The power of awe in extreme environments

Yosemite Valley, 2014 (Emma B)

Yosemite Valley, 2014 (Emma B)

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” – John Muir The Yosemite (1912), page 256.

In recent talks (at Futurefest and Words by the Water) I mentioned that one of the most common features of accounts of extreme environments – and one of the many motivations for choosing them – is the experience of being in natural landscapes. And not just any natural landscapes – landscapes that inspire awe.

Alongside fear, awe is one of the most powerful and profound emotions experienced by individuals in extreme environments.


Why do people take extreme risks?

I wrote a post summarising some of the research on the motives for involvement in extreme environments for WellDoing.Org, a great ‘mind and body’ website curated by Louise Chunn. Here’s the start – click through to read the whole post on the WellDoing site. Imagine climbing up a sheer wall of rock without a rope. Missing a Read more about Why do people take extreme risks?[…]


Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the first ascent of Everest, and a time to reflect on why people climb the mountain. Mallory famously quipped ‘because it’s there’, whilst Hillary suggested it was for ‘fun’. Wilfred Noyce, one of Hillary’s 1953 party, later wrote a book exploring the varied motivations people have for engaging in Read more about Everest[…]

John Huston on Polar expeditions

John Huston has just left for the a three month expedition to the Canadian Arctic. Outside Magazine has an interview with the  Arctic explorer, covering why he goes and how he survives there: How did you get excited about this? What is your inspiration? I read Shackleton as a kid and the most interesting thing was Read more about John Huston on Polar expeditions[…]

Emotion-Understanding Ability Reduces the Effect of Incidental Anxiety on Risk Taking

A new paper by Jeremy Yip (Yale) and Stéphane Côté (U. Toronto) examines the relationship between emotional intelligence and risk taking. Here’s the abstract: In two experiments, we examined how a core dimension of emotional intelligence, emotion-understanding ability, facilitates decision making. Individuals with higher levels of emotion-understanding ability can correctly identify which events caused their Read more about Emotion-Understanding Ability Reduces the Effect of Incidental Anxiety on Risk Taking[…]