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Mountain or ocean vacation? Answer says a lot about you

Acadia National Park in Maine. A new study says that introverts prefer the mountains while extroverts prefer the ocean.
Acadia National Park in Maine. A new study says that introverts prefer the mountains while extroverts prefer the ocean. (Fred Field for The Boston Globe/file)

Here in New England, we vacation locally in one of two ways: We go up, or we go down. The Cape, or Maine? Beaches, or mountains?

Now a new study reveals what our travel habits say about our personalities. According to new research in the Journal of Research in Personality, extroverts prefer the ocean, and introverts go for the mountains.

Here are a few interesting takeaways from the researchers at University of Virginia, directly from the work:

“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.”

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That first part makes sense. The mountains are a remote escape from humanity, a place to be alone and soak up the sunrise, the sunset, or just the sun’s rays. Introvert Heaven. Meanwhile, it’s hard to escape anything at a Cape or Maine beach on a steamy Saturday, so extroverts will be just fine there and introverts, not so much.

But the ocean as a place to “decompress alone?” These researchers clearly haven’t seen Crane Beach or the Cape Cod National Seashore in July.

Not surprisingly, the folks at Appalachian Mountain Club had an opinion on the study.

“No research necessary to answer this age-old question,” AMC spokeswoman Laura Hurley wrote in an email. “If you’re a mountain lover what your vacation says about you is, “Hey, you’re awesome!” Our beach is the wide, open space of a mountain summit or epic ridgeline with 360-degree views for miles around. No, that’s not where the lifeguard sits. It’s called a fire tower. And we can see the Atlantic from up there, so just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, you’ll spot us offshore kayaking the waves.”

As for the study, here was another finding: “Residents of mountainous U.S. states were more introverted than residents of flat states.”

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Okay, so Vermonters are more introverted than Kansans. Got it.

Here is one final point seen in the study:

“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.”

The researchers achieved their results with five different experiments and the conclusions were that mountains and woods are places where you’re less likely to have to engage with others and are able to self-reflect. The only thing reflecting about beaches, the researchers found, was the hot sun. Otherwise, the beaches were a place people associated with watching others and socializing.

A final takeaway: It was clear that just spending time in the mountains did not make introverts happier or more peaceful than those beachgoing, partying extroverts. But all that mountain time and self-reflection also did not mean introverts were more sad. Phew.

So as we hit the dog days of summer, go for a hike, reflect, and then join the masses trying to squeeze out one more beach day before Labor Day. Or, if you want, do what I just did, and go to one place where you can check off all those boxes, like Acadia National Park, where we spent three days swimming, hiking, biking, and kayaking.

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Regardless of your plans or your preferences, as The Washington Post pointed out, just remember the words of notorious introvert, philosopher, and Walden Pond inhabitant Henry David Thoreau. He wrote “Walden” while living for two years in his cabin in the woods, after all. “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” Thoreau wrote. “We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.”

Now imagine what he would have written if that cabin had been on Nauset Light Beach on a weekend in August.


Doug Most can be reached at dmost@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Globedougmost