The Psychology of Place

Why We Do What We Do Where We Do It

By Leigh Brown Perkins
Illustration by Emiliano Ponzi

Our Top Spots

Favorite places on campus where environmental psychology works its secret magic.

Dinky Dock has it. So does that cluster of leather club chairs in the library.

It’s that psychological “something” that draws us in and keeps us coming back to “our” spot.

To demonstrate environmental psychology at work, Paul Harris asked his students to name their favorite place on campus. Results were a mix of quiet corners for contemplation and boisterous areas for socializing. But the ideal spots were designed for both simultaneously.

“Students like to people watch,” he said. So when they’re studying, they like to keep an eye on the Quidditch match on the Green, or be able to glance up at other students cramming for a final. “Even when we’re not interacting directly, we like to feel part of the group.”

Add some grass, trees, and sparkly water (to “decrease physiological arousal and facilitate relaxation”), and the psyche simply cannot help but plop the body down in such a setting.

Mill's Lawn

The Green: Mills Lawn fulfills virtually every psychological need for restoration and connection: The commotion of pick-up soccer or the seclusion of snoozing in the sun between classes, all on an expanse of green. Susanna Richstein ’15 responds to its openness, ideal for “watching everyone’s comings and goings.”

Olin Library

Olin Library: Satisfies the overlapping need to be separate for deep thought but still connected. Comfy chairs and banks of windows add to its allure. Kevin Lopez ’15 stakes out a very particular piece of real estate: second level, all the way to the right, a quiet desk with a view. Daniela Galvez ’15 studies on the top floor, preferably in a pool of sunlight.

Lake Virginia

Lake Virginia: Exceeds requirements for nature, isolation, and sunshine. Mary Hortenstine ’14 paddles, rows, or sails into its center to get the lake’s full calming effect, but Meredith Lax ’15 prefers the perspective from hiking on the lake trail. Dinky Dock is a favorite of many students, but Jeni Collins ’12 gravitates to the dock behind Sutton for its tranquility.

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