Thursday, February 23, 2012

Breaking Down the Institutional Silos

- by Lauren Campbell 

In a 1971 American Institute of Biological Sciences article, "The Biologist, the Psychologist, and the Environmental Crisis," (1971)* written by Robert Franke, discussed in detail the need for an interdisciplinary approach to cure our environmental crisis. Franke, a former biology/botany professor at Iowa State University, urged biologists and psychologists to work together to address the increasing environmental problems we face. He repeatedly turned to Erich Fromm’s humanist psychology to help facilitate the process.

Fromm had articulated that human discontentment was the cause of our “earth’s deterioration.”

Franke claimed that “biologists have described well the ecological crisis, but they do not have the disciplinary resources to examine the human causes of our dilemma.” He cited Fromm’s 1955 work:

“As a psychologist, he, [Fromm], worries that the ‘good life’ deprives modern man of his central place, uses him to attain economic goal, estranges him from his fellow men and nature. Man-made environment may have become an end in itself, out of kilter with nature. Thus, the irony is that man-made environment may now threaten humanity”

Franke listed some factors that could negatively affect society and their environment: monetary profit, technological change, mass production, mass consumption, and development of business management are just some factors Franke had enumerated. These, Franke argues, have caused man to become detached from the Earth and thus affected his perception and relationship of caring for it. (It should be noted that Franke noted “man” and “his perceptions” in his article.) He discussed the necessity of biologists “to inquire into the nature of adequate fulfillment of man’s psychological needs”; recognizing that in order to address the environmental problems, man’s psychological needs must be met, or else the exploitation of our planet will continue.

Franke goes on to claim that man must develop a strategy for dealing with these problems: “he must develop an intellectual strategy.” He noted that one can “either attack only the well-recognized symptoms of an endangered relationship between man and the natural environment, or while preventing more despoliation, [one] can rally to change detrimental societal forces through attention to man’s psychological needs”

Franke’s view was radical for his time. His use of humanistic psychology to address environmental degradation was not a popular notion. Behaviorism still reigned, the study of psychology and social psychology’s popularity was still on the rise. Franke’s article was at odds because at the time, intrinsic motivation and social motivation in were in a different form than Franke’s concepts. Psychologists at the time were especially interested in learning how social roles and experiences facilitated motivation. There was a real emphasis on how social roles influence environmental behavior; there were a lot of behavioral models put forth; it was also at this time that many environmental psychologists thought that providing information regarding environmental problems would be enough to motivate individuals to behave pro-environmentally.

It should be noted how humanistic psychology reverberated through the sciences and the impact it has had, not only in psychology, but in other areas of science. Franke’s article specifically emphasized humanistic psychology’s impact on our understanding of social responsibility to address our environmental issues.

Franke’s article may help biologists recognize the need to address psychological issues in their research and incorporate environmental motivation studies to contribute to an overall goal of changing our sustainable behaviors.

The environment is our shared environment. We must take care of it in order for the species to survive. This means working across fields, with other disciplines, with different beliefs, to sustain the global demand of human life. Motivating individuals to behave in sustainable ways can benefit everyone; it is crucial to our survival and is an important component of social psychology. Throughout the years, several theories and models have been put forth regarding human motivation; however, there has not been a significant change to our behavior to counteract the pollution that we have created. I would think it's time we take Franke's advice and break down the institutional silos. Survival would be the ultimate motivator for any organism on this planet, even us.

*The Biologist, the Psychologist, and the Environmental Crisis BioScience Vol 21, No. 5.

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