Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.” – John Muir

Mountain ranges the world over are home to towns and communities, unique cultures and a way of living many claim to be separate to ways we may find elsewhere, but is there something more to it? Is it possible to define this as mountain culture and how does it shape the minds of those who exist within such cultures?

I may be a little biased in approaching this topic. Growing up in the south of England, my environment was devoid of anything that would remotely resemble a hill, let alone a full mountain. And yet. Something about this type of landscape has always been oddly compelling. I am confident I am not alone in this, and the wistful ways my new community here in Hobart speak of their mountain home tells me there is indeed something more to living nestled in such a unique space.

The affluence of the arts and creativity across Tasmania speaks to the creative influence of living in our unique wilderness. I must admit, as a writer, I’ve never felt so laden with ideas and a sense of promise as I have since moving here. There is something very powerful about kunyani’s presence. However, behind my writer’s brain, lies the inquisitiveness of a psychologist, so I got to thinking. Is there more to it?

As it turns out, there is.

Dr Melanie Rudd, Associate Professor with the University of Houston, holds a PhD from Stanford and specialises in the study of awe. Specifically, Rudd has explored the connection between awe and creativity – and mountains.

Why mountains? Well, so far as inspiring awe goes, nothing quite does it like a mountain.

In two studies, Rudd used mountains as the backdrop for inspiring experiential creation (that is, an activity where you play a direct outcome in the creation rather than playing a passive observer of something being created). In a recent co-authored journal article, Rudd and her colleagues examined participants in the Swiss Alps. One group were based at the bottom of the mountain in the parking lot, a decidedly non-awe inspiring location, and another at the top, a high awe-inspiring location. Both groups were provided with the opportunity to learn, through the provision of literature about their environment and hiking, and to also create, through mixing their own trail-mix or selecting a pre-made product.

The group at the top of the mountain were more engaged in the learning material and also opted to create their own trail-mix over the group at the bottom who selected the pre-made mix.

While that might not sound wildly compelling in and of itself, Rudd argues it goes some way to back up other ideas held about the emotion of awe for creativity. A lot of research has explored the evolutionary benefits of our emotional spectrum, but awe is still in its early beginnings of being studied. Despite early days, the research is demonstrating awe has the distinct ability to change the way we think.

Generally, when we feel positive emotions, we tap into our existing knowledge and memory banks to back-up what you’re experiencing. Other positive emotions don’t necessarily encourage behavioural change. Awe inspires a different response. According to Rudd:

“Awe is different: it makes you feel like you need to adjust your way of thinking, but not in a negative way. Most of the time, the idea of changing how you think is scary and threatening. But when you’re experiencing awe, it’s a positive feeling, and it reassures you that this is not a dangerous situation – this is a safe environment, so it’s OK to open your mind and think. When we’re feeling this way, our desire to create just shoots up.”

Knowing how the environment we exist in impacts our state of mind has a roll-on effect on how we engage and connect within it. It also goes some way to explain why mountain landscapes, in particular, have been home to some of the most prolific creatives across the centuries – Tasmania being no exception.

Elaine Mead is a freelance writer and editor, currently based in Hobart, Tasmania. Her writing focuses on topics of creativity, purposeful living, arts and culture. You can find more of her words online at www.coffeeandbooks.co.