Call for Abstracts — special Collabra: Psychology research nexus

The problem: Psychologists (and their proponents) do not appear interested in built heritage

Attention from psychologists in people-historic environment contexts is minimal. Regardless of the authors’ disciplines, scholarly articles, chapters, and books that address built heritage from a social science perspective fail to use methods from environmental and/or social psychology. In sum, with few exceptions, there is no representation from psychology in the social science literature that addresses built heritage. (Some of these exceptions are Ahn [2013], Askari, Dola, and Soltani [2014], Herzog and Gale [1996]; Herzog and Shier [2000], Levi [2005], Uzzell [2009], Wells and Baldwin [2012], and Wells [2017].) This special research nexus is therefore a call to action for researchers interested in validating the psychology of heritage places as an acceptable and needed area of research.

Which social scientists research built heritage?

Anthropologists conduct research in this area, but, for the most part, other social scientists do not. This conclusion is based on the number of scholarly publications on this topic in which anthropologists are substantially over-represented. (Refer to table 1.) While a parallel call to sociologists is likely needed as well, this particular call is only addressing psychologists and those researchers who employ the methods of social and/or environmental psychology. There is no logical reason why anthropologists should own this space. Psychologists need to join the discussion.

Why a psychological perspective on built heritage?

Environmental psychologists care about how the design of new buildings and places impact people and their behavior, but for some reason have overlooked the study of heritage environments. Or, in a more critical sense, psychologists have long neglected a normal part of everyday human experience. Traditionally understood to be closely associated with the fields of design, architecture, and history, built heritage conservation is increasingly being reconceptualized as a social science endeavor, especially through the rise of what has become known as “critical heritage studies” (Harrison 2013; Smith 2006; Winter 2013).

What are the fundamental characteristics that define research in the psychology of heritage places?

For the purposes of this special collection, submitted papers need to consider these three fundamental characteristics associated with heritage places and social and environmental psychology:  

  1. A central focus on old or “historic” environments from a theoretical and/or empirical perspective;
  2. Research methods primarily associated with environmental psychology, such as behavioral mapping, environmental attitude measurement, phenomenologies, visual preferences, simulated environments, post occupancy evaluations, and neuroscience, among other possibilities;
  3. A theoretical construct based on place identity, place attachment, environmental perception, and the settings in which certain behaviors occur.

How you can contribute to this research nexus

All papers are welcome that address the historic environment and psychological perspectives in some way. While submissions from trained psychologists are especially encouraged, there is no disciplinary requirement. Authors from other disciplines should approach their work through methodological and/or theoretical approaches from social and/or environmental psychology. Specific suggestions for areas that papers could address include:

  1. How a psychological approach could improve historic preservation/built heritage conservation practice;
  2. Neuroscience applied to the perception of and behavior in historic environments;
  3. A focus on senescent environments, or built environments that are defined by the way their materials change and degrade over time. This could include studies on the perception of decay and patina and their emotional effect on people;
  4. Studies that address the psychological dimensions of perceived and experiential authenticity;
  5. Analyses of historic preservation/heritage conservation doctrine and/or rules and regulations from a psychological perspective;
  6. Addressing social justice and equity issues by providing an empirical basis for heritage conservation practice that is largely lacking today;
  7. Cross-cultural, psychological perspectives on historic environments;
  8. Registered reports. Because it is likely that most prospective authors seeing this call for abstracts have not yet started research on a topic, this type of paper describes the research question(s), methods, and proposed analyses for research that is being proposed, but not yet implemented.

How to submit an abstract proposal for a paper

All interested authors should first submit a 300-word abstract by August 30, 2019 that proposes one the following types of papers: original research report, review article, perspective/opinion article, or a registered report. Because of the current paucity of research in this area, registered reports are especially encouraged because they focus on proposed, rather than completed, research. For more details, see

Authors should email their abstract with their full name, contact information, and institutional affiliation to Jeremy C. Wells ([email protected]) with “Collabra: Psychology abstract” in the message subject. Successful authors will be invited to submit a full paper that will then undergo the normal peer review process for the journal.

Why Collabra: Psychology

Collabra: Psychology is a new, peer-reviewed journal published by the University of California Press since 2015. As a new journal, it does not yet have an assigned impact factor, but Scopus gave it a 1.03 CiteScore (44th percentile) in 2018. Additionally, data from Google Scholar are quite positive for a journal that is only four-years old: since 2015, 123 published papers have been cited 647 times for an h index of 13. Collabra: Psychology is one of only two refereed psychology journals that are open access and it is the only one associated with a well-known, reputable scholarly press. Open access journal articles are more likely to be cited than articles behind paywalls (Piwowar et al. 2018); studies have also shown that open access is more important than an impact factor score in helping to increase the number of citations that a published author receives (Chua et al. 2017). 

For reference, Elementa, which started publishing by the same press in 2013, had an impact factor of 2.8 in 2018; this year it is 3.5. We expect that Collabra: Psychology will have a similar trajectory. 

We strongly believe in the open access journal model because it makes scholarly articles far more accessible to a global audience, which results in a larger impact. This model is therefore a better way to establish a new field of research, as we are proposing here, than a traditional journal hidden behind a pay wall that only a few academics in a few countries can access. Authors who publish in open access journals are also more likely to see their work make a larger influence on their discipline (Sotudeh, Ghasempour, & Yaghtin 2015).       

Most open access journals have author fees, but this should not be a barrier for an accepted author to be published in Collabra: Psychology. The journal has low article processing fees, and a waiver fund for authors who are unable to pay these fees if they lack support from their home institutions. 


  • Jeremy C. Wells, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, University of Maryland, College Park; [email protected]
  • Daniel J. Levi, Ph.D., Professor, Psychology and Child Development, Cal Poly; [email protected]
  • Erica Molinario, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park; [email protected]

Works cited

  • Ahn, You-Kyong. (2013). Adaptive reuse and historic churches. Preservation Education & Research, 6: 25-40.
  • Askari, A. H., Dola, K. B., & Soltani, S. (2014). An evaluation of the elements and characteristics of historical building façades in the context of Malaysia. Urban Design International, 19, 113-124.
  • Chua, S, Qureshi, AM, Krishnan, V, Pai, DR, Kamal, LB, Gunasegaran, S, Afzal, MZ, Ambawatta, L, Gan, JY, Kew, PY, Winn, T, Suneet, S.. (2017). The impact factor of an open access journal does not contribute to an article’s citations. F1000Research, 6:208
  • Harrison, R. (2013). Heritage: Critical approaches. New York: Routledge.
  • Herzog, T. R., & Gale, T. A. (1996). Preference for urban buildings as a function of age and nature context. Environment and Behavior, 28 (1), 44-72.
  • Herzog, T. R., & Shier, R. L. (2000). Complexity, age, and building preference. Environment and Behavior, 32 (4), 557-575.
  • Levi, D. J. (2005). Does history matter? Perceptions and attitudes toward fake historic architecture and historic preservation. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 22(2), 149-159.
  • Piwowar, H, Priem, J, Larivière, V, Alperin, JP, Matthias, L, Norlander, B., Farley, A., West, J., Haustein, S. (2018). The state of OA: A large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articles. PeerJ— the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences 6:e4375
  • Smith, L. (2006). Uses of heritage. London: Routledge.
  • Sotudeh, H, Ghasempour, Z, Yaghtin, M. (2015). The citation advantage of author-pays model: The case of Springer and Elsevier OA journals. Scientometrics, 104: 581.
  • Uzzell, D. (2009). Where is the discipline in heritage studies: A view from environmental psychology. In M. Sorensen and J. Carman (eds.), Heritage studies: Methods and approaches. London: Routledge.
  • Wells, J. C., & Baldwin, E. D. (2012). Historic preservation, significance, and age value: A comparative phenomenology of historic Charleston and the nearby new-urbanist community of I’On. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(4), 384-400.
  • Wells, J. C. (2017). How are old places different from new places? A psychological investigation of the correlation between patina, spontaneous fantasies, and place attachment. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 23(5), 445-469. Winter, T. (2013). Clarifying the critical in critical heritage studies. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 19(6), 532-545.