When it Comes to Geography Introverts Prefer Mountains

A.J. Rohn

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Researchers in the Psychology department at the University of Virginia have looked for a link between introverted personalities and wooded and mountainous landscapes. This sentiment has long been implied through literature, philosophy, and more. Through the character Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche was able to present his ideas of eternal recurrence which occurred to him while he himself was high in the Alps. Zarathustra also “left his home… and went into the mountains [where] he enjoyed his spirit and solitude”. Looking back to the Romantic scholars, it seems that mountains, forests, and places of the Sublime are associated with deep soul-searching and solitude. Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and painter Thomas Cole all wrote about experiences alone in the mountains which were profound and influential moments in their lives. John Muir once wrote – thinking of his mother and friends, to whom he had written letters from the High Sierra – that “the deeper the solitude the less the sense of loneliness, and the nearer our friends”. In this sense, this study does not seek to tie mountains to sadness or feeling alone, but merely inclinations for introversion.

The study was conducted by utilizing the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness to experiences) and a series of questions that contrasted mountains (such as mountain retreats) and oceans (such as beach vacations). It continued by analyzing existing data on personalities for each state to find a trend between mountainous states and introversion. To determine how “mountainous” a state is, the researchers used each state’s highest elevation point, a range between that point and the lowest point, and the number of mountains from each state included in Wikipedia’s list of U.S. mountains.

Figure: Graph shows correlation between introversion (negative on y-axis) and places with a greater range of elevation. From: Oishi, Talhelm, and Lee. 2015.
Figure: Graph shows correlation between introversion (negative on y-axis) and places with a greater range of elevation. From: Oishi, Talhelm, and Lee, 2015.

They found a strong correlation between range in elevations and introverted personalities in a state. For example, Washington is quite mountainous and was found to be among the most introverted. North Dakota and Wisconsin are among the least mountainous and most extroverted.  As for the other measures of the Big Five personality traits, they did not show any clear correlations. This research advances a bridge between geography and psychology, and proves how versatile and interdisciplinary geographic academia can be.

Correlation between extraversion and happiness for woody area and an open, flat area. From: Oishi, Talhelm, and Lee, 2015.
Correlation between extraversion and happiness for woody area and an open, flat area. From: Oishi, Talhelm, and Lee, 2015.

Reference

Oishi, S., T. Talhelm, and M. Lee. 2015. “Personality and Geography: Introverts Prefer Mountains,” Journal of Research in Personality. DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2015.07.001.


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Further Reading

Rentfrow, P., S. Gosling, and J. Potter. 2008. “A Theory of the Emergence, Persistence, and Expression of Geographic Variation in Psychological Characteristics,” Perspectives on Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00084.x.

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About the author
A.J. Rohn
A.J. is a recent graduate of the Geography and Environmental Studies programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a passion for writing and interests in areas ranging from ecology to geosophy to geopolitics. He enjoys the geography of Wisconsin, be it the north woods or city life in Madison. He loves to read research papers in geography, books by scholars like Yi-Fu Tuan and Bill Cronon (both at UW-Madison), as well as classic fiction writers like Thomas Pynchon and Fyodor Dostoevsky. He is very much inspired by the work of all the people he encountered in Madison’s geography department, so expect a wide range of topics when reading his articles here.