Environrnent-Behavior Theories: Conceptualizirlg Our Interaction With the Environment
usually combine all the components into one theory, or the environmental stress model (e.y., 13Vlllll, Singel, & baum, 1981; 1E vans (1984)
Sometimes the term stress is restricted to environmental events, and additional term, strain, is used to describe the consequence within the organism.. However, we will use stress to refer to the entire Stimulus-response Situation, stressor" to refer to the t environmental component alone, and stress response to refer to the reaction caused by the environmental component .
As we will see, some- components of the arousal, environmental load, adaptation level, and behavior constraint approaches fit very well into an environmental stress framework. Overload, for example, can be viewed as one consequence of coping with stress, and heightened arousal is certainly a component of stress. Similarly, an optimal level of stimulation (i.e., stimulation at the. adaptation level) should result in little evidence of a stress reaction, but, multiple constraints on behavior might be expected to lead to considerable signs of stress.
we will organize our discussion of stress under three subheadings. First, we will consider the characteristics of stressors, such as how long they last or how. often they occur. Since the degree to which these events actually cause, stress is dependent upon how they are -interpreted (i..e„ whether people notice them and decide t'. they might be harmful or aversive), we will also discuss the appraisal of stressors. Finally, the kinds of stress responses that occur (physiological reactions, , coping Strategies, aftereffects) will be considered.
Characteristics of Stressors
There are a number of ways we might classify stressors. Lazarus and Cohen (1977) have described three general categories of environmental stressors cataclysmic events, personal stressors ,and background stressors. These vary according to ,severity of impact as well as other dimensions; such as the ease Of the coping or adaptation process in response to them.
Cataclysmic Events Natural disasters, war, nuclear accident, or fires are unpredictable powerful threats that generally affect all of those touched by them. Such cataclysmic events are overwhelming stressors that have, several basic characteristics. They are usually sudden, giving little or no warning of theiroccurrence. Tthey have a powerful impact, elicit a more or less universal response and usually require a great deal of effort for effective coping. The accidents at Three Mile Island; and Chernobyl), the Mount Saint Helens eruption as well as the more common tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters (Adams & Adams, 1984; Baum, Fleming, 1953
) can all be considered in this category of stressors.
The powerful oncet of sudden cataclysmic events may initially evoke a freezing or dazed response by victims. Coping is difficult and may
bring no immediate relief. 'However, the severely threatening period of such an event usually (but not always) ends quickly, and recovery begins. A tornado may strike for only a brief time, and other cataclysmic events flay be over in a few days. When the process is allowed to. proceed without a return of the stressor, rebuilding progresses and mg re or less complete recovery is generally achieved. In the case of Three Mile Island or Love Canal, where rebuilding is not what is needed (nothing was actually destroyed), and the damage already done is less important than the damage that may yet come, recovery may be more difficult (baum, Fleming, & davidson, 1953).
One important feature Of ;cataclysmic events, which iS in some ways beneficial for the coping process, is that they affect a large number of people. Affiliation with others and comparing feelings and opinions with them have been identified as important styles of coping with such threats, since social support call moderate the effects of stressful conditions (e.;., Norris, 1996). Because people are able to share their distress with others undergoing the same difficulties, some studies have suggested that cohesion results among these
When a stressor persists in an apparently unresolvable manner, problems of a different kind can arise-including learned helplessness.
Personal Stressors A second group of stressors may be termed personal stressors. These include such events as illness, death of a loved one, or loss of one's job-events that are powerfull enough to, challenge adaptive abilities in the same way as cataclysmic events (e.g.,). Personal stressors generally affect fewer people at any one time than do cataclysmic events, and may or may not be expected. Frequently, with persona stressors the point of severest impact occurs early, and coping can progress once the worst is over, although this is not always the case. Often the magnitude, duration, and point of severest impact of cataclysmic events and personal stressors, such as death and loss of a job, are similar. However, the relatively smaller number of people who exp6rilence a particular personal stressor at any c3ne time may be significant because there are fewer. others to serve as sources of social support. Also, a cataclysmic event such as a flood can result in the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal stressors.
-Background Stressor,s Less powerful; more
gradual, but more chronic and almost routine stressors are termed background stressors. Rotton (1990) prefers to divide background stressor's into two types. Daily hassles (or micro stressors ) are stable, low-intensity problems encountered as part of one's routine (LazaI't1S e t al., 1985; Zlka & Chamberlain, 1987), such as we described in the. opening paragraph of this chapter. Ambient stressors are "chronic, global conditions of the environment -pollution, noise, residential crowding, traffic congestion ill a general sense, represent noxious Stimulation, and which, as stressor, place demand upon us to adapt or cope" (Campbell, 1983, p. 360. .
Pollution impact larger number of people, are chronic and mundane and are difficult to remove through the efforts of one individual. While many background stressors are mundane and of relatively low intensity, some may not even be noticeable, like certain instances of air pollution (e.g., Eva11S &- Jacobs, 1J81). any one or two background stressors may not be sufficient to cause great adaptive difficulty, but when a number occur together, they can exact a cost over time and may be as serious as cataclysmic events or personal stressors. Regular and prolonged exposure to certain low-level background stressors may even require more adaptive responses in the long run than more intense stressors. For example,
long-term exposure to noise (Evans, Hygge, & Bullinger, 1995), neighborhood problems (White et al., 1987), and long term commuting stress (White & Rotton, 1998) can be quite problematic.
with background stressors, it is often difficult to identify a point at which "the worst is over," and it may not be at all clear that things will get better. In fact, things may go from bad to worse. In addition, the benefits for coping or of having others who "share in the experience" may not be as great as for other types of stressors. This may be because the intensity of background stressors is frequently so low as to never
raise the need for affiliation; or, alternatively, social support may not be appropriate in these situations (cf. Campbell, 1983).
A given environmental event may or may not be a stressor in all circumstances, and in the same circumstances it may be a stressor to some individuals and not to others. The probably of an event becoming stressful is determined by a number Of factors (EVa1I1S & COl1eI1, 1987), including the characteristics of the event and the way individuals appraise it. Thus, inorder for the stress process to begin.there must be cognitive appraisal of a stimulus as threatening. To
Environment-Behavior Theories: Conceptualizing Our Interaction With the Environment 119
use an environmental example, 90' F (332'c) to a native southerner is not likely to be very stressful, in midsummer. To someone living in Barrow, Alaska, however, the mere thought of experiencing 90° F for a few hours a day may well be evaluated as threatening. In other words, the same stimulus that may not be stressful in one situation may be stressful in another-the stimulus has not changed, but the individuals appraisal of it as threatening or nonthreatening has changed. moreover ,cognitive appraisal that an aversive event, such as crowding, is pending is often sufficient to elicit a stress response, even though the physical event itself does not happen (e.g., Baltm & Greenberg, 1915).
lazarlis. (1966, 1998) suggests that this cognitive appraisal is a function of individual psychological factors (intellectual resources, knowledge of past experience, and motivation) and cognitive aspects of the specific stimulus situation (control over the stimulus, predictability of the stimulus, and immediacy or "time until impact" of the stimulus). The more knowledge one has about the beneficial aspects of a source of noise, or the more control one has over the noise (in terms of terminating or avoiding it), the less one is likely to evaluate that stimulus as threatening, and the less threatening the situation is likely to be.
Types of Appraisal_ Cognitive appraisal of a situation is more complex than merely assessing its potential threat (see Baum et al., 1982, for a review). Several different types of appraisal are possible. harm or loss appraisals focus on damage that has already been done (Lazarus & Launier, 1978). For example, victims of a natural or technological disaster could be expected to make harm /loss evaluations. In general, rapid loss of resources is associated with traumatic stress ( hobfoll , 19J1). In contrast, threat appraisals are concerned with future dangers. Environmental toxins such as pesticides may evoke perceived threat to one's health, and threat appraisals may precede exposure to them. Perceived threat, from and stress reaction to a chronic toxic hazard is likely to be worse than that associated with a quich-hitting flood (baum1993). The ability to anticipate potential difficulties allows us to prevent their occurrence but may cause us to experience anticipatory stress. It is hard to Say which is worse-seeing one's home destroyed in a hurricane (harm/loss) or not knowing how one will be sheltered from the elements until one can build a new home (threat). As this example suggests, threat and harm/loss appraisals usually go hand in hand (lazaruc). Challenge appraisals are different from others because they focus not on the harm or potential harm of an event, but on the possbility of overcoming the stressor. Some stressors may be beyond our coping ability, but we all have a range of events for which we are confident of our ability to cope successfully. Stressors that are evaluated as challenges fall within this hypothetical range (llienstbier,1989; Lazanls & Launier, 1978; TOlllakil et ill., 1997).
Factors Affecting Appraisal a number of factors have been identified that affect our appraisals of environmental stressors. These include the characteristics of the condition in question (e.g., bow loud z particular noise is); situational conditions (e.g., whether what we are doing is compatible with or inhibited by the potential stressor); individual differences; and environmental. Social , and psychological variables. To cite but one example, the uppermiddle-class resident of a large city may be less likely to experience difficulty as a result of urban conditions than a poorer resident of the same city. Or, he or she may be better able to avoid the seamy side of the city and thus less likely to be exposed to aversive urban conditions. Attitudes toward the source of stress will also mediate responses; if we believe that a condition will cause no permanent harm, our response wiIl probably be less extreme than if it carries the threat of lasting harm. If our attitudes are strongly in favor of something that may also harm us, we may reappraise threats and make them seem less dangerous. For example, Elliott et al. (1997) describe how residents near a landfill in Ontario appraised it as less threatening over time.
120 CHAPTER 4 Theories of Environment-Behavior 5elationships
, We described the influence of perceived control when discussing the behavior constraint approach. Perceived control is also an important moderator_ of stress, providing a sense of being able to cope effectively; to predict events, and to determine what will happen. Giving research "participants information about a stressor prior to their exposure to it helps them to plan and predict what will happen. Such information increases perceived control and reduces the threat appraisal made when the stressor is experienced. For example, the stress associated with surgery or aversive medical procedures can be reduced by providing patients with accurate expectations of what they will feel (e.g., Johnson & Leventhal, 1974). Other studies have found that accurate expectations about high levels of density reduce crowding stress (Baum, Fisher, & Solomon, 1981; Langer & Saegert, 1977).
Coping styles or behavior patterns also appear to affect the ways in which events are appraised, as well as which types of coping are invoked. Work on a. number of these dimensions, such as repression-sensitization (the degree to which people think about a stressor), screening (a person's ability to ignore extraneous stimuli or to prioritize demands), and denial (the degree to which people ignore or suppress awareness of problems), has indicated that people differing along these dimensions may interpret situations differently (e.g., Bell & Byrne, 1978; Collins, Baum, & Singer, 1983; Mehrabian, 1976-77). A study by Baum et al. (1982), for example, suggested that individuals who cope with overload by screening and prioritizing demands are less susceptible to the effects of, crowding than people who do not cope in this way.
Another moderator of stress appraisals may be social , support- the feeling that one is cared about and valued by other people, and that he or she belongs to a group. Many have long believed that interpersonal relationships can somehow protect us from many ills (e.g., Cohen & Wills, 1985; Jung, 1954, 33owever, the effects of having or not having social and emotional support have not always been clearly demonstrated (cf.
Ganelleii & Blaney, 1984; Hendrick, Wells, & Faletti, 1982). One possible reason is that those from crowded homes or other backgrounds of social distress may respond to others through withdrawal rather than attachment (Evans & Lepore, 1993).
Characteristics of the Stress Response
A distinction is often made between primary appraisal, which involves assessment of threat, and secondary appraisal, which involves assessment of coping strategies. Appraisals of stressors help determine responses to them. If an appraisal is "negative" and an event is seen as being dangerous, responses that prepare to cope will ensue. These stress responses in the whole body. Physiological changes are part of this response, most reflecting increased arousal. At the same time, emotional, psychological, and behavioral changes may also occur as part of the stress response.
Physiological Response Part of the response to an aversive or stressful stimulus is automatic. Selye's (1956) general adaptation syndrome (GAS) consists of three stages: (1) the alarm reaction, (2) the stage of resistance. and (3) the stage of exhaustion. Initially, an alarm reaction to a stressor causes autonomic processes (heart rate, adrenalin secretion, and so on) to speed up. The second stage in the stress process, the stage of resistance, also begins with some automatic mechanism for coning with the stressor. If heat is the stressor, sweating occurs; if extreme cold is the stressor, shivering may occur. When these nomeostatic mechanisms do not restore equilibrium, signs of exhaustion or depleted reserves will be observed as an organism enters the last of Selye's three stages,, the stage of exhaustion. The primary, ind1ants of this stage are ulcers, adrenal enlargement, and shrinkage of lymph and other glands that confer resistance to disease.
Some responses to environmental stress are virtually indistinguishable from those evoked by direct assault on body tissue by pathogens. Re-
Environment-Behavior Theories: Conceptualizing Our Interaction With the Environment F" 121
calling Selye's three-stage process, it appears that stress results in heightened secretion of corticosteroids during file alarm reaction, followed by a decline in reactivity (as measured by this secretion) through resistance and exhaustion. The catecholamines -dopamine, epinephrine (adrenalin), and norepinephrine-are also active in stress, along with emotional distress (Arnsten, 1998).
Increased catecholamine and corticosteroid secretion is associated with a wide range of other physiological responses, such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, muscle potential, inflammation, and other functions. In the brain, stress enhances the activity of an emotional center (the amygdala), making memories of emotional events stronger, and decreases the attention-focusing and organizing and planning operation of the frontal lobes (Arnsten, 1995).absence of these effects appear to be stronger in the .absence of perceived control.
These findings may also be viewed as consistent with pioneering work by Cannon (1929, 1931), who suggested that epinephrine has a positive effect on adaptation. Epinephrine provides a biological advantage by arousing the organism; thus enabling it to respond more rapidly to danger. When extremely frightened or enraged, we experience an arousal that may be uncomfortable but that readies, us to act against the thing that scares or angers us. Thus, stress-related increases in catecholamines may facility adaptive behavior. .
Some studies have shown superior performance on simple, well-learned tasks following stress reactions. On the other hand, arousal has been associated with impaired performance on complex tasks. Decreases in problem-solving abilities, increases in general negativity, impatience, irritability, feelings of worthlessness, and emotionality may all accompany a stress response, and emotional disturbances such as anxiety or depression may occur (Arnsten, 1998; Evans et al., 1J95; Rotton et al., 1997).
Coping Strategies In the stage of resistance, many coping processes are also cognitive, so
that the individual must decide on a behavioral coping strategy. According to Lazarus (19G6, 1995), the coping strategy is a function of individual and situational factors and may consist of flight; physical or verbal attack, or some sort of compromise. Lack of success in the coping process may increase the tendency to evaluate the situation as threatening. For example, Faupel and Styles (1993) found that victims Of hurricane Hugo reported more stress if they had engaged in activities to prepare for the disaster; perhaps the experienced devastation in spite of preparation increased perceived threat. Associated with this cognitive coping proess are any number of emotions, including anger and fear To use another example, the stress reaction to a large crowd in a city might consist of evaluation of the crowd as threatening, physiological arousal, fear, and flight to a less crowded area (Figure 4-5). ,
Many ways_ of categorizing coping strategies have been developed (see Aldwill & Revenson,1987). Two useful distinctions employed by Lazanls and his colleagues are (1) direct action or problem focused, such as information seeking, flight, or attempts to remove or stop the stress or; or (2) palliative or emotion focused, . such as employing psychological defense mechanisms denial, , intellectualization, etc.), using drugs, meditating, or reassessing the situation as nonthreatening (see also Roth & Cohen, 1986). To the extent that direct action is not available or. practical- palliative strategies become more likely. Interestingly, a sense of humor helps people cope with many types of stress (martin & Lefcourt, 1983), as does viewing relaxing scenes of nature (e.g., Parsons et al., 1998).
Adaptation As previously noted, if the coping responses are not adequate for dealing with the stressor, and all coping energies have been expended, the organism will enter the third stage of the GAS, the stage of exhaustion. Fortunately, something else usually happens before exhaustion occurs .in most situations, when an aversive stimulus is presented many times, the stress reaction to it becomes weaker and
122 CHAPTER 4 Theories of Environment-Behavior Relationships
Figure 4-5 The stress model.
weaker; Psychologically, this process is called adaptation. Adaptation to a stressor may occur because neurophysiological sensitivity to, the . stimulus becomes weaker, because uncertainty about the stressor is reduced, or because the stressor is cognitively appraised as less and less threatening.
Visitors to a polluted city, for example, initially may suffer overt physiological symptoms, such as shortness of breath, and may express a great deal of fear about the potential health consequences of exposure to atmospheric pollutants. On successive days in the city, however, these visitors, realizing that they have not died yet, may "lose" the fear of breathing the air (see
Chapter 7). As another example, consider the stress that might build as one moves to a new office; all of the old emotional attachments, productive work habits, and spatial organization could be threatened. But even small improvements in the new office, such as increased lighting or more privacy, may reduce the threat and stress associated with the move ( Spreckelmeyer, 1993).
Adaptation to stress is both beneficial mid costly. Almost all events in life, from birth, to attending school, to driving on freeways at rush hour, involve some degree of stress. Obviously; the individual who has been exposed to stress and has learned to handle it is better able to
124 CHAPTER 4 Theories of Environment-Behavior Relationships
arteries and other diseases- of the blood vessels (Schneidermau, 19829). Indeed, the relationship between stress and health is one that is of ever increasing interest in modern times (e.g., Bernard & Krupat, 1994).
Assessing the Stress Model
When we evaluate the effectiveness of using stress as a mediator for a theoretical approach in environmental psychology, we find that it does an admirable job with the data in its predictive domain. The stress approach does help predict many of the consequences of environmental deterioration as well as the presence or absence of observable effects of such specific stressors as crowding and extremes of heat and cold. In this respect, the stress approach has a great deal of generalizability : It applies to many situations and accounts for the combined effects of many environmental and social stressors that are presented at the same time (e.g., Levine, 1988). Perhaps for this reason the stress approach suggests many directions for new research. If we treat a given environmental event as a stressor, then we should be able to predict its effects, with or without the presence of other stressors, from our knowledge of the effects of other stressors. Furthermore, we should be able to use. present knowledge about coping with stress to help control reactions to unwanted environmental stressors. On the other hand, one problem with using only the stress approach as a theoretical inroad in environmental psychology is that the identification of stressors is somewhat ambiguous (e.g., Lazarus et al., 1955). For example, suppose we expose individuals to a particular stimulus and get no stress reaction. Should that stimulus be regarded as something other than a stressor, or did those particular individuals just not evaluate it as threatening under the experimental circumstances? In addition, stress models have some difficulty predicting exactly when individuals will cope with a stressor in different ways; that is, we do not, easily predict when someone will use palliative versus direct-action strategies -we know that people use these different strategies, but describing the chosen path
after the fact is easier than predicting it ahead of time.
BARKER'S ECOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGY
The theoretical perspectives reviewed up to this point have been concerned primarily with the specific effects of the environment on behavior but, with the exception of the behavior constraint model, they have not been concerned much with the effects of behavior on the environment. Yet , as we have noted many times, behavior inevitably influences the environment. Ecological psychology views environment-behavior relationships as two-way streets or, in other words, as ecological interdependencies. Barker (1968, 1979, 1987, 1990) and his colleagues have been the principal advocates of the ecological psychology perspective. The focus of Barker's model is the influence of the behavior setting on the behavior of large numbers of people, which is termed the extra-individual behavior pattern. A unique aspect of Barker's approach is that the behavior setting is an entity in itself. It is not an arbitrarily defined social scientific concept but actually exists and has a physical structure, although it does change over time (Wicker, 1987). In order to understand just how this behavior setting functions, we will first look at some characteristics of the behavior setting, then see how the setting fits into Barker's theory al staffing. For additional reading, you might wish to consult the July 1990 issue or Environment and Behavior, which was written by Barker, his students, are colleagues, and is devoted entirely to a commenioration of the functioning of the Midwest Psychological Field Station, which was the setting of much of Barker's early work.
The Nature of the Behavior Setting
A number of behaviors can occur inside a structure with four walls, a ceiling, and a floor; but if we know that the cultural purpose of this structure is to be a classroom, then we know that the behavior of the people in the structure will be quite different than if its purpose is to be a
Environment-Behavior Theories: Conceptualizing Our Interaction With the Environment 125
church, a factory, or a hockey arena. The fact that this behavior setting is in a , built environment also tells us that the extra-individual behavior will be different from that in the natural environment of a forested wilderness or a desert. This cultural purpose exists because the behavior setting consists of the interdependency between standing patterns of behavior kind a physical milieu. Standing patterns of behavior represent the collective behaviors of the group, rather than just individual behaviors. These behaviors are not unique to the individuals present, but they may be unique to the setting. If the behavior setting is a classroom in a lecture oriented course; then the standing patterns of behavior would include lecturing, listening, observing, sitting, taking notes, raising hands, and exchanging questions and answers. Since this en masse behavior pattern occurs only in an educational behavior setting, ecological psychologists would infer that knowing about the setting helps us predict the behavior that will occur in it. The physical milieu of this behavior setting would include a room, a lectern, chairs, and perhaps a chalkboard and projector and screen.
Once the individuals leave the classroom, the physical milieu still remains, so the standing behavior patterns are independent of the milieu. Yet they are similar in structure, or synomorphic , and together create the behavior setting (Figure 4-G). A change in either the standing behavior patterns (as when a club holds a meeting in the classroom) or the physical milieu (such as when the class is held outdoors on the first warm day of spring) changes the behavior setting. Sommer (1998) describes the synomorphic evolution of food co-ops as gradual renovations to the stores in order to make the design more and more consistent with the ideology of the group.
How can we use the behavior setting conceptualization to understand environment behavior relationships? Perhaps a few examples can best illustrate the utility of this approach (see also Wicker & Kirmeyer, 1976). One very famous application of ecological psychology was described in Chapter 1. In this study, Barker and his colleagues (Barker & Schoggen, 1973; Barker & Wright, 1955) compared a small town in Kansas with one in England. They found, for
Figure 4-b According to Barker's ecological psychology, knowing about the physical setting tells us much about the behaviors that occur there. In the setting shown, what behaviors can you always expect to see? -
126 CHAPTER 4 Theories of Environment-Behavior Relationships
example, that in England behavior settings under the control of businesses were more common, and the ,behavior in them lasted longer. In settings involving voluntary participation, however, Americans spent more time and held more positions of responsibility 'than did the Britons. (The significance of such findings will be more apparent later in the discussion of staffing Wicker (1979, 1957) notes that ecological psychology methods are very useful for such diverse goals as documenting community life, assessing the social impact of change, and analyzing the structure of organizations for such factors as efficiency of operation; handling of responsibility, and indications of status: In addition, as Bechtel (1977) noted, ecological psychology call be useful in assessing environmental design. By carefully examining the behavior setting, one can analyze such design features as pathways, or links between settings. and focal points, or places where behavior tends to concentrate. In the lobby of a building, for example, it is important to separate pathways to various elevators, offices, and shops in order to avoid congestion and confusion. An information center in the lobby, though, would be most useful if placed at a focal point. As another example, open-plan (i.e., no internal walls) designs in schools and offices, although having advantages, often lead to inadequate boundaries between behavior settings thereby causing interference with the intended functions (e.g., Oldham & - Brass, 1979). We will discuss more of these kinds of design implications in Chapters 11, 12, and 13.
Staffing the Setting;
How Many Peas Fill a Pod?
What happens if a behavior setting such as a classroom or theater has too few or too many inhabitants for maximum functioning efficiency? Do students at small schools, for example, take on more roles of responsibility than students at larger schools? Studies of these questions from the ecological psychology perspective have led to what is called staffing theory (Barker, 1960; Barker & Gump, 1964; Wicker & Kirlneyer,
1976; Wicker, IVIcGrath, & Armstrong, 1972). historically, this concept was termed the theory of manning, but today it is known by the gender neutral phrase theory of staffing.
In order to understand the theory , let us first define some terms proposed by Wicker and his colleagues that are related to the concept of staffing. The minimum number of inhabitants needed to maintain a behavior setting is defined as the maintenance minimum The maximum number of inhabitants the. setting can hold ,is the capacity. The people who meet the membership requirements of the setting and who are trying to became part of it are called applicants Performers in a setting carry out the primary tasks, such as the teacher in a. classroom, the workers in a factory, or the cast and sup. porting staff in a play. Nonperformers, such as the pupils in a classroom or the audience in a theater, are involved in secondary roles. Maintenance minimum, capacity; and the applicants are different entities for performers and nonperformers. For example, maintenance minimum for performers in a classroom would be the smallest staff (teachers, custodians, secretaries, deans) required to carry out the program. For nonperformers, maintenance minimum would be the smallest number of pupils required to keep the class going. Capacity for performers in a classroom might be determined by social factors (e.g., how many teachers are most effective in one setting) and by physical factors, such as the size of the room, number of lecterns, and so on. For nonperforlrl.ers, room size would be the primary determinant of capacity. Whether your class contains 10 or 1,000 students depends in most cases as much on classroom size as on educational policy. For performers, applicants are the individuals who meet the requirements of the performer role and who seek to perform; as in the number of teachers available to teach a given class. Applicants for nonperformers are those who seek secondary roles, as in the number of students trying to get into the class. If students are available but do not seek to get into the class, or if teachers do not want to teach a given class, then they are not considered applicants.
Environment -Behavior Theories: Conceptualizing Our Interaction With the Environment C127
Smoking is banned today in many public spaces, but sometimes smokers light up in nonsmoking areas. Gibson and Weiner (1994) suggested that part of die reason may not be disrespectful smokers, but rather environmental layout and cues.
One aspect of ecological psychology involves the, circuitry of the setting- those elements by which it is regulated. For example, the setting program defines what is supposed to happen in the setting, and the deviation-countering circuit restores order to violations of the program. Gibson and Werner viewed
smoking in a nonsmoking area as a violation Of the program. The problem, they suggested, is that the program is not always obvious. Recall from Chapter 3 that legibility is an important aspect of defining the ease of cognitive mapping in a city. lack of legibility may also be a factor in smokers lighting up in nonsmoking areas. In one study, Gibson and Werner found that smoking was much more likely in ambiguous area, than in clearly marked nonsmoking areas. In another study; they created a distinct boundary between smoking and nonsmoking areas, or they kept the boundary ambiguous by having a row of chairs cross between the two areas. In addition, ambiguity was created by sometimes having ashtrays in nonsmoking areas, all of this despite the clear presence of "No Smoking" signs. Again, they found that the more ambiguity, the more smoking in nonsmoking areas (i.e.; the more violation of the setting program). In fact; when boundaries were distinct and ashtrays not present, no one ever smoked in a nonsmoking area. In a third study, these researchers found that nonsmokers' responses to an intruding smoker could be predicted by location and legibility of the setting. Nonsmokers were more likely to reprimand a smoker in a nonsmoking area,(i.e:, counter the deviation or defend the territory) if the violation occurred in the center of the area versus the edge, of the designated nonsmoking area; deviation countering was also more likely to occur if the program of the nonsmoking area was highly legible (e.; if the boundary,,
If the number of applicants to a setting (either performers or nonperformers) falls below maintenance minimum, then some or all of the inhabitants must take on more than their share of roles if the behavior setting is to be maintained. This condition is termed understaffed. if the number of applicants exceeds the capacity, the setting is overstaffed, and if the number of applicants is between maintenance minimum and capacity, the setting is adequately staffed wicker (1973) has labeled an adequately staffed setting with a low number of participants as poorly ,Staffed, and an adequately staffed setting with a high number of participants as richly staffed. Thus, we can consider a continuum of participation levels from understaffed to poorly staffed, adequately staffed, richly staffed, and overstaffed.
When conditions of understaffing exist, the consequences for the inhabitants of the setting are many. As stated earlier, inhabitant must take on more specific tasks and roles than, would otherwise be the case. As a result, inhabitants have to work harder and at more difficult tasks than they would Otherwise, and peak performance on any task is not as great as in an adequately staffed setting. Furthermore, admissions standards to understaffed settings may have to be lowered, and superficial differences among inhabitants may be largely ignored, whereas in adequately staffed settings these differences are highlighted to fit each person into his or her appropriate role. Each inhabitant in an understaffed setting is more valued, has more responsibility, and interacts more meaningfully with the setting. Since understaffed
128 CHAPTER 4 Theories of Environment-Behavior Relationships
settings have more opportunities for the experience of failure as well as success (owing to the increase in number of experiences per inhabitant), these settings are likely to result in more feelings of insecurity than are adequately staffed settings. The consequences of understaffing are summarized in Table 4-1.
Overstaffing, on the other hand, results in adaptive mechanisms being brought into play to deal with the huge number of applicants. One obvious solution would be to increase the capacity, probably through enlarging the present
physical milieu or moving to a larger one. Another adaptive mechanism would be to control the entrance of clients into the setting, either through stricter, entrance requirements or through some sort of funneling process (Figure 4-7). For example, Wicker (19791 describes how ecological psychologists implemented and evaluated a queuing (waiting line) arrangement at Yosemite National Park to alleviate overcrowding and associated disruptive behavior at bus stops. Still another regulatory mechanism would be to limit the amount of time inhabitants can spend in the setting. These three mechanisms are elaborated in Table 4-2
In general, predictions for staffing theory have been supported by research. For example, in a laboratory study involving too many, too few, or an intermediate number of participants to run a complex racing game, those in understaffed conditions reported feelings of involvement in the group and having an important role within the group (e.g., Wicker et al., 1976). Studies of large versus small high schools (Baird, 1969; Barker & Gump, 1964) suggest that students in small schools (which are less likely to be overstaffed) are indeed involved in a wider range of activities than students from large schools and are more likely to report feelings of satisfaction and of being challenged, Similar results have been reported for colleges as well (Baird, 1969; Berk & Goebel, 1987). Even student groups within college conform to the principles of staffing: As group size declines, groups become more open to prospective and new members (Cini , Moreland, & Levine, 1993). Studies of large versus small. churches (e.g., Wicker, 1969; Wicker & Kauma, 1974; Wicker, mcGrath, & Armstrong, 1972; Wicker & mehler, 1971) also indicate that members of small churches are likely to be involved in more behavior settings within the church (e.g., choir, committees) and to be involved in more leadership positions; such predictions are based on the assumption that smaller churches are more likely to be understaffed and larger churches overstaffed. Norris-Baker (1999) describes how staffing theory is useful in evaluating the effects
Environrnent-Behavior Theories: Conceptualizing Our Interaction With the Environment 129
Figure 4-7 Funneling is one way to regulate entrance into a potentially overstaffed behavior setting.
MECHANISMS FOR REGULATING THE POPULATION OF A BEHAVIOR SETTING°
Regulating access of applicants into the setting by: scheduling appointments for entrance
• increasing or decreasing recruiting
• raising or lowering admission standards
•asking participants to wait in holding areas
•Preventing unauthorized entrances
Regulating the settings capacity by:
• changing the arrangements or contents of the physical milieu
• changing the duration (hours open) of the setting
• increasing or decreasing staff (performers) to handle applicants
assigning stuff (performers) to different tasks as demands of applicants increase or decrease
Regulating the time applicants or inhabitants occupy the setting by:
• admitting applicants at different rates
•changing the limits on how long people can stay
•using a fee structure based on length of stay
• establishing priorities for dealing with different classes of applicants
• changing the standing patterns of behavior to facilitate the flow of applicants
130 CHAPTER 4 Theories of Environment-Behavior Relationships
of population, decline in small rural communities. altogether, then, these and other studies ,suggest that staffing theory is very , useful in assessing involvement and satisfaction within a number of environments, from businesses (e.g., Greenberg, 1979; Oxley & Barrera, 1984), to psychiatric institutions (e.g., Srivastava, 1974) to schools and churches, and to "home, sweet home" (Jones, Nesselroade, & Birkel, 1991).
Assessing the Ecological Psychology Perspective
Ecological psychology .has its advantages and disadvantages It necessitates using a field observation methodology (described in Chapter 1) that gives the theory the advantage of using real-world behavior. It certainly insists on preserving the integrity of the person-environment interrelationship. However, it includes the disadvantage of not being able to study many detailed cause-and-effect relationships in the laboratory, though certainly some laboratory research on ecological psychology principles has been and will continue to be conducted (e.g, Wicker, 1987; Wicker & Kirmeyer,1976). Studies of real-world behavior in context lead to difficulties of interpretation without scientific control of variables. For example, the observed effects of large versus small schools or churches could be due to differential group influence such as staffing demands, or to individual differences in the types of people who choose to affiliate with large versus small in Here we have a theory that is so broad in its scope that specific predictions about one person's behavior become difficult to make and troublesome to confirm. Since this approach is designed to study group behavior, it does a respectable job of handing group data in the context of a given setting. but it does not handle individual behavior as well as other theories. To its credit, ecological theory does generate many valuable research questions, such as what common properties of certain behavior settings result in the same group behavior, what happens when the structure of a behavior setting changes, and what effects
one behavior setting has on behavior in another setting. Finally, the ecological approach is applicable to a large variety of settings and circumstances ( Sommer & Wicker, 1991).
OTHER THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES
We have described six major broad theoretical perspectives used in environmental psychology. There are additional approaches that are used in a more restricted domain, particularly with regard to designing environments.we will briefly mention a few of them here and describe their application beginning in Chapter 11.
We noted in Chapter 2 that humans often develop attachment to places. This includes not just natural areas such as parks but also built environments such as our homes or communities . This attachment is often accompanied by a sense of ownership and a tendency to defend the place against intruders. The theory of defensible space (see page 356) implies that we can design places to promote attachment and make defense easier. As we will see in Chapter 7 on disasters, disturbed places have more impact on us if we are attached to them.
We also noted on page 110 that we seek an ideal level of privacy. This not only is similar to the principles of adaptation level theory, but is also one mediator of our use of space and the operation of personal space, territoriality, and crowding as means of maintaining the desired privacy level (see also AItman, 1975; Kupritz, 1998; Newell, 1998; Pedersen, 1997.). In designing environment, privacy regulation is one example of the principle Of congruence, which refers to the fit of an environment to the needs it is designed to meet-and the behaviors it is designed to promote. To the extent that an environment is not congruent intended behaviors (in ecological psychology terminology is not synomorphic with its purpose), some sort of stress is likely. To the extent that congruence is present. satisfaction and attachment are likely.
We have also described a model of environmental press and competence in the box on page 112 To the extent that press and com-
Integration and Summary of Theoretical Perspectives 131
Petence are matched (i.e., congruent), psychological well-being as well as attachment and satisfaction are promoted. wayfinding as described in Chapter 3 can be facilitated by user friendly designs, which is another example of congruence, as is designing environments for
accessibility 1)y those vs-'llc,) llave disabilities. En\•11'U11111e11tS with 11121c1,SClllate Clf'Sly11S 111 this re.
gard are, likely to foster constraints and stress, but those with appropriate designs should yield satisfaction, attachment, and competence (see also Pedersen , 1999).
Integration and Summary of Theoretical Perspectives
We will encounter still more conceptual perspectives in future chapters, and we will see repeatedly that the major theories we have described thus far are not mutually exclusive. Each theory selects one or two mediators inferred from empirical data and attempts to explain a large portion of the data using the mediator. just because one mediator explains a particular set of data, however, does not mean that other mediators do not operate in the same set of data, it is entirely conceivable, for example, that loud noise produces information overload, stress, arousal, and psychological reactance all at the same time in the same individual, and that architectural designs that fail to attenuate noise lead to all of these outcomes. Furthermore, regardless of which of these mediators is involved (either alone or in combination), any number of coping responses are likely to result, such as flight, erecting barriers or other protective devices ignoring other humans in need, and directly attempting to stop or reduce the stimulus input at the source. Although one particular mediator may best predict or explain which coping responses will occur in a given situation, other Mediators are not necessarily excluded from that or similar situations. It is our position that all of the mediating processes discassed thus far probably occur at some time, given all the possible situations in which environmental stimulation influences behavior. Therefore, we now present an eclectic scheme of environment-behavior relationships as summary and integration of the theoretical concepts we have discussed in this chapter.
This scheme of theoretical concepts is presented in the flowchart in Figure 4-8. Objective environmental conditions, such as population density, temperature, noise levels, pollution levels, and building designs, exist independent of the individual, although individuals can act to change these objective conditions. The scheme includes such individual difference factors as adaptation level, length of exposure, perceived control, personality. Privacy , preference, attachment, and competence to deal with the elements of the, environment, as well as such social factors as social support and liking or hostility for others in the situation. Perception of the objective physical conditions depends on the objective conditions themselves, as well as on the individual difference factors and the attitudinal, perceptual, and cognitive processes discessed in Chapters 2 and 3. If this subjective perception determines that the environment is within an optimal range of stimulation or is congruent with intended behavior, the result is homeostatic, the adjective form of homeostasis, or an equalization of desired and actual input. On the other hand, if the environment is experienced as outside the optimal range of stimulation (e.g., llndel'Stlllltll2ltlo1l, overstimulation, or stimulating in a behavior-constraining manner-including being overstaffed or understaffed or incongruent), then one or more of the following psychological states results: arousal, stress, information overload, or reactance. The presence of one or more of these states leads to coping strategies. If the attempted coping strategies are successful, adaptation or adjustment occurs, possibly
132 CHAPTER 4 Theories of Environment-Behavior Relationships
Figure4-8 An eclectic model of theoretical perspectives.
followed by such aftereffects as lowered frustration tolerance, fatigue, and reduced ability to cope with the next immediate stressor. Cumulative aftereffects might include any of these, but, would also include increased self-confidence and a degree of learning about coping with future occurrences of undesirable environmental stimulation. Should the coping strategies not be successful, however, arousal and stress will continue, possibly heightened by the individual's awareness that the strategies are failing. Potential aftereffects of such inability to cope include exhaustion, learned helplessness, severe performance decrements, and mental disorders. Finally, as indicated by the feedback loops, experiences the environment influence
perception of the environment for future encounters and also contribute to individual differences for future experrences.
We present this model not as a completely developed environmental theory but merely as an attempt to integrate the various mediating concepts that have been applied to environment-behavior relationships. Undoubtedly, some data exist that do not support one aspect or another of this integration. However, we think this eclectic approach will help explain many of the environment-behavior relationships to be covered in the remainder of the textbook. We will continue to see this model in following chapters, where we will discuss how the physical environment (noise,weather,air
Pulution ), personal space and crowding, cities, and built and natural environments influence specific behaviors. When appropriate, we will point out how the various theoretical notions in this chapter help explain those specific influences.
environmental psychology, as a science, seeks to understand cause-and-effect relationships through prediction and uses publicly observable data to verify these predictions. Once enough predictions are verified, theories are constructed, which consist of a set of concepts and a set of statements relating the concepts to one another. Usually, theories infer that a more or less abstract variable mediates the relationship
between one observable variable and another. Good environmental theories should predict and summarize empirical data, should offer generalizability to many situations, and should suggest ideas for research.
The arousal approach to. Environment-behavior relationships suggests that environmental stimulation leads to increased arousal. According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, this
134 CHAPTER 4 Theories of Environment-Behavior Relationships
increased arousal .will improve or impair performance; depending on whether the individual's arousal is below or above all optimal level. Other behaviors, such as aggression, also tend to follow this curvilinear relationship with arousal.
The information overload model proposes that our capacity to process information is limited and that when excessive stimulation occurs, peripheral inputs are ignored in order to give adequate attention to primary tasks. As a result, responses to these peripheral nonsocial or social stimuli are minimal or nonexistent. The under-stimulation approach notes that monotonous environmental stimulation leads to boredom and thus to behavioral deficiencies. Wohlwill's approach posits an individual difference variable, or adaptation level (AL), such that stimulation levels above or below this AL will bring discomfort and efforts to reduce or increase the stimulation. The behavior constraint model proposes that perceived loss. of control over the environment leads to reactance or efforts to regain freedom of action. If these efforts at reassertion are unsuccessful, learned helplessness may be the result.
The stress model of environment-behavior relationships posits that once stimuli have been evaluated as threatening, coping strategies are brought into play. These strategies can be beneficial ,as when their use results in learning more efficient ways of coping with stress. However, prolonged exposure to stress can lead to serious aftereffects, including mental disorders, performance decrements, and lowered resistance to stress.
Barker's ecological psychology model examines environment-behavior interdependencies and focuses on the behavior setting as the unit of study. If the number of applicants to a setting falls below maintenance minimum, performers and nonperformers in the understaffed setting must take on additional roles in order to maintain the setting.
Finally, there is no reason to assume that only one mediator operates in any given environment-behavior situation. An eclectic model is offered that attempts to integrate a number of different theoretical concepts.
adaptation level (AL)
en masse behavior pattern environmental competence environmental load environmental press environmental stress model
equilibrium extra-indivi dual
harm or loss appraisal
Restricted Environmental Stimulation
Technique (or) Therapy (REST)
1. observe a behavior setting for a week. what behavior Patterns are always present? Is the setting understaffed, overstaffed, or adequately Staffed"
2. Keep a diary for a week or more of all the events that constrain your behavior. Do you respond with reactance, learned helplessness, or some other behavior?
3. Keep a log of your performance levels in classrom, study, and leisure situations, noting your arousal level and amount of environmental stimulation. Does your performance vary as a functioil of arousal level, overload, or under load?
4. Construct your own model of environment-behavior relationships. How well can you integrate the various theoretical perspectives discussed in this chapter and the previous one?