Washington, DC - Societies and people have reshaped the world many times over. From building cities and communities that live within them, to the smaller changes in a person’s home or place of worship, people influence their space.  Benjamin Meagher, a social psychologist at Hope College, argues that the space people shape, also shapes the individual, and that social psychology must take an “ecological” view of people in their environment.

His work appears in a recently published paper in Personality and Social Psychology Review.

Being in a certain location dramatically constrains or facilitates certain emotional experience (stepping into a quiet St. Patrick's Cathedral from the busy streets of New York), our sense of connection with others (moving in with a romantic partner for the first time, or returning to your childhood home for a holiday), and our productivity and performance (the well-documented effected of home advantage in sports).

“There is no such thing as neutral, empty space–wherever you are, you are in a particular place that has psychological meaning.” Says Meagher.

Benjamin R. Meagher, Ecologizing Social Psychology: The Physical Environment as a Necessary Constituent of Social Processes, Personality and Social Psychology Review (2019). 

DOI: 10.1177/1088868319845938

Abstract: Recent trends in social psychology point to increased interest in extending current theories by better incorporating the body (e.g., embodied cognition) and the broader interpersonal context (e.g., situations). However, despite being a critical component in early social theorizing, the physical environment remains in large part underdeveloped in most research programs. In this article, I outline an ecological framework for understanding the person–environment relationship. After introducing this perspective, I describe how this approach helps reveal the critical role played by the physical environment in a variety of social processes, including childhood development, interpersonal relationships, and social identity. Finally, I review a topic in environmental psychology that has received little attention among social psychologists: territories. I provide an ecological perspective on how the design, use, and personalization of this type of environment guide and constrain regulatory processes involving social behavior, identity expression, and emotional experience.

Keywords: self-regulationself/identityecological psychologyenvironmental psychology