Susan D. Clayton, a social psychologist whose work examines how people think about and make personal connections to the environment, will deliver the keynote address at the Oct. 24 Texas A&M College of Architecture Research Symposium: Built, Natural Virtual. The daylong event will be held in the Langford Architecture Center on the Texas A&M campus.
Clayton is the Whitmore-Williams Professor of Psychology and chair of environmental studies at the College of Wooster, a private liberal arts school in Wooster, Ohio. A fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and the Society for Population and Environmental Psychology, where she has served as president, Clayton holds a B.A. from Carleton College and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University.
Her keynote address, "Conservation psychology: Psychological tools to address environmental challenges," will examine the role of psychology in addressing threats to the natural environment. She will present research focused on the role of nature in human well-being, discuss studies examining human responses to environmental problems, and suggest ways in which psychology can promote environmental well-being.
Clayton has published extensively on topics related to justice as well as the natural environment. With Faye Crosby, she co-authored the book “Justice, Gender, and Affirmative Action” (1992), which received an award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in the United States, and with Susan Opotow, she co-edited a volume of the Journal of Social Issues on “Green Justice” as well as the book “Identity and the Natural Environment” (2003). She is also the co-author, with Gene Myers, of the book “Conservation Psychology: Understanding and Promoting Human Care for Nature” (2009).
Additionally, Clayton edits the Human Ecology Review, the journal of the Society for Human Ecology, and sits on the editorial boards for the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, and PsyEcology.
A pioneer in the field of conservation psychology, Clayton is interested in understanding and promoting a healthy relationship between humans and nature. She developed an Environmental Identity (EID) Scale to assess the degree to which the natural environment plays an important part in the way people think about themselves.
She also has as strong interest in the psychology of justice: how people define what is fair and how they respond to perceived injustice.
"As a social psychologist, I focus on a variety of topics, including affirmative action, environmental concerns, racial issues, and women's rights, as well as justice, discrimination, and prosocial behavior," she said. “My conviction that the environment is psychologically significant, leads me to be concerned with protecting it, within my institution and within my profession.”
Much of Clayton’s my recent work has been in zoos, where a wide and diverse range of people come to interact with wild animals. Currently, she is examining the impacts of zoo visits on social interactions and attitudes toward animals. With help from students and collaborators, she is collecting data from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, and the Bronx, Central Park, and Prospect Park zoos, as well as the Panda Research Base in Chengdu, China.
Clayton is also investigating how environmental problems are manifested and experienced differently in different countries, and how these cultural differences affect the response to such problems.
“We all belong to different groups, but the extent to which these groups affect our self-image and self-definition varies from person to person and across situations,” said Clayton. “Some cultures and settings help to create or emphasize different identities.” Likewise, she said, “experiences with the natural world can help to nurture an environmental identity.”
The data she’s gathering on the relationship between environmental identity, national identity, and environmental attitudes should aid in the understanding of these cultural differences.
Clayton is a member of the International Society for Justice Research, the Society for Conservation Biology's Social Science Working Group, the Society for Human Ecology, the International Association for People-environment Studies, and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
The keynote address is part of the daylong symposium, which features a series of college faculty presentations previously delivered at scholarly venues around the world. This year's symposium includes invited or refereed presentations and papers from the 2009-10 academic year.
The event, including a continental breakfast and lunch, is free to registered participants.