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For conservation in the Piagetian sense see: Conservation (Concept)

Conservation of our natural resources is a growing interest amongst people around the world. As a behavior it is underpinned by conservation ethic and environmental attitudes and supported socially by the conservation movement

Conservation psychology is the scientific study of the mutual relationships, and the connections between humans and the rest of nature, with a particular focus on how to encourage conservation of the natural world.[1] This field is less of a specialty area within psychology itself but a growing way to help scientists of all fields to come together and help each other and the community better understand the earth and what can be done to preserve it. It is a field to help understand why people hurt or help the environment and what can be done to change that. Using the term “Conservation Psychology” only refers to scientists in any fields of psychology that have understandable knowledge of environment and the effects humans have on it to use their abilities in ‘greening’ psychology, and by making society ecologically sustainable (Myers 2002.) The science of conservation psychology is oriented toward environmental sustainability, which includes concerns like conservation of resources, conservation of ecosystems, and quality of life issues for humans and other species (Saunders 2003).

Pioneers in This Growing Field

Psychologists from all fields including philosophy, biology, sociology, industrial & organizational, health, and consumer psychology, along with many other subfields like environmental education and conservation biology come together to put their knowledge to practice in educating others to work together and encourage a congruous relationship between humans and the environment around them. These psychologists work together with places such as zoos and aquariums. Zoos and aquariums may seem to only be a place of recreation and fun but are actually trying hard to put out positive messages out and to educate the public on the homes and needs of the animals live there. They are trying to find ways to interact and teach the people the consequences of their day to day actions to the animals and the environment rather than simply viewing the animals. Psychologists and sociologists have been visiting workshops and think tanks at the zoos to evaluate if the animals are being viewed and shown to the best of their ability while still giving informative knowledge to the public.

Research Being Conducted

What characterizes conservation psychology research is that in addition to descriptive and theoretical analyses, studies will explore how to cause the kinds of changes that lessen the impact of human behavior on the natural environment, and that lead to more sustainable and harmonious relationships (e.g., Zelezny and Schultz 2000; Werner 1999). Some of the research being done is estimating exactly how much land and water resources are being used by each human at this point and where we will be in the next coming generations. They consider in the factors of the excess amounts of humans that are now here and how many more there are to come. Along with the percentage of humans the limited amount of land and how humans use it is considered. Not only humans and the land need to be considered but what are the positive and negative consequences for the biodiversity of plant and animal life after humans have used the land to their advantage. Many different aspects of research need to be done including to find ways to develop strategies to foster caring, shape values and measure success. In addition to creating better conceptual models, more applied research is needed to: 1) identify the most promising strategies for fostering ways of caring about nature, 2) find ways to reframe debates and strategically communicate to the existing values that people have, 3) identify the most promising strategies for shifting the societal discourse about human-nature relationships, and 4) measure the success of these applications with respect to the conservation psychology mission (Saunders 2003). The ultimate success of conservation psychology will be based on whether its research resulted in programs and applications that made a difference with respect to environmental sustainability. We need to be able to measure the effectiveness of the programs in terms of their impact on behavior formation or behavior change, using tools developed by conservation psychologists (Saunders 2003).

Main Concepts

Conservation of Psychology assess as a whole four different concepts. At the country’s first Conservation of Psychology conference these four things were discussed.

The first topic being discussed is the connection of humans and animals. The Multi-Institutional Research Project (MIRP) works diligently on finding ways to develop a compassionate stance towards animals in the public eye. Many different questions were assessed to find answers to questions concerning ways to help develop loving attitudes for animals and the earth. With these questions and answers effective educational and interpretive programs were made that would help review the progress. The second concept that was discussed at the conference concerned connections of humans and places. A new language of conservation will be supported if there are abundant opportunities for meaningful interactions with the natural world in both urban and rural settings. Unfortunately, as biodiversity is lost, every generation has fewer chances to experience nature (Kahn 1999; Miller 2006). There were many questions asked concerning how humans in their everyday lives could be persuaded or educated well enough to make them want to join in programs or activities that help maintain biodiversity in their proximity. Local public and private organizations were asked to come together to help find ways to protect and manage local land, plants, and animals. Other discussions came to whether people on an individual or community level would voluntarily choose to become involved in maintaining and protecting their local biodiversity. These plus many other important questions were contemplated. Techniques in marketing are a key tool in helping people connect to their environment. If an identity could be connected from the environment to towns becoming more urbanized, maybe those living there would be more prone to keep it intact.

The third discussion covered the aspects of producing people who act environmentally friendly. Collectively, any activities that support sustainability, either by reducing harmful behaviors or by adopting helpful ones, can be called conservation behaviors. Achieving more sustainable relationships with nature will basically require that large numbers of people change their reproductive and consumptive behaviors (Saunders 2003). Any action, small or large, that helps the environment in any way is a good beginning to a future of generations who only practice environmentally-friendly behavior. This may seem to be a far-fetched idea but with any help at all in educating those who do not know the repercussions of their actions could help achieve this. Approaches to encouraging a change in behavior were thought about carefully. Many do not want to change their way of life. A more simplistic lifestyle rather than their materialistic, current lives hurt their environment around them rather than help, but could people willingly change? To take public transportation rather than drive a car, recycling, turning off lights when they are not needed, all these things are very simple yet a nuisance to actually follow through with. Would restructuring tax-code help people to want to change their attitudes? Any concept to reach the goal of helping people act ecologically aware was discussed and approached.

In the fourth and final point at the first conservation of psychology convention the discussion of the values people have to their environment. Understanding our relationship to the natural world well enough so that we have a language to celebrate and defend that relationship is another research area for conservation psychology. According to the biophilia hypothesis, the human species evolved in the company of other life forms, and we continue to rely — physically, emotionally, intellectually — on the quality and richness of our affiliations with natural diversity (Saunders 2003). A healthy and diverse natural environment is considered an essential condition for human lives of satisfaction and fulfillment (Kellert and Wilson 1993). Where did they get these values and are they ingrained to the point they cannot be changed? How can environmentally educated people convey value-based communication to a community, a nation, or even on a global level? National policy for this model is something that is desired but under such a strong political scrutiny this could be very challenging. Advocates for biodiversity and different programs came together to try and find methods of changing Americans values concerning their environment and different methods to express and measure them.

Connection of Conservation in Biology & Psychology

Conservation biology was originally conceptualized as a crisis-oriented discipline, with the goal of providing principles and tools for preserving biodiversity (Soule, 1987). This is a branch of biology that is concerned with preserving genetic variation in plants and animals. This scientific field evolved to study the complex problems surrounding habitat destruction and species protection. The objectives of conservation biologists are to understand how humans affect biodiversity and to provide potential solutions that benefit both humans and non-human species. It is understood in this field that there are underlying fields of biology that could readily help to have a better understanding and contribute to conservation of biodiversity. Biological knowledge alone is not sufficient to solve conservation problems, and the role of the social sciences in solving these problems has become increasingly important (Mascia et al. 2003).With the knowledge of conservation biology combined with other fields, much was thought to be gained. Psychology is defined as the scientific study of human thought, feeling, and behavior (Myers 2003). Psychology was one of the fields that could take its concepts and apply them to conservation. It was also always understood that in the field of Psychology there could be much aid to be given, the field only had to be developed. Psychology can help in providing insight into moral reasoning and moral functioning, which lie in the heart of human-nature relationships (Saunders 2003). Everyone that is now involved from the field of psychology had knowledge of ways to conceptualize the relationship of humans to their environment. Biology has always been involved in advances of conservation considering biodiversity and the organisms in it are part of the main field of biology. Psychology has been absent from conservation for some time, but educators and scientists are realizing that with the help of both we can come to a better understanding of humans and their social interactions with their environment and everything in it.

See also


  1. Conservation Psychology website, Retrieved August 20, 2008

Further reading


  • Kahn, P. K., Jr. 1999. The human relationship with nature. Development and culture. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Kellert, S.R. and E.O. Wilson (eds.). 1993. The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington, DC: Island Press.
  • Myers, D.G. 2003. Psychology, 7th Edition. New York: Worth Publishers.


  • Brook, Amara. Clayton, Susan. Can Psychology Help Save the World? A Model for Conservation Psychology. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2005, pp. 87-102.
  • Exploring the Potential of Conservation Pscyhology. Human Ecology Review, Vol 10. No. 2. 2003. pgs. iii-iv.
  • Mascia, M. B., J. P. Brosius, T. A. Dobson, B. C. Forbes, L. Horowitz,
  • M. A. McKean, and N. J. Turner. 2003. Conservation and the social sciences. Conservation Biology 17:649–650.
  • Miller, J. 2006. Biodiversity conservation and the extinction of experience. Trends in Ecology & Evolution: in press.
  • Saunders, C. D. 2003. The Emerging Field of Conservation Psychology. Human Ecology Review, vol. 10, No, 2. 137-149.
  • Soule, M. E. (1987). History of the Society for Conservation Biology: How and why we got here. Conservation Biology, 1, 4-5.
  • Werner, C.M. 1999. Psychological perspectives on sustainability. In E. Becker and T. Jahn (eds.), Sustainability and the Social Sciences: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Integrating Environmental Considerations into Theoretical Reorientation, 223-242. London: Zed Books.
  • Zelezny, L.C. and P.W. Schultz (eds.). 2000. Promoting environmentalism. Journal of Social Issues 56, 3, 365-578.

External links