Photo by me, 2012.
Photo by me, 2012. Yeah, I know Melville’s ocean quotes are overused. Oh well.

I found a Boston Globe article this morning expressing that people who chose mountain vacations tend to be introverts, while people who choose beach vacations tend to be extroverts or just more in the mood for socializing. In New England, where I grew up and currently live, going to the mountains for a vacation typically means heading to the Whites or Acadia National Park, while going to the beach often means going to the Cape or some other crowded spot.

Here’s the abstract of the study referenced, ‘Personality and geography: Introverts prefer mountains’. It might look a little daunting if you’re not used to abstracts, but it’s very simply phrased and has some very interesting findings, if you’re interested in introversion and extroversion. (Of course, it’s always worth noting that introversion is not the same as being anti-social or shy, and that people aren’t always polarized as total introverts or total extroverts.)

In five studies, we tested the link between personality and geography. We found that mountain-lovers were more introverted than ocean-lovers (Study 1). People preferred the ocean over mountains when they wanted to socialize with others, but they preferred the mountains and the ocean equally when they wanted to decompress alone (Study 2). In Study 3, we replicated the introversion–extraversion differences using pictures of mountains and oceans. Furthermore, this difference was explained in part by extraverts’ perception that it would take more work to have fun in the mountains than in the ocean. Extending the first three studies to non-students, we found that residents of mountainous U.S. states were more introverted than residents of flat states (Study 4). In Study 5, we tested the link between introversion and the mountains experimentally by sending participants to a flat, open area or a secluded, wooded area. The terrain did not make people more introverted, but introverts were happier in the secluded area than in the flat/open area, which is consistent with the person–environment fit hypothesis.

Some intriguing ideas! Normally I would read the study through to learn their methods (science major habits) but I don’t want to pay the subscription fee.

It’s true, I’m an introvert through-and-through, and I don’t love going to super crowded beaches. But I think even going to a fairly crowded beach is often less social than going for a hike (unless you’re hiking solo).

The idea of being ‘alone in a crowd’ is not particularly novel. But I think it is often very true of beach-going. It can be rather like going to a busy coffee shop to get some work done–except, you’re going to get some relaxing done. You can be surrounded by people at a beach, but the ocean has a way of creating encouraging an introspective and meditative state of mind– even for people who wouldn’t normally retreat inward for fun.

This is me, on a beach, actually surrounded by people, but lost in my own world. I'm totally focused on exploring, and mostly oblivious to my classmates. A classic introvert thing. 
This is me, on a beach, actually surrounded by people (outside of the frame), but lost in my own world. I’m totally focused on exploring and sensory information, and mostly oblivious to my classmates playing frisbee, etc. A classic introvert thing.

Hiking, on the other hand, often seems to make people chatty. I’ve noticed that people are much more likely to say hello or strike up a conversation when you’re hiking than they would just passing you on the street. Hiking is often a group activity, usually involving lots of check-ins to see how your friends are doing. But going to a beach, even with a group of people, often leaves more room for you to do your own thing.

Another point I found intriguing: “Furthermore, this difference was explained in part by extraverts’ perception that it would take more work to have fun in the mountains than in the ocean.” Are extroverts in general less inclined to work for their fun? It’s definitely been posited that introverts are often more willing to engage in activities that require more sustained focus. Hiking is often a rewarding activity because you are surrounded by soothing stimuli (natural sights, sounds and smells), but also engaged in an internal challenge: to keep on going. The combination of external stimuli and concentration of being in your body combine to  make a very rich experience. Does enjoyment of this experience relate to your ability to loose yourself in your senses (considered a more introverted thing)?

Finally, I wonder how of this has to do with the expectation that beaches are going to be super crowded. Is the question really about personality and geography, or is it about personality and the expectation that there will be tons of people at certain places?

What are your thoughts about this study’s findings?

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