How the Environment Affects Human Behavior Positively

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How does the environment affect human behavior? Is the environment a positive influence on us?

In Influencer, the authors claim that you can make the environment a positive influence on your life by taking the necessary steps. If you do, your environment (whether man-made or not) will be instrumental in improving your life.

Keep reading to learn how the environment affects human behavior.

Environmental Impact on Human Behavior

The authors note how the environment affects human behavior, and it can be a powerful (and often underutilized) resource in influencing the adoption of critical practices. For example, many city planners are looking at ways to increase sustainable commuting practices, like biking, walking, or taking public transportation. Studies have shown that cities that invest in biking infrastructure see a significant rise in bike commuters. Changing the environment by adding more bike lanes or bike-friendly roadways results in a change in commuter behavior.

The challenge is that our environment is so much a part of our daily lives that it’s often hard to see the way in which it shapes our everyday behaviors. Because of this, the authors suggest that the first step is to become more aware of our environment. After that, we can start to discern how aspects of our environment encourage or discourage certain behaviors.

The authors offer the following strategies to make sure the environment is conducive to the adoption of critical practices:

First, shine a spotlight on subconscious behaviors. For example, if you find yourself snacking mindlessly during the day, keep the wrappers for all your snacks in a clear container on your desk. In doing so, you’ll draw attention to a previously unconscious behavior and give yourself more agency in controlling that behavior. (Shortform note: In The Power of your Subconscious Mind, Joseph Murray expands on the idea of drawing attention to our subconscious behaviors, suggesting that people have the power to use their conscious mind to change the habitual practices and patterns of thinking of their subconscious mind to create more frequent and positive experiences.)

As you’re thinking about the built environment, focus on creating relationship-centered spaces. The authors argue that relationships are built through proximity. If, as the authors suggest, relationships are crucial to ensuring that individuals have the ability and motivation to adopt a critical practice, then it’s important to make sure your space facilitates community-building.

Finally, eliminate choice whenever possible. The authors encourage influencers to make adopting the critical practices as easy as possible. For example, if you’re trying to get your family to eat healthier food, keep some fruit or nuts as a snack on the counter so they don’t have to choose between healthy snacks and junk food. 

(Shortform note: In Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein refer to this option as the “default choice,” meaning the choice that’s automatically made if the chooser does nothing (for example, opting into a 401k by default). They recommend this strategy when attempting to get people to act in their own self-interest; however, the strategy could also be applied when thinking about how to get people to act in the best interest of a larger goal.)

The Power of Environment

Alexandra Horowitz explores the human challenge of “seeing” our environment in her 2013 book On Looking. Horowitz highlights two themes of environmental awareness. First, because of our evolved pattern recognition, we practice “efficient seeing,” meaning we filter out the information in our environment that we don’t deem crucial. Therefore, we rarely see all the nuances of our surroundings. Second, we see our environment through our own personal lens, so no person experiences the same environment the same way.

Despite the challenge of looking at our environments holistically, it’s a crucial skill. Studies in the field of environmental psychology have shown that our environment, natural or man-made, not only affects our behaviors, but also our physical and mental health. For example, poor housing quality has been shown to cause psychological distress, and the mental health of psychiatric in-patients is impacted by how furniture is arranged in common spaces. Becoming more aware of our environment is the first step in designing spaces that promote mental health and facilitate desirable behaviors.

Relationship-Centered Design

What does a “relationship-centered space” look like? Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, many offices, particularly in Silicon Valley, were implementing open office floor plans. At first glance, it would seem that open offices would encourage interaction and collaboration. However, in reality, studies found that companies that shifted to open floor plans saw a 70% decline in employee interactions.

As work culture continues to evolve, people are trying to figure out how to facilitate relationship building with a combination of in-person, hybrid, and remote work arrangements in play. Some suggest that the “hub-and-spoke” model works for all of these work styles. The hub-and-spoke model includes a central “hub” where people can gather and collaborate in-person and “spokes” that offer a more individual space, which could include private offices, satellite offices, or someone’s home.

How the Environment Affects Human Behavior Positively

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  • A three-step guide on how to influence human behavior
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  • How you can use the power of community connection to inspire people

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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