Conservation Psychology

Conservation psychology is the scientific study of the reciprocal relationships between humans and the rest of nature, with the goal of encouraging conservation of the natural world. This relatively new field is oriented toward conservation of ecosystems, conservation of resources, and quality of life issues for humans and other species. Most of the research questions address the following outcome areas:

  • How humans care about/value nature, with the goal of creating harmonious relationships and an environmental ethic.

  • How humans behave towards nature, with the goal of creating durable individual and collective behavior change.

Since most environmental problems are caused by human behaviors, human behavioral changes are necessary in order to address them. Psychologists have much to offer in terms of understanding human-nature experiences and what motivates people to protect such relationships. Conservation psychology clearly draws from environmental psychology, as well as from other sub-disciplines of psychology, but it is distinctive in its focus on the natural environment and its explicit outcome orientation. Like conservation biology, conservation psychology has a strong mission focus related to biodiversity conservation and environmental sustainability.

Research topics include studies of human-animal relationships, empathy, how caring about the natural world develops, the formation of an environmental identity, relationships between a psychological connection with nature and environmental sustainability, significant life experiences as precursors of environmental concern, development of a sense of place, moral reasoning in relation to the natural environment, risk perception, conflict resolution, the significance of direct nature experiences, and environmental attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors.

In addition to being a field of study, conservation psychology is also the network of researchers and practitioners who work together toward a common goal.

Research Topics

  • The Role of Humans in Nature

  • Environmental Attitudes

  • Environmental Assessment (Aesthetics and Preference)

  • Restorative Effects of Nature

  • Environmental Perception

  • Environmental Cognition

  • Wayfinding

  • Effects of Noise

  • Weather and Climate

- Temperatures and Behavior

- Wind and Behavior

- Barometric Pressure and Altitude

  • Natural Disasters

  • Effects of Toxic Exposure

  • Air Pollution and Behavior

  • Management of Natural Lands for Leisure

  • Strategies to Encourage Environmentally Responsible Behavior

Environmental Research Units and Labs

Professional Organizations

Environmental Information Sites

Activist Organizations

Research Resources

  • Clayton, S., & Brook, A. (2005). Can psychology help save the world? A model for conservation psychology. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 5 (1), 87-102.

  • Saunders, C. D. & Myers, Jr. O. E. (Eds.) (2003). Special issue: Conservation psychology. Human Ecology Review, 10 (2).

  • Schmuck, P. and W.P. Schultz (eds.). 2002. Psychology of Sustainable Development. Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

  • Scott, B.A. & Koger, S.M. (2006). Teaching psychology for sustainability: A manual of resources. Supported by an Instructional Resource Award from the Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology.