The Jeremiah Johnson Complex: Are Introverts Drawn to the Mountains?

Candice Gaukel Andrews March 3, 2015 23

While there’s no scientific evidence that mountains make people introverted, introverts tend to choose mountainous geography. The film “Jeremiah Johnson” may play a role in that. ©John T. Andrews

The first time I ever traveled outside of the United States, I didn’t choose a Caribbean beach vacation or an African safari. Even though I live 12 months out of the year in the cold-weather state of Wisconsin, I decided to go north, to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. It was there that a local said something to me that I’ve never forgotten, “You always know if you’re a Northern person or not.”

Over the ensuing years, I’ve become absolutely certain that I am. Now, it seems that even science is finding a connection between personality types and preferred landscapes.

In a study currently under review for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, lead researcher and doctor of psychology Shige Oishi examined whether there might be a link between innate disposition and terrain preference. Initial findings suggest that introverts tend to live in mountainous territories, while extroverts reside in open and flat regions.

Could this mean that we all would be happier if our outer environs matched our inner landscapes?

For being alone, people choose the oceans almost as much as the mountains.

Believing there’s peace in the mountains

One of my favorite movies is the 1972 flick Jeremiah Johnson, set in the mid-19th century. In it, the title character, after a stint in the U.S. Army, decides that he would prefer a life of solitude and peace by living in the wilderness of the American West. He becomes the quintessential, taciturn American “mountain man”; the conventional image for an introvert of few words.

Movies have also placed in our minds the opposite stereotype: college kids—looking to hook up with one another—flocking to crowded beaches on spring break, á la the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello beach party films.

That may be why a lot of us, as in this new study, perceive wooded and secluded terrains to be calmer, quieter and more peaceful; while flat and open landscapes are regarded as more exciting, stimulating and sociable. In fact, in Dr. Shige Oishi’s study, when hoping to socialize with others, 75 percent of the participants preferred the ocean to the mountains.

It’s important to note, however, that there is no evidence mountains make people introverted, but rather, introverts tend to choose mountainous geography because of the secluded environment.

There is one surprising, additional finding in Dr. Oishi’s study: when the participants wanted to be alone, they choose the ocean (48 percent) almost as much as the mountains (52 percent), making this the first study to link extroversion and introversion with the preference for mountains versus the ocean and open spaces.

If you’re the sociable type, you may prefer flat and open landscapes. ©John T. Andrews

Knowing where you should be

Whether it’s cultural stereotypes or true personality traits at work here, researcher Shige Oishi says that the study shows that individuals should consider their temperaments when choosing a place to live. Of course, more research needs to be conducted to determine the factors that cause the association and to see if the results can be replicated on a larger scale. Nevertheless, if you’re an introvert like me, should you be heading for the higher elevations?

Unfortunately, other studies have shown that people have a set point for happiness; and while a change of scenery might make you a bit happier for a while, you may revert back to the level where you customarily find yourself.

If it does turn out that Dr. Oishi’s results stand up after more rigorous testing, however, I should be packing my bags for the mountains right now.

Do you think each of us is genetically drawn to a certain landscape, or is a terrain preference more a matter of cultural bias and upbringing?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Woodson Godfrey April 8, 2015 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    In mountains there is less line of sight to your neighbors. In flat lands, we use walls. Harder to be an outdoor loving introvert.

  2. Shinann Earnshaw March 13, 2015 at 6:18 am - Reply

    Found the posts really interesting. I am an introvert–like INPJ–and have always loved the mountains and chosen them as places to live. However, grew up near beaches and loved to walk–and swim–particularly when the beaches were foggy and almost deserted. I think the studies may be too simple to really give an idea. I do not like cities, although lived in Mexico City and in London and enjoyed them, especially London. But I went skiing in the Alps and skied near home in Oregon for many years. Like uncrowded slopes–and cross country skiing–alone. I think that introverts generally gravitate to places that are uncrowded to restore energy; extroverts gain energy from being around people. I don’t particularly like parties with a lot of people–wherever–mountains, beaches, cities, small towns. So I do not think that we are genetically influenced by our choices.

  3. Brad Lett March 12, 2015 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    An introvert, and mountains are my “Happy Place” 🙂

  4. Sharon March 10, 2015 at 7:39 am - Reply

    Really interesting article, thank you for sharing!

  5. Beverly Burmeier March 9, 2015 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Our temperaments lead us to choose many things about our lives–where to live being just one. Temperaments also influence jobs, partners, leisure activities, etc. Of course, where we grew up can be a big influence on where we decide to live (if given a choice). I’ll head for the mountains or ocean, too.

  6. Hom Pathak March 6, 2015 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    It fits to me. I am introvert and love mountains. I would like to study more related articles. please mention them. Thank you for your presentation.

  7. Jessica Klein March 6, 2015 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Interesting article. I fall in between. I like both mountains and open spaces. I do also alternate between introvert and extrovert traits so that is sort of in keeping with the article.

    It will be interesting to see if further research supports this study or not.

  8. Brooke Martin March 6, 2015 at 8:25 am - Reply

    you can an extrovert introvert extrovert at work, go home and recoup.

  9. Dave Sandiford March 6, 2015 at 6:36 am - Reply

    probably true since I don’t mind it… and love New York and London. At the same time many people at work, let’s say see me an extrovert. As someone above said we’re all a little of both.

  10. Patricia Mascia March 5, 2015 at 9:28 am - Reply

    I can anecdotally back up this study. I’m a serious introvert and I’ve always loved mountains. I grew up in hills, and every Summer, my family went on vacation in the Appalachians. I always felt more calm and at ease there. As a kid, I started dreaming of living in the Rockies, despite having never visited. I’ve now made that dream a reality, and while I definitely miss the rain and snow and general chaotic weather of New England, I’m so much happier in the mountains.

  11. Patricia Follweiler March 5, 2015 at 9:27 am - Reply

    Both my husband & I are introverts. We live high on the side of a small mountain surrounded by acreage. People can’t understand why we don’t “go away” for vacation. Well, we face due west & have a panoramic view. The sunsets are fantastic! A lot of our property was once pastureland but we have the best of both worlds because we’re surrounded by woodland.

    The deer, foxes & birds keep us entertained. So much so that I have to admit that household chores take a back seat. In the battle between dusting the house or experiencing nature, nature wins every time.

    When anyone comes to visit, they always remark on how peaceful it is. Even delivery people take a minute to look around. We can see our visitors literally relax.

    If it wasn’t for our ages & the need to be close to work, we’d be living on a high remote mountain somewhere. I never feel lonely. I feel lonelier in a crowd of people.

    When we were searching for a house, all the very beautiful homes in the lower areas just didn’t feel right. We bypassed them & grabbed our small fixer-upper because it felt like home.

  12. Bobbi Beyer March 5, 2015 at 6:40 am - Reply

    I tend to go to the mountains because it is peaceful, but not uncrowded as one of the places I go is the Great Smoky Mountains. I go because the camping and hiking are great. Although I also like the beach, especially Assateague Island National Seashore or the Outer Banks, these places are a much further drive and the length of time to get there and cost of fuel can be a determining factor on where I choose to vacation. I believe that you can find fun and adventure wherever you go. I have run into some fun people in the most secluded areas of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is what you decide to make your destiny when traveling that will determine your outcomes, sometimes with some fun surprises.

  13. Kenneth Puliafico March 5, 2015 at 5:48 am - Reply

    An interesting idea, but both people and places are extremely variable. I have found that highly sought after places like Hawaii can still provide utter solitude – if you look in the right spot. Maybe I am biased toward small mountainous islands. I would love to see more data collected on this correlation to see how well it holds up.

  14. Guy Jones March 5, 2015 at 5:47 am - Reply

    This article makes sense to me. As an Introvert, I do prefer the idea of living in or near mountainous areas over living near the ocean or on flat land. I’m curious how desert regions would fit into this idea. My wife grew up in a fairly remote desert region in eastern L.A. County. She and her family came up with the phrase “Desert Ann and Desert Andy” for those who lived in even more remote areas than they and who had developed strange quirks. Not to say that everyone who chooses to live in remote desert areas would be deemed unusual based on popular standards, but based on my own observations I would agree there are a lot more strange people living in the flat desert than in the flat Midwest.

  15. Alyssa Burgin March 5, 2015 at 5:45 am - Reply

    I think this presents an oversimplification and way too many generalizations. My husband, for example, is drawn to mountains. He was reared in a petroleum town on the Houston Ship Channel, only a few feet above sea level. He hated everything about it–the heat, humidity, mosquitoes and pollution. Mountains represent a clean, fresh break from all of that. Scratch the surface of a mountain-lover and I dare say you’ll find more people motivated in that way than by a desire for solitude.

  16. Dave Schmidt March 5, 2015 at 5:43 am - Reply

    I can only speak for myself. I consider myself an introvert and definitely prefer open spaces likes plains and deserts and ocean beaches. I find mountains constraining. Fine to look at from a distance but don’t particularly like being ‘in’ mountainous regions. I feel closed in.

  17. Steve Daniels March 5, 2015 at 5:41 am - Reply

    I live by the sea but spend a lot of time in the hills. Like most people I have both an introvert and extrovert side to my character and where I spend my time depends on the mood I’m in at the time.

  18. Elton Charles Wright March 5, 2015 at 5:40 am - Reply

    Kind of depends on the beaches you know, on what you consider them to be… My trips to the ‘beach’ are to place like the Pacific side of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state… not real crowded most of the time… and if I were a skier here the ski areas seen to get traffic jams both ways… I am an INTJ… an introvert of sorts, but I live in a valley that is about as flat as it gets around here… but I inherited my share of the estate…we have been surrounded by town… but we have a larger then average chunk of land, a little over an acre, with some rather large native trees on it, a little forest of about an eight of an acre maybe…

    Where I have gone on vacations have been cross-country road trips… often with a theme… volcanoes, beaches, parks… catch some Shakespeare… two to three thousand mile roadtrips… I have no interest in the Mexican/Caribbean resorts, or Disneyland/New York City/LA type places… so relatively less dense in people.

    Where would I move too? Acreage a little higher in altitude maybe, but not high enough to get snowed in…. Why higher… looked at the 60 meter line on an interactive climate change map… I would be in a saltwater channel where I am… so up high enough to not be beach front without being wiped out by a mudslide…

    So yes temperaments are fine, but climate change might be good to consider if you are shopping for multiple generations… Florida I would not consider without a hurricane resistant houseboat.

  19. NickCole March 4, 2015 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    I feel the same way, when I’m looking for an escape from crowds it is usually into the woods (as I live in the mountains) or off to the beach for an escape. Each place has equal pull on my heart for its own unique serenity. Although I don’t see my happiness entangled with the location, its more involved with the escape.

  20. Kendra Leah Fuller March 4, 2015 at 7:45 am - Reply

    You had me at Jeremiah Johnson.

  21. Gregory Vasquez March 4, 2015 at 7:44 am - Reply

    I tend to avoid crowds and like to vacation away from crowded areas, like the mountains, but found that living on the ocean is equally pleasant, particularly being on a sailboat away from the crowds. I believe that if you are introverted and want to gravitate away from crowds, the mountains are very convenient places to get away, but there are other choices too.

  22. Greg March 4, 2015 at 4:17 am - Reply

    I tend to avoid crowds and like to vacation away from crowded areas, like the mountains, but found that living on the ocean is equally pleasant, particularly being on a sailboat away from the crowds. I believe that if you are introverted and want to gravitate away from crowds, the mountains are very convenient places to get away, but there are other choices too.

  23. Thomas Sawyer March 3, 2015 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    And I thought that I was the only one. But seriously, there has to be some validated reality to this study, and like you, Jeremiah Johnson was one of my all time favorite movies. If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve watched it. Perhaps that in itself, says something.

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