examine how one or more parameters produce an effect while other measures are controlled. It is impossible to manipulate real-world settings in a laboratory.

Environmental psychology is oriented towards influencing the work of design professionals (architects, engineers, interior designers, urban planners, etc.) and thereby improving the human environment.

On a civic scale, efforts toward improving pedestrian landscapes have paid off, to some extent, from the involvement of figures like Jane Jacobs and Copenhagen’s Jan Gehl. One prime figure here is the late writer and researcher William H. Whyte. His still-refreshing and perceptive “City”, based on his accumulated observations of skilled Manhattan pedestrians, provides steps and patterns of use in urban plazas.

The role and impact of architecture on human behaviour is debated within the architectural profession. Views range from: supposing that people will adapt to new architectures and city forms; believing that architects cannot predict the impact of buildings on humans and therefore should base decisions on other factors; to those who undertake detailed precedent studies of local building types and how they are used by that society.

Environmental psychology has conquered the whole architectural genre which is concerned with retail stores and any other commercial venues that have the power to manipulate the mood and behaviour of customers (e.g. stadiums, casinos, malls, and now airports). From Philip Kotler’s landmark paper on Atmospherics and Alan Hirsch’s “Effects of Ambient Odors on Slot-Machine Usage in a Las Vegas Casino”, through the creation and management of the Gruen transfer, retail relies heavily on psychology, original research, focus groups, and direct observation. One of William Whyte’s students, Paco Underhill, makes a living as a “shopping anthropologist”. Most of this advanced research remains a trade secret and proprietary.

Environmental psychology is consulted thoroughly when discussing future city design. Eco-cities and eco-towns have been studied to determine the societal benefits of creating more sustainable and ecological designs. Eco-cities allow for humans to live in synch with nature and develop sustainable living techniques. The development of eco-cities requires knowledge in the interactions between “environmental, economic, political, and socio-cultural factors based on ecological principles”.


  • Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is a non-profit organisation that works to improve public spaces, particularly parks, civic centres, public markets, downtowns, and campuses. The staff of PPS is made up of individuals trained in environmental design, architecture, urban planning, urban geography, urban design, environmental psychology, landscape architecture, arts administration and information management. The organisation has collaborated with many major institutions to improve the appearance and functionality of public spaces throughout the US. In 2005, PPS co-founded The New York City Streets Renaissance, a campaign that worked to develop a new campaign model for transportation reform. This initiative implemented the transformation of excess sidewalk space in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan into public space. Also, by 2008, New York City reclaimed 49 acres (200,000 m2) of traffic lanes and parking spots away from cars and gave it back to the public as bike lanes and public plazas.
  • The Centre for Human Environments at the CUNY Graduate Centre is a research organisation that examines the relationship between people and their physical settings. CHE has five subgroups that specialise in aiding specific populations: The Children’s Environments Research Group, the Health and Society Research Group, the Housing Environments Research Group, the Public Space Research Group, and the Youth Studies Research Group.
  • The most relevant scientific groups are the International Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS) and the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA).
  • Urban Ecology: The Urban Ecologist, and the International Eco-City Conference were some of the first collectives to establish the idea of eco-cities and townships.


The field saw significant research findings and a fair surge of interest in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but has seen challenges of nomenclature, obtaining objective and repeatable results, scope, and the fact that some research rests on underlying assumptions about human perception, which is not fully understood. Being an interdisciplinary field is difficult because it lacks a solid definition and purpose. It is hard for the field to fit into organisational structures. In the words of Guido Francescato, speaking in 2000, environmental psychology encompasses a “somewhat bewildering array of disparate methodologies, conceptual orientations, and interpretations… making it difficult to delineate, with any degree of precision, just what the field is all about and what might it contribute to the construction of society and the unfolding of history.”

A grand challenge in the field of environmental psychology today is to understand the impact of human behaviour on the climate and climate change. Understanding why some people engage in pro-environment behaviours can help predict the necessary requirements to engage others in making sustainable change.

Environmental psychology has not received nearly enough supporters to be considered an interdisciplinary field within psychology. Harold M. Proshanksy was one of the founders of environmental psychology and was quoted as saying:

“As I look at the field of environmental psychology today, I am concerned about its future. It has not, since its emergence in the early 1960s grown to the point where it can match the fields of social, personality, learning or cognitive psychology. To be sure, it has increased in membership, in the number of journals devoted to it, and even in the amount of professional organizational support it enjoys, but not enough so that one could look at any major university and find it to be a field of specialization in a department of psychology, or, more importantly, in an interdisciplinary center or institute”.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_psychology >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What is Meant by a Mental Environment?


The mental environment refers to the sum of all societal influences upon mental health.

Refer to An Overview of Environmental Psychology, Healing Environments, and Healthy Building.


The term is often used in a context critical of the mental environment in industrialised societies. It is argued that just as industrial societies produce physical toxins and pollutants which harm humans physical health, they also produce psychological toxins (e.g. television, excessive noise, violent marketing tactics, Internet addiction, social media) that cause psychological damage.

This poor mental environment may help explain why rates of mental illness are reportedly higher in industrial societies which might also have its roots in poor educational environment and mechanical routinised life present. Magico-religious beliefs are an important contribution of such communal settings. Delusions such as these rooted from childhood are often hard to completely regulate from a person’s life.

The idea has its roots in evolutionary psychology, as the deleterious consequences of a poor mental environment can be explained by the mismatch between the mental environment humans evolved to exist within and the one they exist within today.

“We live in both a mental and physical environment. We can influence the mental environment around us, but to a far greater extent we are influenced by the mental environment. The mental environment contains forces that affect our thinking and emotions and that can dominate our personal minds.” Marshall Vian Summers

Further Reading

Gebelein, B. (2007). The Mental Environment (Mostly about Mind Pollution). 1st Ed. Omdega Press. ISBN 978-0-9614611-2-6.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_environment >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

Book: Like-Minded – Externalism and Moral Psychology

Book Title:

Like-Minded – Externalism and Moral Psychology.

Author(s): Andrew Sneddon.

Year: 2011.

Edition: First (1st), Illustrated Edition.

Publisher: MIT Press.

Type(s): Hardcover.


A proposal that the cognitive processes that make us moral agents are partially constituted by features of our external environments. What are the psychological foundations of morality?

Historically, the issue has been framed as one of emotion versus reason. Hume argued that reason is the slave of the passions and so morality must be based on them; Kant argued that moral law is given by rational agents to themselves in virtue of their rationality.

The debate has continued in these terms to the present day. In Like-Minded, Andrew Sneddon argues that “reason” and “passion” do not satisfactorily capture all the important options for explaining the psychological foundations of morality. He proposes a third possibility: that the cognitive processes that make us moral agents are centrally constituted by features of our external environments.

Sneddon calls this the Wide Moral Systems Hypothesis (WMSH). The WMSH fits within an array of positions known as externalism or the Extended Mind Hypothesis, according to which the world outside our bodies is not just input to cognitive processes located within our brains but partially constitutes those processes.

After explaining the WMSH, Sneddon presents a series of more particular hypotheses about distinct aspects of our moral psychology: moral judgment, moral reasoning, the attribution of moral responsibility, and production of action. Sneddon revisits overlooked externalist aspects of moral psychology, noting the integration of agent and environment found in existing research.

With Like-Minded, Sneddon offers an innovative contribution to work in both moral psychology and the Extended Mind Hypothesis.

Proposing Principles for Designing the Built Environment of Mental Health Services

Research Paper Title

Principles for designing the built environment of mental health services.


Although there is an increasing amount of literature on the key principles for the design of mental health services, the contribution of the built environment to outcomes for the service user is a largely neglected area.

To help address this gap, the authors present evidence that highlights the pivotal role of evidence-based architectural design in service users’ experience of mental health services.

They propose six important design principles to enhance the care of mental health service users.

Drawing on research into the delivery of mental health services and best-practice approaches to their architectural design, they outline a holistic conceptual model for designing mental health services that enhance treatment outcomes and experiences, provide benefits to families and the community, and promote community resilience.

In this Personal View, they argue that the design of mental health services needs to extend across disciplinary boundaries to integrate evidence-informed practice across individual, interpersonal, and community levels.


Liddicoat, S., Badcock, P. & Killackey, E. (2020) Principles for designing the built environment of mental health services. Lancet Psychiatry. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30038-9. Online ahead of print.