Mountains or Beaches? What Your Choice Says About You

A new study ties your personality type to your vacation preferences. (Photo: Felipe Frizao/Shutterstock)

Given the option of spending time on a beach or in the mountains, which would you choose? Researchers have determined that your preference is related to how outgoing you are.

In a series of five experiments, psychologists at the University of Virginia found that introverts generally prefer mountainous areas, whereas extroverts opt for beaches. In the first test, they simply asked people which area they preferred and determined whether the person was an introvert or an extrovert using personality tests. These tests showed a link between introversion and mountain preference.

On the second test, however, they tweaked the question and asked people where they would go to socialize. "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," according to the study.

They did three more tests, one using just images of the two places, and another where they widened the cohort they were studying (the first three tests were on students). In a very wide-angle analysis that looked at the relative flatness (or mountainousness) of U.S. states, they found that residents of flatter states tended to be more extroverted. In the last of the studies, they sent participants to the different areas, then asked them how they felt.

"In Study 5, we...[sent] 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," the study authors wrote.

Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver, Canada, is a city surrounded by mountains, suiting introverts and extroverts alike. (Photo: karamysh/Shutterstock)

The theory behind the preference is that extroverts like flatter areas where they can spot new people easily and connect, while introverts are always looking for places to cozy up in and hide away. (Though I would argue hidden beaches are a great place to get away from it all.) Ultimately, of course, this information isn't prescriptive — anyone who has been to a super-social ski mountain town in the winter knows that stereotypes related to landscapes are just that. But it's fascinating that a question as simple as "beach or mountain" can be a great predictor of personality — more so than any of the other Big 5 personality traits.

According to personality tests, I fall on the introvert side, but am close enough to the line to be considered an "extroverted introvert." I wasn't surprised by this study; I really love both the ocean and the mountains. Beach days are wonderful and I really look forward to them — although I do prefer to read or swim by myself at the beach, introvert-style. Ideally, I get to spend time in a place that has both, like the Caribbean islands of Vieques or Dominica, or Italian towns that sit at the base of mountains on lakes like Como or Garda.

If push came to shove, and I had to choose one place to live for the rest of my life, I'd definitely choose mountains, true to my introverted nature — but I sure would miss the sea. Which makes me grateful I don't have to.