When I go near a hill or dune, I feel desire to climb there and have a wider look on the surroundings. I know a lot of people who love mountains and want to climb higher and higher, but never have thought about why... Many people climb high building, restaurants on TV towers are very expensive, but very popular anyway.

I've recently started to think about it. From evolutionary point of view taking higher ground have made a lot of sense. Predators could be seen from larger distance, and in the era of fighting communities, higher grounds such as hills were higher to conquer.

But is such theory scientifically proven? Are there actually any researches on why people want actually to climb higher?


1 Answer 1


It's an interesting question, I imagine the desire is multifaceted and that it may reflect multiple desires and multiple activities. In particular, I'd distinguish between (a) the desire for a viewing experience and (b) the desire to get to the top and achieve goals.

Desire to Climb

There are many examples of people taking joy in climbing. This can be seen for example in rock climbing, mountain climbing, and hiking.

Obvious motivations include motivation for exercise and a desire to experience nature. Some mountain climbers are seeking thrills (see sensation seeking). Some studies of mountain climbing mention the flow inducing nature of mountain climbing (see MacAloon et al 1983 for an analysis).

Climbing in such cases also has a rather natural goal of reaching the top. Attaining goals can be satisfying (see goal theory for further elaboration). And clear goals may be part of the enjoyment in various related activities such as in sports and games.

Part of these activities is that the process of reaching the top is often a big part of the pleasure independent of the pleasure of the final view.

Desire for a view

There is another broad class of behaviour related to people's desire for a "good view". Houses, apartments, offices, restaurants, and so on with better views are valued by people. Viewing platforms are popular tourist attractions.

Benson et al (1998) provide an empirical analysis of the price added to real estate that is attributable to various view types and quality of views. In their analysis they found that high quality ocean front views added some of the most to house prices.

I imagine a distinction could also be made between people's desire for a once off experience and a daily experience. There is a novelty associated with a viewing platform whereby for that moment you get to see the world from a different perspective. You get to see connections between streets and buildings or mountains and rivers that you otherwise miss when immersed at regular ground level. I wonder whether this desire for a novel experience is somewhat different to a desire for a pleasant view on a daily basis.

Reflections on evolutionary psychology

I'm always a little bit uncomfortable with evolutionary psychology arguments. They often have a "just so" feel about them where it is difficult to prove or disprove them.

For example, I could make up an evolutionary argument. Human ancestors presumably climbed trees and liked to survey the land. Places which provided a good overview of the surrounding land enabled greater identification of both potential benefits (e.g., food, drinking resources, mating opportunities) and threats (e.g., other tribes, predators, scarcity of food and water). Such places would also provide further information on impending weather. Thus, humans and ancestors may have been more likely to survive and reproduce if they experienced pleasure in such circumstances.

However, the above evolutionary argument could also be complete rubbish. The desire to experience a view may be connected to many other rational explanations. Or alternatively, you could look at the nature of aesthetics and how they map on to the beauty of a view.

For further discussion of evolutionary psychology and aesthetics see here


  • MacAloon, J., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Harris, J. C., & Park, R. J. (1983). Deep play and the flow experience in rock climbing. Play, games and sports in cultural contexts., 361-384.
  • Benson, E. D., Hansen, J. L., Schwartz, Jr, A. L., & Smersh, G. T. (1998). Pricing residential amenities: the value of a view. The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, 16(1), 55-73.

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