One of the premises of Seasons of Salt is that our environment, our place, has an intrinsic effect on who we are, even on subconscious levels. It turns out, there’s a whole field devoted to the study of how our environments affect our psyche: environmental psychologists, conservation psychologists, or ecopsychologists are “focused on the interplay between individuals and their surroundings…encompassing natural environments, social settings, built environments, learning environments, and informational environments (Wikipedia).”
Our environment affects us psychologically. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Anyone who’s gone for a long hike to cure their sadness, paddled a wetland pond to de-stress from the week, or been through an environmental disaster and suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress syndrome could tell you that.
But a recent post from The Happiness Project really got me thinking about how environmental psychology might explain why people I introduce to Great Salt Lake (or the Great Basin, or any number of other places that aren’t immediately beautiful) don’t always have the same positive, gut-level, visceral reaction that I do. In her post, Gretchin Rubin introduces George E. McKechnie, a Ph.D. from Berkeley who, in the 1970’s, defined an “Inventory” of 8 ways we approach and respond to our environment. Partially, the Environmental Response Inventory (ERI) points to where we feel most comfortable and whole, but also to how we orient ourselves to the environments we encounter every day (not just the natural ones) and how that might influence our decisions.
I want to explore the theories and concepts of environmental psychology more at Seasons of Salt, starting with the ERI and your thoughts and feedback on where you fall.
Take a look at this list (and some of the questions I pulled from McKechnie’s original paper). Which of these orientations mostly closely reflects your comfort levels and approach to the environment?
- Like to occasionally take walks in the rain just for the experience of it?
- Think you would be content living in the wilderness?
- Believe silence has become a luxury that too few people can access?
- Believe the stress of city life distorts the human spirit?
You might have a Pastoral orientation to the environment – you have a deep personal connection to the environment, enjoy simple experiences in and interactions with nature, are concerned about the deterioration of the environment, and dislike the hustle and bustle of city life.
- Enjoy the randoms sounds of a city street?
- Have strong emotional reactions to architecture and beautiful man-made items?
- Believe life in a small town would be too slow for you?
- Think every child should have the opportunity to experience the excitement of a large city?
You might have an Urbanism orientation – you find joy and pleasure in the civilized aspects of city life, love the beauty of architecture and other man-made aesthetics, and definitely wouldn’t enjoy rural or small town life.
- Believe National Parks and other natural places would better serve the public if motels and other vacation facilities were made available along main access roads?
- Think the technological advances of man will ultimately lead to solutions for many of our pressing social problems?
- Value privacy and security of your home, and love your region or country above all others?
You might orient toward Environmental Adaptation – you believe the environment can and should be adapted for our comforts and desires, have faith in technology to solve human problems, and want to protect and restrict access to your environment or “territory.”
- Enjoy riding a motorcycle or getting outside to “do” something (running, biking, etc.) on a beautiful day?
- Prefer travel to new places on the weekends over puttering around the house?
- Like to listen to music or other sound while working?
- Find that your physical surroundings play an important role in who you are and in your dreams?
- Remember going to favorite places to be alone as a child?
You might be a Stimulus Seeker – you are most comfortable in environments where there is something to do or hear or see. You also place a deep importance on the space around you for your psychic well-being.
- Have vivid memories of your childhood home and the time you spent playing outside?
- Like to explore unfamiliar places and consider yourself an adventurous person?
- Doubt that technology isolates us from the natural environment or has any worrisome effects on our psychological well being?
You might be oriented toward Environmental Well-Being – you have strong memories of the environment of your childhood and value your experiences as a child in that environment. You also don’t believe technology and modern living have much effect on your psychological well-being.
- Believe trespassing laws should be strengthened and better enforced?
- Think people ought to be barred from doing risky things like base jumping, free climbing, and riding without a helmet?
- Stick to the same route when commuting to work and home to avoid getting lost?
- Dislike the constant flow of stimulation and flavor of various neighborhoods in cities?
You might have a need for Environmental Security – you want to keep your environment safe, and fear places or situations that might be potentially dangerous or put you in harm’s way. Unfamiliar places, especially cities, make you particularly uncomfortable.
- Believe the industrial and technological revolution has undermined the human spirit and isolated us from each other and the life-giving forces of nature?
- Need plenty of comfortable living space and wouldn’t be happy in a small apartment or house?
- Like the constant flow of diversity and stimulation that only a city can offer?
You might be an Abstract Conservationist – you have an anti-technology, conservation-based view of the world, but also prefer urban life. In your mind, you know living green matters, but only if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable or put you out.
- Prefer living in a new, planned community rather than an old, historic one?
- Like modern architectural style?
- Have few, if any, memories of where you grew up – or don’t really think about it much?
- Think traveling to Europe by boat, instead of jet, would be crazy?
You may have a Modernism orientation to your environment – you prefer new and man-made over old and natural, and you don’t really recognize or think about the significance of your environment on your psyche.
If you’re like me, you probably found pieces of yourself in a lot of these: primarily, I find myself in the Environmental Well-Being camp. I am deeply indebted to the ability I had to play freely outside as a kid – I know it shaped a lot of my approach to life, including making me independent and adventurous. I love doing things in nature along the lines of Environmental Stimulus, I enjoy simple experiences in nature as a Pastoralist would, but I also love living in the city (albeit Salt Lake City, which still has a small town feeling to it sometimes) as an Urbanist would. I don’t have an all or nothing view of technology: I see both it’s benefits (including the chance to share stuff like this with YOU), and the ways that it distracts me and diminishes my experiences. And I’m naively unafraid of places that maybe I should be, so I’m definitely not in the Environmental Security camp.
I would wager that a lot of Utah’s lawmakers share the Environmental Adaptation outlook, and I think I finally understand why a friend of mine seems to feel uncomfortable in my tiny, old house while I think it’s the greatest place in the world – she’s a Modernist!
Folks, these are the differences that make us great.
So, where do you fall? Have you learned anything about why you can’t convince your brother that his technology addiction is bad for his soul? Could you approach someone differently knowing that they have a different relationship with their environment than you do? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
McKechnie, G.E., Measuring Environmental Dispositions with the Environmental Response Inventory. EDRA 2: Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Environmental Design Research Association Conference, pp 320-326. 1970.