Brunel University and my PhD in Environmental and Educational Psychology

The PhD: dum, dum, dah!!!!!!

So, after thinking about and planning my PhD since December 2010 and trying to figure out which university, which course and which Supervisors, I finally made a decision and I’ll be studying part time for the next 6 years, based in Georgia with regular visits to the UK as needed to meet up with my two Supervisors Robin and Bridget. Robin is a Professor of Social Psychology with an interest in social change, perceptions, values and value change and with a personal love of Georgia having been here at least three times. He has just returned from 6 months researching in China. Robin has previously worked alongside visiting lecturer at Brunel, Dr George Nizharadze, who works at the Georgian Institute of Psychology in Tbilisi. Bridget is a Clinical and Health psychologist with an interest in qualitative methodology, HIV, and spinal cord damage. So between the three of us we should have quite a wealth of knowledge, especially since my background is in Cognitive Neuropsychology with specialisms in Forensic and Developmental neuropsychology.


Deciding on the actual topic of research has been pretty tough and is by no means written in stone, and probably won’t be for a long time yet. In fact I don’t officiially start my PhD until October, and still need to secure the funding. But, I knew that I wanted to do something based on Georgian culture, and I was also interested in environmental attitudes, and children.

Current Plan…

So the plan at the moment, if I can get approval from the ethics committee is to study the environmental attitudes of the children involved with my Oceans Project, as well as other groups of Georgians such as fishermen, teachers, university students, and maybe a few other groups. Current plan is to design my own environmental attitudes survey and to use some environmental psychology surveys and to administer these to the children on my course at the start, during and after the oceans project, to see if their attitudes have changed in any way, and if so how. Likewise with the fishermen and other Georgians.

Why are Environmental Attitudes Important?

If we don’t know about people’s cultural beliefs or relationship with, for example, dolphins, or the Black Sea, or with Nature then we can’t find adequate ways to prevent further extinction or threats to species or implement any government strategies to improve the environment.

I will give you one example, the dolphin. A very drunk Ukranian man recently decided to swim in the Black Sea in the middle of the night, and happened to get caught up in a pod of feeding dolphins. He and other Ukranians believed that the dolphins came and attacked him, and they hate dolphins and want to see them all killed, as do many fishermen around the world, who lose lots of money every year due to dolphins getting caught up in their fishing nets and breaking them as they try and steal the fish. Now the dolphin in the Black Sea is a unique species, smaller and different in DNA and is a sub species of the bottle nosed dolphin found elsewhere, such as the Mediterranean Sea. The Black Sea was originally a fresh water lake, much lower than it is now, probably around 100m lower. We know this because the Black Sea is unusual in that the bottom half of the water is sea water from the Mediterranean Sea and the top half is made of fresh water from big rivers running into the Black Sea Basin from the Danube River for example. These waters rarely mix and this means that the bottom level is not oxygenated, and nothing lives there, hence there is very little decay or microbes or bacteria to eat away at things like wood. So, at the bottom of the ocean you can find extremely well preserved ship wrecks, fossils, and archaeological remains from the people who lived in that spot prior to the sea levels rising. The fossils you find are from fresh water creatures, and if you go to the top of Mt Ararat you will also find marine fossils, thus providing evidence of a flood and perhaps support for the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark which is believed to have wrecked on this mountain after the floods.

The dolphin entered the Black Sea when the Mediterranean Sea swelled due to all the ice melting due to previous global warming, and water split Turkey in two, and came gushing into the Black Sea. In this flooding episode, fish and dolphins and porpoises got washed into the Black Sea, but no whales. Some whales have been released by zoos in Russia into the Black Sea, but they cannot survive there as there is nothing for them to eat, especially at depth.

When the waters lowered, the dolphin became trapped in this basin, just as those dolphin did in the Mediterranean Sea when they could no longer cross over the straits of Gibraltar. Over time, they became genetically different and smaller and are now the only dolphins of this kind in the whole world. They were almost extinct due to the countries surrounding the Black Sea basin selling them to zoos, and also killing them for their meat. Another species which is now believed to be extinct is the Fur Seal, which was killed for its fur to make fur coats, a process which still continues in Turkey.

Numbers of the dolphin in the Black Sea have improved since the countries joined forces to protect them, but the only country not really actively involved in the conservation efforts is Georgia, which is still focused on building its basic infrastructure and ridding the country of corruption. The dolphins have been studied around the other countries in the Black Sea, but little is known of them in Georgia, where they come between Autumn and Spring to feed on anchovy. Efforts are in place to conserve them in all the other countries, but all of that will be in vain, if they are dying along the coast of Georgia.

The reason may be very simple. It may be that the fishermen here are also fishing for anchovy, and that the dolphins are getting caught up in the fishing nets. Bad news for the fishermen and bad news for the dolphins. However, what if this could all be prevented and a solution could be found???? Well, there is a special device called a ‘pinger’, it is fairly cheap, and can be attached to fishing nets, where it emits a sound frequency that the dolphins don’t like and hence avoid. This could therefore deter the dolphins away from the nets, and would result in less damage to fishing nets, less loss of money, and less dolphin death due to bicatch.

The only problem, is that we don’t know enough about these pingers yet. Perhaps they will act as a ‘dinner bell’ alerting dolphins and seals to the presence of caught fish that are easier to catch. Perhaps the sound frequencies of the pingers will work differently for each dolphin or seal species, maybe they will not be heard by some, but will deafen others? We also do not know the harm that could be caused to the dolphins or seals from particular sound frequencies, an if we damage their hearing then they could end up getting disorientated and getting stranded on the beaches. However, a pilot project, using pingers on some nets and not on others may just help us to study the numbers of dolphin bi-catch, and could have a massive impact.

Why Does this Appeal to a Psychologist?

My interest as a Psychologist is in the attitudes of people, because I hope that by studying the current beliefs of the environment and current problems facing people, and their experiences with nature, then I can use this to find solutions and change attitudes. If people don’t understand the problem then they will not have compassion or desire to preserve their environment. I’ll give a few examples, some are extreme, but I hope that they help to illustrate my point:

– during the previous episode of global warming, the icebergs around the world (it was the ice
age) melted, the water levels in the world’s oceans rose, causing a tsunami in the Black
Sea, which led to villages on the Georgian coast being washed away, covered for ever, and
much of the coastline disappearing. This drove early man further away from the coast, and
up the Danube and to populate Europe. 2/3rds of the planet are currently covered in water,
if the ice caps melt, the waters will rise again, and many countries around the world will
be under water, including much of the Georgian coast, and bye bye Batumi….the place where
the government is investing most of its money in tourisms right now!!!! This is happening
and has happened already, and the Pacific Islands of Tarawa even have an evacuation plan for
the 28,000 people for when the seas rise.

– most of Georgia’s sewage, and previously nuclear waste for several Black Sea countries
polluted the Black Sea, and the lovely people of Georgia like to swim in this! Nice!

– In the 1980s, jellyfish were transported by accident on a ship and have now taken over the
Black Sea. They especially like to eat fish eggs, which has led to a decline in many fish.
No fish means all the things that eat fish are also going hungry, and there are less fish
for fishermen and for Georgians. That means worse business, harder work, more fuel to drive
the boats to find fish, and less money available for living, education, and paying bills,
less jobs, so more unemployment, and people having to move to the city or away from the
coast to find jobs.

– Many Black Sea species are already extinct, many more are on their way to extinction, if the
Black Sea is void of life, it won’t be a lovely looking place, and there won’t be much for
tourists. But if you look after the sea, then you will have scuba diving, fishing, wildlife
to watch, and more money from tourism. That means better health too.

– The Water than runs into the Black Sea provides drinking water for millions of people, but
is only available to those countries rich enough to clean it so it is suitable for drinking
and the Black Sea is a major part of the transport system , for over 15,000 ships a year
moving goods, oil, and other items across the sea to different countries including Greece.

Anyway, you get the idea. I am struggling to write today as my house mates are all back and have guests over and the house is busy, but I hope I can get at least part of my thoughts across.

A little Bit about Brunel University

And Some Videos to Get you Thinking about Environmental Psychology

Outline PhD Proposal

Title: Environmental Attitudes of Georgian Youth.


– to inform educational curriculum development for schools, not just in Georgia but globally.
– to inform the proposed children’s field studies centre committee of which topics need the
most focus and education.
– to introduce/raise the topics of the environment throughout Georgia

– Children of all ages from across Georgia???


– Focused Observation
– One on One Video Interviews
– Group/Focus Group Discussions
– Written Surveys and previously used psychological tests
– Performance Data

Focused Observation

My aim is to design some activities which could be given to groups or individual children, and to track how they do in these activities. This might be a set of photographs some related to pollution or global warming or similar and I could ask children to pick out and discuss which were related to a particular issue. Or perhaps I could give them a selection of items that might harm the environment and ask them to select which and why, for example, a plastic bag. Or alternatively, give them a set of photos related to which animals live in the Black Sea and are they happy or unhappy and why?

We could then discuss these issues as an informal educational session, and perhaps tie this in with pre and post session questionnaires?

I could also look at how land use in Georgia affects them and the implications of this?? Perhaps show them a range of different produce like eggs or vegetables and ask them to say what they are, and to talk about what experiences they have with them, do they grow them at home, etc? Are there any reasons why they might not be able to grow them, and if so what would happen to their family? This data could be linked with survey data to find out whether there was a difference between city and village children.

One on One Video Interviews

The main difficulty here is that English will be the second language of most participants. But it could be an adjunct, with those children and teachers who can, speaking in English, and the other interviews being translated. TLG volunteers will all be native English speakers.

Idea would be to ask set questions, and to analyse what topics come up in their answers. To see whether answers are the same for each group, or for different regions of Georgia, are there any areas of misunderstanding or consistent themes?

Group or Focused Discussion Groups

If possible, it would be good to visit as many schools as possible and to run focussed discussion groups, video them, and them analyse and track topics and issues raised.

There are two further options for exploring this. Firstly, I am planning to work with as many groups as possible to prepare entries for two environmental competitions run by Volvo Adventure (, perhaps I could study the children’s interactions over the course of preparing and presenting their competition entries?

Secondly, I plan to hold committee meetings with the children involved in setting up the very first children’s field studies and community centre in Georgia. Perhaps I could use these meetings to find out what things the children are interested in and what skills they want to develop or what interests they have??

I could also attend various student led NGO and other meetings to see which topics the attendees are bringing up, what they want to do about them, and how they are going about this? Are these interests and committees being set up as a result of foreign aid, or education, or are they led by children who are worried about the environment and want to do something about it, how did they become aware of these issues in the first place, what made them decide to take action?

I am also starting to network with CENN (Caucasus Environmental NGO Network) and European House in Tbilisi, both are wanting to bring about education and information sharing on environmental issues across Georgia. One way to gain data, is to work closely with both organizations and to attend meetings they organise with young people, and as part of that, to administer questionnaires to meeting attendees.

Written Surveys

This will form the bulk of my study, and I will specifically be looking for gaps in knowledge and trends, are there age differences, regional differences, or gender based differences? Does it depend on the knowledge of the teachers at school, or are they independent factors? Is environmental awareness more developed in those children actively involved in conservation projects locally or where funding is in place?

I will likely put together a questionnaire with questions about poverty and family background, along with formal questions from psychological tests already used. Such as:

– Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS): also available in many languages, used with children.
– Environmental Connectivity Scale: has only been used on Land Owners in the USA
– Environmental Identity Scale: only been used with adults.
– Inclusion of Nature in Self. Previously used on USA undergrads. Measures self rather than
– Nature Relatedness Scale: previously used on Canadian undergrads.
– Environmental Attitudes Scale: previously mailed to adults in USA.
– Environmental Attitudes Questionnaire: used on 6th grade students in USA to assess
effectiveness of eco camp intervention.
– Environmental Attitudes Questionnaire (a second version different to the other): has been
used with 6th, 7th, 8th, and 10th graders including children in Turkey.
– Environmental Attitudes Scale: previously used on 1st year psychology students in
– Measurement of Ecological Attitudes and Knowledge (MEAK): used in USA with adults and
college students. From 1973!
– MEAK, Revised in 1975.
– Public Attitudes about Environmental and Woodland Issues: adults in USA, by telephone, all
males, land owners.
– Environmental Behaviour: USA, male landowners.
– General Ecological Behaviour: used on Swiss transport workers.
– Self Reported Pro-environmental Behaviour Scale: used with college students in Spain,
Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and USA. May not be reliable culturally.
– Questionnaire on Environmental Beliefs: used on Psychology university students.
– Environmental Concern Scale: used on male landowners in USA.
– Environmental Concern Scale: used on USA population of public.
– Environmental Motives Scale (EMS): used on USA undergrads.
– Personal Concern Question: used with adults in 24 countries, no data on reliability.
– Environmental Values: given to USA undergrads and adults.
– Forest Values Scale: USA adults.
– Environmental Worldview Behaviour Scale: farmers, USA.
– Environmental Worldview Scale: farmers, USA.
– Ecological Worldview Scale: Australia, adults.
– New Ecological Paradigm: adults, USA.
– Revised New Ecological Paradigm: adults, USA.
– The Children’s Attitude Towards the Environment Scale (CATES): 3rd, 4th, 5th grade, USA.
– The Children’s Attitude Towards the Environment Scale (CATES) for Preschool Children: The
drawings they used are no longer available, they advise to draw your own.
– Children’s Environmental Response Inventory (CERI): used with children from 4th to 10th
grade, USA.
– Children’s Environmental Attitudes and Knowledge Survey (CHEAKS): 1st to 7th grade children
in USA.
– New Ecological Paradigm for Children (NEP): 4th, 5th, 6th grade, USA.
– Health of the Planet Survey (Gallup Poll): used in 24 countries, with adults.
– Roper Scale: Prisoners, and Institutionalised adults, USA.
– Social and Cultural Developments in the Netherlands: Used with adults in the Netherlands.
– Consideration of Future Consequences: adults, USA.
– Coping with Global Environmental Problems (GEP): USA, adults.
– Ecocentric and Anthropocentric Attitudes Towards the Environment: adults at USA airports,
undergrads, USA.
-Emotional Affinity Toward Nature by Adults (EAN): Germany, adults. They are interested in
collaborating with researchers using this with children, particularly in other countries.
– Environmental Agentic Disposition Scale: adults, USA.
– Environmental Futures Survey: used with adults in 18 countries.
– Environmental Preference Questionnaire (1977): high school students, USA.
– Environmental Response Inventory (1974): undergrads, USA.
– General Awareness of Consequences Scale: ??
– Motivation towards the Environment Scale: university students, Canada.
– Population and Environment Scale: older adults aged 55 and over.
– Psychological Stress Caused by the Environment Scale: ??
– River Environmental Scale: ??
– State of Perceived Environmental Annoyances in Urban Settings: magazine based questionnaire.

Most of the above tests have not been tested for reliability, so that in itself could be interesting data and useful to the authors of those surveys. As well as the culture aspect of carrying the surveys out in Georgia.

The surveys are multiple choice mostly, so it would be a question of entering the data and analyzing it. But using the other methods of data collection as ways of collecting data from smaller groups of people to add extra information and to see how useful they are as tools for data collection.

Performance Data

One way to collect this data would be to ask participants to draw a picture on a set topic, such as ‘threats to the oceans’ or ‘global warming’. To ask them to draw a picture that would show others through art, what were the important features of that topic. One big advantage of this method is that it would eliminate the problem of written or spoken language, and could be used for children of all ages.

This could also be carried out as a lesson in itself, run by TLG volunteers in their schools, provided that they haven’t primed children on particular topics before hand.

One disadvantage is that children are likely to copy from each other, especially if they think it’s a good thing to draw, and some subject s may be easier or more interesting to draw than others. However, this could also be used as an educational tool.

Another method of doing this, would be to set children a challenge, using either photography or film, and to ask them to take a photo or make a video about any environmental topic that they like. And to see what topics and themes come back. This could be run as a competition, although it will likely appeal to a particular character of student.

With the Youtube club, we could ask them to take a photo or make a video on something important to them and get their TLG volunteer to send it to us for analysis to see if there are different issues.

So there you have it, the gist of my project, although I still have a long to go in establishing a firm study area…but the beginnings are there…..


About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
This entry was posted in My PhD: Environmental Psychology, Oceans Project, Teaching and Geography, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Brunel University and my PhD in Environmental and Educational Psychology

  1. Hi, I had no idea that there’s environmental psychology PhD program at Brunel University, good to know. Your project is so interesting and well elaborated, with many potential topics to consider, it makes me want to find my ideal PhD in Environmental psychology, too. It’s just not my time yet, but I hope to be following your footsteps sometime. Anyway, this is very inspiring to me. 6 years, big commitment.. best of luck!

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