Psychology Of Leisure Research Paper

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The boundaries between the everyday and the scientific understanding of leisure are blurred, and the ambiguity of the term’s usage in everyday language is reflected in the lack of a standard definition in the social sciences. The first and broadest definition is based on a narrow understanding of work as paid work. Here leisure is understood to mean time free from paid work, the entire nonoccupational domain of life. In the same way as paid work reflects the obligation to secure the necessities of life and is heteronomous, leisure has connotations of freedom and autonomy. The main problem with this definition is that housework and reproductive work in the family are also accomplished in ‘free’ time. Such activities, for which women bear greater responsibility than men, are thus not considered to be ‘real’ work and are devalued in relation to paid work.

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This problem does not arise in the second, narrower definition. Here, not only paid work, but all other ‘obligatory’ activities, and phases of passivity, such as housework, periods of mobility such as travel between the home and the workplace, time spent asleep, and so forth, are subtracted from the total time. In contrast to such obligatory activities and passive periods, the implicit view of leisure is now more that of an autonomous domain at the individual’s free disposal. However, this disregards the possibilities that occupational activities may involve autonomy or, conversely, that leisure may entail external control, constraints, and duties.

In the even narrower third definition, leisure is limited to the domain which individuals describe as such, the area they see as their realm of personal freedom. As autonomy is often linked to hedonism, subjective definitions of leisure tend to overlook self-imposed duties and restrictions.

1. The Change In Meaning Of Work And Leisure

The conception of leisure as a domain of individual autonomy evident in all definitions only developed in the nineteenth century and in contrast to the meaning of work. Prior to this, work, residence, and family life all occurred in one place, in the same environment across the lifespan. In the course of industrialization an increasingly distinct segmentation of work and leisure began. The understanding of freedom and individual autonomy could no longer be reconciled with restrictive work (in the sense of industrial labor), and instead became associated with the modern concept of leisure as the ‘free’ time outside of contractually defined working hours. While the working week of industrial laborers was more than 80 hours in the middle of the nineteenth century, most employees at the beginning of the twenty-first century work less than half of this, and paid work is no longer characterized by restrictions alone. Nevertheless, the understanding of a segmentation of life has survived in cases where restrictive work is still strictly separated in time and space from all activities with greater scopes of action.

The modernization process of the twentieth century was characterized by both differentiation of the spectrum ranging from restrictive labor to the independent professions and differentiation of the partly autonomous, partly heteronomous areas between work and leisure. In recent decades, there has also been a general change in values, which has implied a shift—rather than a loss—in the meaning of work. Paid work is again more strongly determined by the demand for autonomy and self-realization, and leisure time is increasingly characterized by constraints and duties.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, a complete dissolution of the work–nonwork segmentation can frequently be observed. This is the case wherever autonomy is required in the increasingly flexible regulation of the times, places, contents, and forms of work, and wherever unpaid work in leisure time is increasing. One can almost speak of an obligation to autonomy or controlled autonomy. This can also be said for leisure in the narrowest sense of the definition. Time at the individual’s free disposal is increasingly seen as time for ‘work’ on oneself, for example, on one’s body. The differentiation of each domain of life and the dissolution of the clear spatial and temporal boundaries between them mean that new, autonomous forms of coordination and integration are required: activities spread over the course of the days, weeks, and years must be cognitively related to one another, screened for interactions and priorities, planned in time and space, negotiated with partners, and so forth. Here again, the experience of freedom is linked to that of constraint.

2. Leisure Research In Psychology And The Social Sciences

Against this background, the research traditions can now be enumerated: first, leisure research across the disciplines is based on the narrow definitions and investigates leisure without reference to work. Second, psychological research takes theoretically based approaches with rather different themes, and studies subjectively significant, autonomous goals, thus indirectly dealing with leisure in the narrowest sense. Third, work–nonwork research with a sociological and psychological orientation is explicitly directed at the relationships between the domains of life. Here, the broad view of leisure—that is, time free from paid work—is taken, and insufficient attention is paid to the domains of housework and family life, for which women bear greater responsibility.

The first, applied field of leisure research does not take theoretically original approaches, and some of the many studies on, for example, time budgets or attitudes borrow theories from sociology (with respect to lifestyles or changes in values) or from developmental psychology (concepts of the stages of life). The studies deal with the use of various media, communication technology, cultural programs and consumer goods, with travel aspirations, favorite hobbies, sports, and so forth. Particular areas of leisure time are brought to the fore, as are intragroup and intergroup comparisons on the basis of age, cohort, social status, gender, and so forth.

The second field comprises theoretically based psychological approaches to ‘personal projects,’ ‘personal goals,’ and ‘personal strivings,’ intersecting with self-concept and identity research as well as motivation and action theory (e.g., Little 1993, Beck 1996). Here, it is not directly a question of leisure, but of the subjective structuring of complex, longer term fields of action in everyday life and across the lifespan. However, it is noticeable that such projects often fall under leisure in the narrowest sense of the definition. Above all, when a number of action situations can be clustered together in a longer-term project with an overarching goal, the associated experiences of autonomy and heteronomy, and self-efficacy or control, are constitutive for self-concept and identity.

3. Research On The Relationships Between The Domains Of Life

In the third field of work–leisure research, individuals are not asked directly about the relationships between their thoughts, feelings, and actions in the two main domains of life. Instead, the features of each domain are surveyed separately and then correlated. Hence, indicators of experiences and actions at work are gathered on the one hand, and indicators of leisure behavior (e.g., time budgets for hobbies, membership of associations) and leisure satisfaction on the other. Results can be classified according to the central research hypotheses (Wilensky 1962). The ‘generalization hypothesis’ assumes a transfer of subjective positive or negative cognitions, emotions, and behavioral patterns from one domain to the other. Hitherto, the ‘the long arm of the job’ (Meissner 1971) has been emphasized, and the findings of many studies conducted in the USA have been interpreted in the sense of a rather one-sided influence of work on leisure. The ‘compensation hypothesis’ implies that it is possible to compensate for negatively valued experiences and behavioral patterns at work by engaging in positively valued ones in leisure time. This hypothesis is supported by weaker findings in subdomains and subpopulations. The ‘neutrality hypothesis’ postulates that thoughts, feelings, and actions in the two domains of life are unrelated. Weak or zero-order correlations in most of the studies conducted in the German-speaking countries seem to support this hypothesis.

Numerous objections can be raised to the majority of the studies. Cross-sectional studies do not show whether one-sided influences, such as that of leisure on work, or interactive processes are operating. Furthermore, the processes of generalization and compensation are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and positive correlations in certain subgroups can be canceled out by negative ones in others, resulting in zero-order correlations. In this context, however, it should be noted that compared with the original work–nonwork research (Staines 1980), later studies were more likely to differentiate between occupational groups (e.g., Kabanoff and O’Brien 1986) and emphasize the impact of the increase in women’s employment on their work-free domain and associated life satisfaction (e.g., Tait et al. 1989).

One objection to the neutrality hypothesis opens up a new perspective: if the assumption that there is no consistency of actions between the two domains of life (or that these are determined by different personality traits) is rejected on the basis of an interactional paradigm, zero-order correlations must be interpreted differently. These may well signify a subjective conception that one’s own thoughts, feelings, and actions are independent. This conception could then be interpreted as a compensatory strategy operating whenever extremely negative experiences at work threaten to overshadow leisure time.

When adults are directly asked whether they see a relationship between the two domains of life, the classification of subjective ‘theories,’ that is, conceptual patterns, shown in Fig. 1 is obtained (Hoff 1992). Thus, not only conceptions in which work is seen as the cause of leisure experiences and actions (forms 2–5), but ones which postulate a reversed influence of leisure on work (forms 6–9) are conceivable. It is evident that private problems can be compensated in working life (form 6), or that thoughts about favorite nonwork activities can detract from work (form 7). The final form (10) consists of a reciprocal interaction of the thoughts, feelings, and actions of occupational and private life.

Psychology Of Leisure Research Paper

This classification has proved its worth in first empirical investigations. Subjective conceptual patterns can also be formulated in a generalized form and in view of personal past and future. They develop over the course of the occupational and nonoccupational biography in connection with real constellations of restrictions and scopes of action.

4. Final Remarks On Future Research

As mentioned above, insufficient attention has been paid to housework and family life in work–leisure research. While the significance of this field has decreased since the early 1990s, there has been an expansion in research investigating the relationships between occupation and family life. Here, equally little attention has been paid to leisure in the narrow sense. Topics of investigation include conflicts due to the discrepancy of occupational and private goals, the double burden placed on working mothers, and integration problems both in everyday life and in the planning of the life course. In the future it would be useful to relate the research traditions of work and leisure to those of career and family—this would be of interest primarily where new forms of work such as tele-homework (cf. Bussing and Aumann 1996) are concerned. Occupational and gender comparisons would then be possible, and the significance of both leisure (in relation to paid work and the family) and family life and housework (in relation to paid work and leisure) could be investigated. Further research topics could include partners and their shared organization of leisure, their shared projects, and the ways in which they manage to integrate the shared domains across the life course.


  1. Beck P 1996 Personliche Projekte—eine empirische Annaherung an komplexes Handeln. Asanger, Heidelberg, Germany
  2. Bussing A, Aumann S 1996 Telearbeit und das Verhaltnis von Betrieb, Familie und Freizeit: Eine Bestandsaufnahme. Zeitschrift fur Arbeitswissenschaft 50: 225–32
  3. Hoff E-H 1992 Arbeit, Freizeit und Personlichkeit. Wissenschaftliche und alltagliche Vorstellungsmuster. Asanger, Heidelberg, Germany
  4. Kabanoff B, O’Brien G-E 1986 Stress and the leisure needs and activities of different occupations. Human Relations 39: 903–16
  5. Little B R 1993 Personal projects and the distributed self: Aspects of a conative psychology. In: Suls J (ed.) Psychological Perspectives on the Self. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, Vol. 4, pp. 157–85
  6. Meissner M 1971 The long arm of the job: A study of work and leisure. Industrial Relations 10: 239–60
  7. Staines G L 1980 Spillover versus compensation: A review of the literature on the relationship between work and nonwork. Human Relations 33: 111–29
  8. Tait M, Padgett M Y, Baldwin T-T 1989 Job and life satisfaction: A re-evaluation of the strength of the relationship and gender effects as a function of the date of the study. Journal of Applied Psychology 74: 502–7
  9. Wilensky H L 1962 Labor and leisure: Intellectual traditions. Industrial Relations 1: 1–12
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