How can psychology help us understand and solve environmental and energy-related problems? How can we motivate and empower people to act pro-environmentally and adapt to a changing environment?
Questions like these are addressed in the Master programme 'Environmental psychology'. The programme focuses on the interactions between humans and their environment. You will acquire theoretical knowledge and methodological skills to understand and address the human dimension of environmental and energy-related problems. The program is taught by the world-leading Environmental Psychology group at the University of Groningen.
The expertise gained in this master is essential in attempts to limit global climate change and its negative impacts, and adapt successfully to the consequences of climate change. Governments and companies seek advice from environmental psychologists to understand the human dimension of sustainable development, and leading journals, such as Nature, stress the importance of the social sciences for solving environmental and energy-related problems. This master will equip you for job opportunities that focus on finding effective and acceptable societal solutions to these problems.
Also, in cooperation with Leuphana University, we offer the Double Degree Master Sustainability and Environmental Psychology.
'Doing a placement may seem an intimidating prospect right in the middle of your Master's programme, but it's a unique opportunity, so enjoy the ride!' - CirTec B.V.
Wytse chose a challenging placement at CirTec B.V. in Purmerend, a company that makes new products from recycled sewage.
Although he spent six months working three days a week, he only actually visited the company once, to introduce himself. The rest he did from home.
‘CirTec designs all kinds of products, ranging from insulation material and asphalt to flowerpots and mugs. I wanted to find a practical way of helping this company, which has been trying to boost the acceptance of recycled sewage products for years. In addition, I wanted to know how we as psychologists can contribute to the world, through companies, for example.’
For his placement assignment, Wytse wrote the script for a new promotional video, based on the question ‘What motivates people to act in the interests of the environment?’ He had to flesh out the script himself. The company wanted to use the video to introduce new products and to increase the acceptance of existing products.
Wytse got straight to work. He came up with an idea, sent it off, and waited for feedback. Working from home meant that he sometimes had to wait a long time for a reply, but CirTec was pleased with all his input.
‘I’m a very pragmatic person: I’m creative, and I enjoy turning theory into something fun, innovative, and surprising. The placement was a good opportunity to put my skills into practice. Creating these designs wasn’t always easy: as the company is so technical, you have to be able to form connections. I had to explain a lot of my thinking, or have things explained to me: how is a product made, how will it help me, and how can I link this to psychology?
Various course units in the Psychology degree programme taught me what is important to people and what motivates them. The Environmental Psychology course unit deals with a wide range of topics, many of which were useful during this placement. When it came to writing the scripts, the Designing Interventions course unit was extremely useful, as it taught me to turn theories into practical ideas. But I needed to do a lot of research for this placement too. I was confined to the syllabus during the programme, but here I could give my creativity free rein.’
Wytse also learned a lot while taking part in the Urban Energy Challenge in 2021. All sustainability programmes in the Netherlands are invited to take part in this competition. Companies invent a case for small groups of students to work on.
‘I think that the main thing I learned during my placement was courage. I’d always been a bit shy, but when I didn’t seem to be getting any response to my ideas, I had to go in search of answers. I learned just how important it is to be clear and honest in your communication.
Before my placement, I gave a presentation about myself, my degree programme, and my plans for the placement. I set out my plans, which involved a sort of ‘basics of psychology’ course: what motivates people to act in the interests of the environment, specifically using the products that the company makes? The colleagues were flabbergasted, they didn’t know that this was how things worked, whereas it was all very logical to me. It was great to see how pleased this made my colleagues. I saw their trust starting to grow and they started thinking: this is going to be something we’ve never seen before.’
‘I was delighted to hear that I’d been given a mark of 10 for my placement and that my supervisor thought that I’d performed perfectly. He told me that he’d like to carry on working with me to turn the scripts into real videos, and that I would have a large say in the process. It felt as if I was making a unique contribution to the company. ’
Wytse found the combination of working and studying tough. During the placement, he was also finishing his thesis and taking a few course units. But to his mind, a bit of chaos is part and parcel of doing a Master’s degree. ‘It’s a busy period and you have to plan efficiently, but you end up with a final product that you can be proud of.’
Wytse is currently working as a junior researcher in the Environmental Psychology department of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. ‘I want my work to be practical in the future, I want to connect with companies. But the first step is conducting research. The more I learn about doing research, the better I’ll be able to use it in practice. ’
‘There’s so much going on in the middle of a Master’s programme. Doing a placement can seem an intimidating prospect, but it’s a unique opportunity that might just generate a new network and a new job, so enjoy the ride!
Making your own mark can really make your placement special. Most people have no idea about how much you know. So, the more input you deliver and the more you surprise them, the more room you can create for yourself.
Oh, and here’s a tip: create a LinkedIn account. It really works!’
Don't be scared, simply go for it and just do it! - World bank
Matilde Barsanti (25) studied Environmental Psychology and did a four-month internship at the World Bank. It was a great opportunity for her, in part because it was connected to her thesis, in which she wrote on the role of peer-to-peer environmental education in Tajikistan.
The World Bank is working to enhance climate change awareness efficacy in local populations in Central Asia, as well as to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. For this bank, Matilde worked on a project with a personal focus on environmentalism: ‘We did also ask some questions about the entrepreneurialism because it was a priority for The World Bank. I was working with a consultancy firm called AnchorEd that was hired by The World Bank to carry out the project.’ They develop educational interventions in the United States, but focused on Tajikistan.
Matilde lives in Italy, and so her internship was held exclusively online. She worked with young people from Tajikistan, which means she had contact with people of her own age. ‘It was also a cultural experience for me.’
Matilde found her internship via someone she knew who worked at The World Bank and, fortunately, they were developing a project almost exactly on the topic of Matilde’s thesis. On her expectations regarding the internship, Matilde is clear: ‘To be honest, it was really my first working experience, at least the first where I had to apply my own knowledge. So, I was a bit scared because I didn’t really know what to expect, and I wasn’t sure how much responsibility I would be given.’
Combining her internship with her personal life was very easy for Mathilde, as her internship was held during the summer. ‘For those who start in September, it might be difficult to combine their internships with their personal lives.’ At the same time, this meant that Matilde occasionally had last-minute plans and it was complicated to plan the internship during summer. Matilde also struggled with the time difference. Her advice: ‘Perhaps try to make agreements that are a bit more structured.’
Due to her internship Matilde not only grew on a personal level, but her working skills also increased. She realized that she shouldn’t fear sharing her opinion, even if it isn’t perfect. ‘My colleagues were really open about asking for my opinion. That was scary for me.’ It was also daunting for Matilde to really delve into the project. But the internship offered a good opportunity to apply her skills in practice and to work on her communicative, organizational and research skills. ‘I learned about statistics and about developing my own project.’
This internship was part of the pilot of a very long project. The company continued to develop the project reports for several months after her internship. ‘The report was finalized and they are working on renewing the project with The World Bank. The project is now going to continue for the next five years. They will develop interventions.’ Matilde thinks that these interventions will have a major impact on the people involved.
After her graduation in May, Matilde started working as a consultant in Italy. ‘But now I’m looking for a job abroad. I would like to work for an organization that has a sustainable mission.’ Thanks to her internship, she has realized that she eventually wants to work in Environmental Psychology.
Matilda’s tips about how to start an internship: ‘Generally, set out clear ideas about the internship goals and what they're looking for in the internship with the internal and external supervisor. This can help when you start. All experiences count and, of course, it’s exciting. I would just say, don’t be scared, simply go for it and just do it. Internships like this can help every student to progress on to their future careers, even though it is scary to step into a new world and meet new people!’
Further research is being conducted, but my research has already been important for Groninger Landschap
I have conducted research for Groninger Landschap on the effects of environmental education. They have been delivering nature lessons in schools for a long time with the aim of enthusing children about nature and the environment, and they wondered if these lessons were working. Do the children just have fun, or do the lessons actually encourage more sustainable behaviour?
Environmental psychology tells us that whether people behave in an environmentally conscious manner depends on the values that are important to them: egotistic, hedonistic, altruistic or biospheric values. Everyone holds all these values, but to varying degrees. The problem is that they are often very difficult to change, especially in adults. In children, these values are still developing, so it is possible to influence them. If you stimulate children’s biospheric values, it could lead them to behave in a more environmentally conscious way. But the question is whether Groninger Landschap’s lessons contribute to that.
I researched this in 462 children aged from 9 to 13 years, and it turns out the nature lessons do indeed have an effect. Children hold stronger biospheric values after the lessons than beforehand and, in the short term, behaved in more environmentally conscious ways.
Further research is being conducted, but this research has already been important for Groninger Landschap. It confirms that what they do really works, and that provides encouragement to keep going.
The products are still in development, but thanks to my research CirTec now knows how to go about bringing them to the market.
I did my final research in collaboration with CirTec, a business based in Purmerend. They work to reduce waste and recover valuable raw materials. My research looked at how willing people are to buy and use products made from cellulose – from recycled toilet paper, that is to say. This material can be used to make new and sustainable products but the question is whether people want to buy them and whether they still want to if they know what they are made from.
My research looked at people’s emotional reaction to these products and how this fits in with the values that are important to them. I looked specifically at biospheric and hedonistic values. People with strong biospheric values think it is important to behave in an environmentally friendly way, whereas people with strong hedonistic values put comfort and pleasure first. How do these values relate to people’s emotional reaction towards and acceptance of products made from recycled toilet paper? I also considered how the product is presented and how CirTec can ensure that their products appeal to people with different values.
My research shows that the stronger someone’s biospheric values, the more positive their reaction to these products. That said, people sometimes need reminding of their biospheric values, and you can achieve that by presenting a product as being environmentally friendly. Regardless of how they are presented, the products do not appear to put off people with stronger hedonistic values. In fact, presenting these products as ‘fun’ or ‘attractive’ seems to have a small positive effect for people with stronger hedonistic values.
The products are still in development, but thanks to my research CirTec now knows how to go about bringing them to the market.
Olivia de Hoog,
master student Environmental Psychology
I previously did not know a field that combined environmental studies and sustainability with psychology
My name is Annika Handreke, 24, and I started studying the Master Environmental Psychology in September 2017. When I heard about the Master of Environmental Psychology in Groningen, I was immediately intrigued and excited, as I previously did not know a field that combined environmental studies and sustainability with psychology..
I think the courses are a nice mix of more research-oriented subjects, where we learn to critically think about theories and how to advance them, and subjects with a strong practical focus. Course subjects range from giving a broad overview of environmental psychology towards examining practical and theoretical problems in great depth. All courses are designed to be very engaging and interactive, which challenges you to think along and not only to listen.
In the future, I would like to work as an advisor on environmental issues, for an NGO, company, or the government. I am looking forward to using my knowledge of psychology to advise decision makers on how to effectively raise awareness about environmental problems and solutions, and on how to better implement interventions towards sustainability. My dream would be to work for an organization that raises awareness about the multiple environmental problems related to livestock and tries to promote ways to change people’s eating habits (at least a little bit).
This master enables me to bring my knowledge of psychology into practice and apply it to important, urgent matters such as climate change and sustainable energy transition
My name is Ruben Mul and I'm following the Master's programme in Environmental Psychology. This field focuses on the interaction between humans and their environment. I am particularly interested in how people influence their living environment. How can we encourage people to make more environmentally friendly choices? The Master's in Environmental Psychology teaches us to develop and apply theories to explain and change people's eco-behaviour, a topic that is now more important than ever.
I attended several Master’s information sessions to help me decide which programme to choose. What I liked most about Environmental Psychology was that the lecturers were very passionate about and committed to the topic.
We follow theoretical course units as well as course units where we learn to apply theory. In ‘Designing interventions’, for example, our project group developed an environmental intervention based on academic research, and in the ‘Working in interdisciplinary teams’ course unit we learned to approach environmental issues from the perspective of various disciplines.
Before starting this Master’s, I completed a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology here in Groningen. The Master’s in Environmental Psychology enables me to put my knowledge of psychology into practice and apply it to important, urgent matters such as climate change and sustainable energy transition.
We only have one exam, and apart from that we have to complete lots of papers and projects. I like how this enables us to delve more deeply into the subject matter. It also sometimes means you have to spend a long time on an assignment. It’s really challenging. We do a lot of work in small groups, and that’s also something I like, because lecturers can devote a lot of attention to us and there is a lot of room for interaction. This means that we have rather informal contact with the lecturers.
I’m at the Faculty nearly every day and I really like it here – not only for the atmosphere but it also has a very nice garden and a great park nearby.
Goda Perlaviciute – Assistant Professor of Environmental Psychology
I am an assistant professor in Environmental Psychology, which means I do both teaching and research in this field. A significant part of my work is coordinating the Environmental Psychology Master's track. This is a new programme, which is very exciting. I also teach a course unit for this programme: Advanced Topics in Environmental psychology.
During this course unit, students select a theory or topic and they perform an in-depth investigation, they become an expert in that topic. These theories or topics can be selected from the contents of other course units or students can select them themselves. Examples include what motivates people to act in an environmentally friendly way, or what motivates public acceptability of energy projects.
What makes this track interesting is the balance between theory and practice. Environmental Psychology has a strong theoretical approach to how we understand people’s behaviour and how to motivate environmentally friendly behaviour. Theory can be directly applied to solve practical problems. It also addresses very important social issues, for example public acceptability of gas production which causes earthquakes in the north of the Netherlands or the adoption of electric vehicles.
Environmental psychology is a rapidly growing field with its own theory and research methods. Its theoretical and practical relevance is enormous, given the acute environmental challenges we are currently facing.
Students learn to understand the human aspects of transitioning to a more sustainable world. We are facing a huge challenge in climate change. There is of course political willingness and technology to help tackle it, but there is also a very strong human aspect. What do people actually want? What kind of solutions do they expect? What kind of solutions are they ready to adopt? Students gain the knowledge and skillset needed to advise politicians, industry and all other actors involved in the transition to sustainability.
Lise Jans, lecturer and researcher - Master track Environmental Psychology
My name is Lise Jans and I'm involved in the Master's track in Environmental Psychology. I coordinate the track together with Goda Perlaviciute and I also teach the course unit 'Working in interdisciplinary teams'. Whereas Environmental Psychology normally focuses on individuals, I myself specialize in group processes – for example, how can we influence group processes to achieve sustainable energy behaviour?
The Master’s track in Environmental Psychology teaches you to understand the relationship between the environment and human behaviour. You will learn not only how the environment affects human behaviour, but also how you can influence human behaviour so that people take better care of the environment, for example by saving energy.
I find this track extremely relevant, since the environment is one of the most important topics in today’s society and there is increasing demand for environmental psychologists with knowledge of the human side of environmental issues, both from the business and governmental worlds and academia. This was also why this Master’s was set up.
It includes course units such as ‘Designing interventions’ and ‘Personal, social and cultural change’, which focus on how human behaviour can be changed, as well as ‘Environmental Psychology’, in which students learn about theories in the field of environmental psychology. The course unit that I teach focuses on cross-disciplinary collaboration and teaches students to integrate their knowledge of environmental psychology with insights from other disciplines so as to be better able to tackle environmental issues.
I also supervise Master’s theses that are on the interface of environmental and social psychology. My research interest lies in the role that groups and group processes play in how people think about the environment and whether or not they display environmentally friendly behaviour.
The Master’s programme has a team of excellent lecturers, who are involved in practically relevant research projects and often work together with actors in the field, such as government bodies or businesses. This helps ensure that the programme offers strong links between theory and practice. You will not only receive thorough theoretical training but also learn to apply your knowledge to practical situations, which makes you widely employable. The track offers a lot of interactive teaching and contact with lecturers, all of whom are also involved in educational innovation.
And last but not least: Groningen is a great student city, and our Faculty has a beautiful garden. If you are interested in a social perspective on the environment, then Groningen is the place to be!
Behavioural psychologist with D&B
A year and a half ago I completed my PhD research at the Department of Environmental Psychology. During my PhD thesis I focused on the question if and why people feel good about doing something environmentally friendly.
When I started this research, it seemed that the idea prevailed that environmentally friendly behaviour is something that should be done, but that no one really wants to do. This is remarkable, because we know from a lot of 'good' behaviour that it can also make people feel good. In my research, I applied this reasoning by investigating whether and when people make sense out of their environmentally friendly behaviour.
The nice thing about Environmental Psychology is that you're involved with human behaviour that takes place on a daily basis and that anyone can imagine, but the solutions that a 'layman' comes up with to promote environmentally friendly behaviour are by no means always the best from a psychological point of view. The environment and the way people deal with it is becoming an increasingly important subject. Especially on a theoretical and scientific level this offers many challenges and it also ensures that it is a field in which you can easily collaborate with other disciplines.
Since completing my PhD research I have been working at D&B as a behavioural psychologist. D&B was founded from the idea that it is important that scientific knowledge about human behaviour also reaches people in practice who have to deal with human behaviour on a daily basis.
Together with my colleagues I therefore make the translation of scientific knowledge about behaviour. to our client's practice. One of the reasons we do this is because of the problem of our customers 'by looking at goggles of behaviour', and investigating why people do not yet demonstrate the desired behaviour. Then we develop an intervention that fits in with this 'why' and measure what the effect of our intervention.
Behavioural psychologist with D&B
Rutger Wessels works at the Dutch political party GroenLinks on political strategy, online campaigns and as digital media manager
After finishing my studies I started working as a Digital Media Manager for a Dutch political party called GroenLinks (GreenLeft). I manage their social media channels, write newsletters and make sure that the messages of GroenLinks reach as many people as possible on-line. Furthermore, I work on the political strategy and on-line campaigns. It is a very diverse and challenging job which allows me to actively apply my knowledge of Social Psychology.
How did I end up at a national political party? During my studies I decided to become active for the local department of GroenLinks in Groningen. I supported the party and became campaign leader for the local elections. I can recommend everyone to gain work experience during their studies. There are no job advertisements that say: ‘We are looking for a Social Psychologist.’ That is why it is important to develop yourself during your studies.
Politics and Social Psychology proved to be a good combination for me. My knowledge about human behaviour often comes in useful. What makes people behave in a certain way? Why do people trust one politician but not the other? Those are important aspects of successful political campaigns.
My master thesis was about the evaluation of a wind farm in Stadskanaal, a city near Groningen. I visited people there to ask their opinion about the wind farm and sustainable energy. The most important conclusion of my research was not very surprising, but still very valuable. To create public support for new (sustainable) plans it is important to listen to people and to take their worries seriously. In Stadskanaal that did not happen enough.
I expect that the transition to a sustainable society will really take off in the next couple of years. There are many opportunities for Environmental Psychologists. Behavioural change does not come naturally, and it is often difficult. We need to change people’s behaviour step by step. That will be the big challenge for politics in the upcoming years. A challenge where politics can really use the help of psychologists.
Project / account manager and product developer at the Energy Delta Institute
I work at the Energy Delta Istitute (EDI) in Groningen as a project and account manager and product developer. EDI educates professionals in the energy sector all over the world.
This education varies from one day events to two year master programs. I used to travel a lot for my work, because our partner companies are situated all over the world, but since the birth of my daughter last year I have been focusing on our regional accounts and the development of new courses. I’m also the chairman of the Young Energy Professionals in the Netherlands.
I graduated in Social Psychology. I chose the program because of its broad range: I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at the time, and the Social Psychology master offered various interesting subjects and could take me anywhere. A course I took in Environmental Psychology ended up triggering my interest for the energy sector.
The program helped me develop my English and my writing skills, and it benefitted my social development and my ability to present myself. Most importantly, my study taught me to analyze and think on a certain level. That is how I landed my current job.
I had a great time studying in Groningen, although it took me a bit too long. You don’t have to have everything figured out when you begin studying, but it’s important to find a goal over time. So ask yourself what you want, what you don’t want, and what you want to achieve – and then get there!
PhD student in Environmental Psychology at the University of Groningen
My interest in environmental issues led me to pursue the research master Behavioural and Social sciences, where I could deepen my understanding of the topic and at the same time delve into the world of research.
During my master’s I had a lot of courses on research methods and statistics, as well as a variety of courses in social psychology and environmental psychology. Furthermore, I was encouraged to join ongoing projects from faculty members, assist in research and attend lab meetings of the research groups in the department. I did a traineeship, literature studies and my master's thesis to specialise in Environmental Psychology.
In July 2016 I started my PhD research in Environmental
Psychology about smart energy incentives. I feel really confident
in conducting my own research as I had a lot of practice and
preparation throughout my master’s, especially by writing my
master’s thesis in Environmental Psychology. My thesis was
about evaluating a water and energy conservation programme for
primary school children called “Water Savers” .
Coordinating this project and working with schools and
practitioners will be of great help to me for future larger
projects that I will design and coordinate.
I will see what the future holds. Maybe later on in life, I would like to start my own research and consultancy company in the field of sustainability. For now, I am really looking forward to working on my PhD topic for the next four years.
Orange Knowledge Programme grant for students from certain countries