Department Environmental Social Sciences

Environmental Health Psychology (EHP)

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The cluster Environmental Health Psychology researches the human dimension of current environmental health challenges in the water domain. 

Today’s key global challenges include environmental health risks in the water domain, such as water scarcity, water pollution, or unsafe sanitation. Humans are strongly intertwined with these risks: oftentimes they are both, causing the risks and suffering their consequences. Our cluster uses theories and methods from environmental and health psychology to research, first, people’s behaviours and choices that contribute to these risks, and second, cognitive and behavioural responses to these risks. With our research, we aim to increase our understanding on these topics as well as to help designing interventions to promote risk-mitigating and risk-adapting behaviours and choices. Researched behaviours and choices in the water domain include:

  1. Pro-environmental and health behaviours that contribute to environmental health (e.g. consumption of safe drinking water)
  2. The acceptability and/or adoption of sustainable innovations (e.g. water recycling)
  3. The support of sustainable policies (e.g. the ban of microbeads)

The cluster Environmental Health Psychology works closely with scholars from various disciplines, including social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, and philosophy.

Our focus areas at a glance

Human causes of environmental health risks

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We investigate factors influencing human behaviour and choices that contribute to environmental health risks. We build our research amongst other on value theory and research on social dilemmas. Research in this focus area provides key insights on the barriers to risk-mitigation and is thus closely related to the research in the focus area “Risk-mitigation and –adaptation”. 

Risk perception

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In this focus area, we investigate people’s perceptions of environmental health risks in the water domain and factors influencing risk perception. Key topics include the role of values, affect and emotions for risk perception and information selection. Research in this focus area informs strategies for risk communication. 

Risk-mitigation and risk-adaptation

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We research factors influencing risk-mitigating and risk-adapting behaviours and choices. The factors we research include individual factors, such as perceived costs, risks, and benefits, or self-efficacy beliefs, as well as collective factors, such as social identification, social norms, or collective psychological ownership. 

Interventions to promote risk-mitigation and risk-adaptation

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Building on the insights from the other three focus areas, we design and test interventions and strategies to promote risk-mitigation and risk-adaptation. First, we design and test interventions aimed at promoting pro-environmental and health behaviours that contribute to environmental health. Second, we design and test (communication) strategies aimed at increasing acceptability and/or adoption of sustainable innovations and policies.


Group leader

Dr. Nadja ContzenGroup leader, Environmental Health PsychologyTel. +41 58 765 6892Send Mail

Interns and Master students

Sophie ReckelsTel. +41 58 765 5767Send Mail

Selected publications

Harter, M.; Contzen, N.; Inauen, J. (2019) The role of social identification for achieving an open-defecation free environment: a cluster-randomized, controlled trial of community-led total sanitation in Ghana, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 66, 101360 (8 pp.), doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2019.101360, Institutional Repository
Contzen, N.; Marks, S. J. (2018) Increasing the regular use of safe water kiosk through collective psychological ownership: a mediation analysis, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 57, 45-52, doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2018.06.008, Institutional Repository
Contzen, N.; Inauen, J. (2015) Social-cognitive factors mediating intervention effects on handwashing: a longitudinal study, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 38(6), 956-969, doi:10.1007/s10865-015-9661-2, Institutional Repository
Contzen, N.; Meili, I. H.; Mosler, H.-J. (2015) Changing handwashing behaviour in southern Ethiopia: a longitudinal study on infrastructural and commitment interventions, Social Science and Medicine, 124, 103-114, doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.11.006, Institutional Repository
Contzen, N.; De Pasquale, S.; Mosler, H.-J. (2015) Over-reporting in handwashing self-reports: potential explanatory factors and alternative measurements, PLoS One, 10(8), e0136445 (22 pp.), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136445, Institutional Repository
Contzen, N.; Mosler, H.-J. (2015) Identifying the psychological determinants of handwashing: results from two cross-sectional questionnaire studies in Haiti and Ethiopia, American Journal of Infection Control, 43(8), 826-832, doi:10.1016/j.ajic.2015.04.186, Institutional Repository
Contzen, N.; Mosler, H.-J. (2013) Impact of different promotional channels on handwashing behaviour in an emergency context: Haiti post-earthquake public health promotions and cholera response, Journal of Public Health (Berlin, Heidelberg), 21(6), 559-573, doi:10.1007/s10389-013-0577-4, Institutional Repository