Call for abstracts: The Psychology of Senescent Environments: Environmental Psychology and the Historic Environment

The Psychology of Senescent Environments – Special Collabra: Psychology research nexus


DUE Feb. 15, 2019


Jeremy C. Wells, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation,
University of Maryland, College Park; (

Daniel J. Levi, Ph.D., Professor, Psychology and Child Development, Cal Poly; (

Erica Molinario, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Psychology, University of Maryland,
College Park; (




Why the Psychology of Senescent Environments?

Globally each year, the conservation of historic buildings and places is responsible for nearly a trillion US dollars of economic activity and sustains tens of millions of jobs (Nypan 2007; Gilderbloom et al. 2009; Historic England 2014). Built heritage conservation is a major social movement and an area of professional practice driven by numerous national, regional, and local laws that impact nearly every person in some way who lives in an urbanized area. 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, as explained by Thompson Mayes (2018), Vice President of the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation:

The feelings of continuity, memory, and identity from old places give us a sense of who we are. The experience of beauty and the awe of the sacred at old places deepens our connections to a broader world and fosters a sense of empathy with others. Knowing the places where our ancestors are from gives people a deep sense of belonging. Learning history at the places where history happened is a viscerally memorable experience that stays with us for the rest of our lives. … The bottom line is that old places matter for more reasons that we generally assume. As such, the preservation of old places is not just something “nice” to do; it provides profound material, emotional, sociological, and spiritual benefits for all. (p. 111)

It is critical to emphasize that the meanings and values that Mayes enumerates are not normally considered to be a part of built heritage conservation practice, which instead relies on connoisseurship and art/historical facts as primary considerations. Indeed, the field has an ingrained bias against the meanings and experiences of laypeople in understanding why old or “historic” places are important (Wells 2015; Pannekoek 1998; King 2009; Smith 2006). This situation has led to the current environment in which we know very little about the topics that Mayes discusses from any kind of social science perspective, especially that of psychology.

For a half a century, researchers in environmental psychology and environment/behavior research have studied the relationship between people and their physical environments, but have mostly neglected environments that are defined specifically by their physical age, including old buildings, structures, monuments, and landscapes. The purpose, therefore, of this research nexus at Collabra: Psychology is to define and cement this nascent field—the psychology of senescent environments—that combines environmental psychology and the setting of the old or historic environment. This special collection will help serve as the foundation for this new field and bring together some of the leading thinkers in this area.

The assumption is that the psychology of senescent environments is based on the existing concepts of human-centered heritage conservation (also called people-centered preservation) and environment/behavior research. Human-centered conservation is represented by three strands of scholarship: values-centered preservation/conservation (Lipe 1984; Mason 2006; Gibson & Pendlebury 2009), critical heritage studies (Smith 2006; Harrison 2013), and the psychology of heritage environments (Levi 2005; Wells & Baldwin 2012; Wells 2017). To date, there is no lead organization for values-centered preservation, but critical heritage studies has been represented, since 2012, by the Association for Critical Heritage Studies (ACHS). The psychology of heritage environments has been represented since 2008 by the Historic Environment Knowledge Network at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). By far, most scholars work in the area of critical heritage studies.

What is the Psychology of Senescent Environments?

For the purposes of this special collection, the psychology of senescent environments is defined by three primary characteristics:

  1. A central focus on old or “historic” environments from a theoretical and/or empirical research perspective;
  2. Research methods primarily associated with environmental psychology (especially compared with other social science disciplines), 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 to submit an abstract proposal for a paper

All interested authors should first submit a 300-word abstract by February 15, 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 ( 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.