Students hike Appalachian Trail over spring break for research

Three students from UNA hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail during spring break as part of an ongoing psychological research project.

UNA seniors Mary-Katherine Osborn and Victoria McLain and UNA graduate Ben Tate hiked the approach trail to Springer Mountain in Dawsonville, Ga., to find dedicated hikers who would participate in the study via survey.

“It was seven and a half miles up the mountain and seven and a half miles back down,” Osborn said. “A lot of it was straight uphill. It was really tough.”

The project, supervised by UNA psychology professor Dr. Larry Bates, means to examine subjects’ religious views, attention to detail, and sense of trail ethics in order to find and analyze a possible connection between the qualities.

“I get crazy research ideas,” he said. “I got the idea while hiking for exercise.”

Bates said previous research has shown that people who hold fundamentalist views of religion are also more likely to notice and appreciate details.

With that research in mind, the project infers that fundamentalist, detail-oriented people will more likely be conscious of their environmental impact while hiking.

“Most religions have at least some ethical code their followers are expected to follow,” Bates said. “There’s a certain code of ethics among hikers where we try to leave (the trail) as much as possible like we found it.”

The researchers passed out carabiners with the website for the survey printed on them to hikers they met. This method was better than passing out fliers because hikers are wary of taking additional weight on their packs if it is not helpful, Bates said.

“We handed out most of the carabiners, and we had a lot of people promise that they would get online and take the survey,” Osborn said.

Aside from being a productive trip, the researchers found the extensive hiking enjoyable and enlightening as well.

“I really felt like a city boy around some of these people, but I think I’ve had kind of similar experiences to them,” Tate said. “It can be kind of euphoric to be out there in nature, getting endorphins going. You feel good being out there.”

The group looks forward to continuing research in June at the trail’s midpoint in Harper’s Ferry, W. Va., and in September at the trail’s end at Mt. Katahdin, Maine.

“I didn’t have much experience with it before, and now I’m really more excited about it,” Osborn said.