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Understanding Individuals within Environments ~ Chapter 5
Community Psychology (PSCH 231)
Bibiana S. Adames
Class Notes
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This 7 page Class Notes was uploaded by Megan on Thursday September 29, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to PSCH 231 at University of Illinois at Chicago taught by Bibiana S. Adames in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 4 views. For similar materials see Community Psychology (PSCH 231) in Psychology (PSYC) at University of Illinois at Chicago.

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Date Created: 09/29/16
Understanding Individuals within Environments ~ Chapter 5 The reciprocal relationships between individuals and social systems have been identified as central focus of CP from its inception. This interest in understanding the connection between environmental influences and individuals isn’t unique to CP, and yet, the specific ways in which contexts and individuals interact aren’t well understood. CP seeks to understand how ecological factors relate to the well-being of individuals and their communities, and in this chapter we’ll explore the various approaches used for understanding ecological contexts. Usually the approach or approaches used depends on the goals of the project. Conceptual models of ecological context—In CP the unit of analysis is conceptualized as an environmental setting. These settings may be physical (e.g., school) or social (e.g., team). Community psychologists use different approaches for understanding environmental contexts, and identifying potential strategies for interventions. There are six main models or perspectives used in CP to analyze or understand environmental settings, and conduct work within these settings: 1) Ecological principles 2) Social climate dimensions 3) Social regularities 4) Ecological psychology 5) Activity settings 6) Environmental psychology 1) Ecological principles—adapting concepts from the biological field of ecology, Kelly, Trickett, and colleagues proposed four key ecological principles to understand the various settings within which people function: interdependence, cycling of resources, adaptation, and succession. Interdependence—any social system has multiple related parts or levels, and multiple relationships with other systems. Changes in any of these parts or levels affect the others because they are interdependent. Actions or problems of any of other system will affect the social system of interest. For example, a school is made up of various components—administration, teachers, students, support staff, service professionals, parents. Neighborhood, city, national, and international systems may have effects on the school system. Cycling of resources—any systems can be understood by examining how resources are used, distributed, conserved, and transformed. By examining the availability of resources, one can begin to understand priorities and connections within a system. Resources may be personal, such as talents, knowledge, experiences. Social resources are characteristic of relationships within the system, such as shared beliefs, values, and norms. Resources may also be physical (structures such as libraries, parks), material (goods such as publications, food, information, books), and financial (such as available funds). Adaptation—adaptation refers to the transactions that occur between individuals and the environment. It’s a bi-directional process in which individuals cope with the constraints or demands of the environment, and the environments adapts to constraints or demands of the individuals functioning within it. For example, an organization that doesn’t respond to the needs of its members will find it difficult to retain members or attract new ones. Individuals and systems needs to adapt to each other to be able to co-exist. Succession—settings change over time. Therefore, interdependence, cycling of resources, adaptation change over time; changing the relationship between individuals and the social system. With these changes comes succession or changes in how things function within a setting. One aspect of succession in social systems is understanding of a system’s history (changes that have occurred in the past) to be able to understand approaches taken toward a specific issue, and what has worked and hasn’t worked before. 2) Social climate dimensions—is a framework proposed by Moos and colleagues to assess shared perceptions of an environment among its members. The social climate approach to understanding environments is based on three primary dimensions that can characterize any setting: how social relationships are organized, how personal development is encouraged, and how maintenance or change is managed. The social climate model assumes that settings will vary on how much they emphasize relationships, personal development, and how they maintain or change practices. Relationships—this dimension of social climate is concerned with mutual supportiveness, involvement, and cohesion among individuals or members of an environment. The focus is on identifying the characteristics of relationships within a setting. This dimension is similar to the ecological principles of interdependence and cycling of resources of the previous model (Kelly et al). Personal development—this dimension of social climate is concerned with how individual autonomy, growth, and skill development are fostered within an environment. These are environmental demands that are related to the ecological principles of adaptation of the previous model (Kelly et al) System maintenance & change—this dimension of social climate is concerned with the clarity of rules and expectations of a setting, how order and discipline is maintained, how behaviors are managed, and the extent to which innovative ideas and activities are welcomed. These environmental characteristics are comparable to ecological principles of adaptation and succession in Kelly’s framework. Differences in perceptions of social climate dimensions, and shared views, can be used to guide discussions about how to bring about changes in a particular environment or setting. Knowing what you know about CP, how do the ecological principles model and social climate dimensions model make sense to you? Or, perhaps, they do not. Why not? 3) Social regularities—Seidman proposed that environments be understood in terms of the social regularities, or relational patterns, that occur in the interactions of individuals within a setting. The focus is on how these relational patterns affect the distribution of resources, access to opportunities, decision making power, and the authority to address social issues; which then provide information about roles individuals play within an environment, and the power dynamics of that environment (e.g., teacher- student relations, parent-child relations, parent-school personnel relations). Seidman argued that settings typically create predictable relational patterns among their members, and these patterns persist over time, even if the actual individuals involved change (i.e., would explain why even if you changed the staff of an organization, certain issues may persist—the people changed, but the patterns for how people relate within the environment did not). 4) Ecological psychology—focus on the observation of physical and social environments in which community life happens and is maintained. The main interest is patterns of behaviors that are characteristic of a setting, regardless of which individuals are in the setting. The term behavior settings was introduced by proponents of the ecological psychology approach to define the environments that would be observed and emphasis the behavior patterns that occurred in the environment. These “behavior settings” could be physical places, such as a school or a classroom within a school. They could also be stand-alone entities, such as a gas station, or they could be frequent or occasional events, such as a weekly baseball game or a wedding every few months. The purpose of ecological psychology is to identify behavior settings within a community, and develop and understanding of the physical features and social patterns that sustain the setting. In which ways do you think the social regularities model and ecological psychology model could be most useful? As a comparison, the ecological principles model focuses on four specific aspects of community functioning—interdependence, cycling of resources, adaptation, and succession. Like the ecological principles model, the social climate dimensions framework highlighted three specific aspects of community functioning—relationships, personal development, and system maintenance and change. The social regularities approach specifically emphasizes the patterns in relationships that exist within a community, whereas the ecological psychology model calls attention to the circumstantial factors that make certain social patterns possible (the location, time, rules of a baseball game; as well as the requirements for joining a baseball team, the availability of fields or parks, and the level of support demonstrated by the community as elements that influence the behaviors that occur in a baseball game or within a baseball league). 5) Activity settings—is a similar framework as ecological psychology in that it focuses on specific settings within a community, but activity settings has the added component of taking into account the subjective socio- cultural meanings of the observed experiences or events. In other words, it isn’t just about the actual physical setting or the behaviors of the people who interact in this setting, but also about the shared emotional experiences, beliefs, assumptions, and values. For example, in a spiritual setting, certain vocabulary, writing, visual art, and music have particular meaning. In a political setting, certain colors, topics, and historical events have particular relevance. 6) Environmental psychology—this perspective examines the influence of physical characteristics of a setting (especially built environments) on behavior. A major focus of this model is the study of psychological effects of environmental stressors, such as noise, air pollution, hazardous waste, and crowded housing. The psychological effects of architectural and neighborhood design are also of special interest. For example, the study of enclosed spaces, window availability, furniture placement, and aspects of housing design and how these affect interpersonal interactions, well-being, and sense of community in a particular setting. By emphasizing the importance of the physical environment, environmental psychology complements the more social perspectives of the other frameworks. Now that we’ve reviewed the six main approaches used in CP to understand community contexts, what do you notice about the progression from the first model introduced (ecological perspectives) through the last model introduced (environmental psychology)? (narrow level of analysis to broader level of analysis) From an ecological viewpoint, the environmental elements of social issues are often overlooked, and if left unaddressed, the effectiveness of proposed interventions will be limited. Neighborhoods are an example of an environmental setting in which community psychologists are able to examine more closely the interactions between contextual factors and individuals. All neighborhoods have their strengths and resources, as well as problems and limitations. These elements will impact personal, family, and communal life within that neighborhood. Research has shown that promoting neighborhood well- being appears to have benefits for personal well-being, as well as community well-being. For example, it’s been found that in lower-risk neighborhoods, teens whose parents were less restrictive had higher grades; but in higher-risk neighborhoods, teens whose parents where more restrictive had higher grades. How would you explain this? Another example are findings that pregnant women in higher-crime neighborhoods had a greater risk of poor pregnancy outcomes (such as premature birth or low birth weight babies). Therefore, proving access to prenatal health care may not be enough for women in these neighborhoods … Why not? Even when we’re able to identify contextual elements that need to be addressed to improve conditions within a setting, changing existing settings isn’t always feasible, either due to limitations of resources or resistance to change. Consequently, community psychologists sometimes focus on creating alternative settings, as opposed to changing current ones. The alternative settings aren’t intended to replace the existing settings, but rather to provide circumstances and resources that are more conducive to addressing issues of concern when the current options aren’t likely to offer viable possibilities. One example is the creation of the Community Lodge, a place where people who are discharged from long-term mental health hospitalization can live and work independently, and ultimately reach self-sufficiency. Another example is Harlem Children’s Zone, which focuses on developing the academic skills of children from an impoverished neighborhood to better prepare them to excel in school. Harlem Children’s Zone also addresses common health conditions in the neighborhood (asthma, diabetes) and social skills (community pride, occupational training) to enhance the children’s ability to function well across various environments. Neither of these programs has completely changed mental health care or academic preparedness of children from poor neighborhoods, but they are widely disseminated attempts to create alternative opportunities within a local setting, in ways that is supportive of the setting and its members.


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