The Thin Line: A Phenomenological Study of Mental Toughness and Decision Making in Elite High-Altitude Mountaineers

  • Lee Crust, Christian Swann, Jacquelyn Allen-Collinson
  • Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, December 2016, Human Kinetics
  • DOI: 10.1123/jsep.2016-0109

Mental toughness and decision-making in elite, high-altitude mountaineers

What is it about?

Mental toughness (MT) is a key psychological variable related to achievement in performance and perseverance in challenging circumstances. We sought to understand the lived-experiences of mentally tough high-altitude mountaineers, focusing primarily upon decisions to persevere or to abandon summit attempts. Interviews were conducted with 14 mountaineers including guides, expedition leaders, and doctors. Participants emphasised the importance of MT in extreme environments and described rational, flexible, and vigilant decision-making. Turning around without summiting was the toughest decision reported, with recognition of the thin line between persevering and over-stretching. In contrast to much MT literature, mountaineers accepted limits, demonstrated restraint, and sacrificed personal goals to aid others. Costly perseverance was also reported with some mountaineers described as “too tough”: over-competitive, goal-obsessed, and biased decision-makers. These findings revealed both benefits and dangers of MT in mountaineering.

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The following have contributed to this page: Professor Jacquelyn Allen-Collinson