Welsh researchers discover reasons why people climbs mountains – and it’s not just ‘because they’re there’
Mallory’s classic reply, ‘because it’s there’ when asked why he wanted to climb Everest, belies the truth behind the psychological benefits that some high-risk climbers, researchers have said.
Academics at Bangor University used the pandemic as an opportunity to study how not being able to go alpine-standard mountaineering or traditional climbing affected devotees of those sports.
Dr Marley Willegers and Prof Tim Woodman at the University’s Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance showed that the value of these experiences for mental health was great, but it was not sustained for long periods of time.
“Typically in our society, risk-taking is seen as a negative and something that should be pushed aside,” Marley Willegers said.
“But people who take part in certain high-risk sports are not ‘sensation-seeking’ and don’t crave the adrenaline rush. There’s something else taking place.
“People who feel that they have little control over their daily lives, who feel like a ‘pawn’, can be drawn to high-risk sports where they are able to exercise control over strong emotions, such as fear, and take actions that dictate whether they succeed or die.”
Dr Marley Willegers added that for mountaineers and climbers, the benefits of this emotional control in high-risk situations were transferred back into daily life.
“It follows therefore, that the longer these individuals spend away from their activity, the more difficult they find it to exercise control over their emotions in society,” he said.
“This is borne out by our findings which showed that, when compared to low-risk sporting participants, only mountaineers and traditional climbers experience an increased difficulty managing their emotions and sense of control over their lives in the time after participation.
“In other words, the emotional difficulty mountaineers and traditional climbers experience in domestic society pulls them back to the high-risk climbing domain to once again feel a sense of control.”
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