Leisure Interests

Leisure InterestsGenerally, the study of leisure interests, unlike the decades of work with vocational interests, has been confounded by the way in which such interests are measured. Instruments designed to assess vocational interests (e.g., Strong Interest Inventory, Self-Directed Search, Campbell Interest and Skill Survey) ask respondents to indicate the extent to which they like or do not like work-related activities. The instructions for these instruments encourage respondents not to worry about (a) their ability to do the activity, (b) how often they have done the activity in the past, or (c) how often they expect to engage in the activity in the future. The study of leisure, on the other hand, often focuses on the assessment of leisure needs and leisure participation, which, in turn, are used to infer leisure interests.

The stream of research related to leisure needs typically asks people why they participate in or why they enjoy various leisure activities. Responses then are used to identify clusters or factors of needs. These studies show that different types of activities meet different needs. Leisure needs that frequently emerge in these analyses include social interaction, altruism, status, excitement, achievement, and independence. The Leisure Activity Questionnaire (LAQ), a 334-item instrument that measures 45 need-satisfier dimensions, has been shown to have potential as a measure of leisure needs.

Certainly, the need-gratifying property of leisure activities is an important component of understanding the impact of leisure participation on well-being and life satisfaction. However, research in vocational psychology has shown that interests and needs make a unique contribution to differentiating among people even though they are moderately related constructs.

Another stream of leisure research has relied heavily on cluster or factor analyses of self-reports of leisure participation to develop a classification system for leisure activities. These studies typically have been limited by the presentation of a relatively restricted number of activities. Nonetheless, some common themes do emerge from this line of research. For example, a factor representing artistic, intellectual, and cultural activities usually emerges. Likewise, sports and outdoor activities often are identified as a factor. Other factors, such as social/affiliative interests, replicate less often across studies, perhaps because of deficiencies in the initial pool of activities to which individuals respond or because actual participation in activities is used as a stand-in for the construct of leisure interests. The Leisure Activities Blank (LAB) is an example of an instrument that measures past participation as well as expectations for future participation in leisure and recreational activities.

More recently, efforts have been made to assess leisure interests in the same manner used to measure vocational interests. In this approach, participants are instructed to indicate the degree to which they like, are indifferent to, or dislike a wide variety of leisure activities. The leisure interest scales were constructed first using a series of cluster analyses to reduce the initial large-item pool and then using factor analyses to identify the underlying structure of the item pool. The resulting inventory, the Leisure Interest Questionnaire (LIQ), has 20 leisure scales derived from 250 items.

Stability of Leisure Interests

One of the well-known characteristics of vocational interests is their stability over long periods of time. One might expect, then, that leisure interests also will be stable over long periods and that these interests, analogous to vocational interests, will represent a component of an individual’s psychological identity. Stability in the leisure context has been examined in several ways, including studies that assess the extent to which leisure participation is stable over seasons of the year or the degree of stability of leisure participation across settings. A few studies also have looked at the stability of leisure interests of individuals over various time intervals. The stability coefficients vary depending on the specific leisure interest. For example, the most stable leisure interests (test-retest correlation over a 2-year interval of about .70) center on individual and team sports, camping and outdoor activities, hunting and fishing, dancing, partying, cultural arts, and shopping. Modest stability (r = .50) over the same time period is found for socializing, community activities, culinary pursuits, adventure sports, and cards and games. Vocational interests, in contrast, show relatively uniform stability across the domain, and over a three-year period of time, test-retest coefficients hover around .80. This suggests that leisure interests may be more age related than vocational interests and that leisure interests may be affected more by circumstances (e.g., financial resources or physical health).

Structure of Leisure Interests

Factor analyses of leisure scale scores generally identify four underlying factors: (1) artistic and intellectual (e.g., cultural arts, arts and crafts, culinary pursuits, gardening and nature, literature and writing, dancing, and community involvement); (2) competition and sports (e.g., cards and games, team sports, individual sports); (3) social (e.g., socializing, partying, and shopping); and (4) outdoors (e.g., hunting and fishing, camping, and adventure sports). These factors seem to capture some but not all leisure needs (e.g., intellectual aestheticism, companionship, physical exercise).

Research that has examined the relation between leisure interests and Holland’s six vocational personality types generally finds convergence of leisure interests on three of the six types (i.e., correlations of .40 to .75): Realistic (outdoor and mechanical activities), related to building and hunting and fishing; Artistic (aesthetic activities), related to cultural arts, literature and writing, arts and crafts, and dancing; and Social (helping others), related to community involvement and socializing. Leisure interests that have modest correlations (i.e., correlations of .30 to .35) with Holland’s vocational types include gardening and nature and cards and games, related to Investigative (science and research); individual and team sports and partying, related to Enterprising (business); and Conventional (attention to detail), related to computer activities.

Research using multidimensional-scaling analysis to map the pattern of relationships among leisure activities suggests a two-dimensional solution. One very robust dimension reflects expressive versus instrumental activities. The interpretation of the second dimension suggests either social affiliative versus nonaffiliative activities or active versus sedentary activities.

Leisure, Careers, and Life Satisfaction

Over time, theorists such as Donald Super, whose work is in the vocational domain, and Douglas Kleiber and John Kelly, whose work is in the leisure domain, have viewed leisure as an important component in their developmental models. More recently, vocational and occupational health psychologists have come to understand the importance of leisure for well-being and life satisfaction and the role that leisure counseling can play in career counseling. The assessment of leisure interests can play an important role in this counseling process, providing the tools necessary for clients to better understand themselves and their own proclivities for recreation.

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  1. Hansen, J. C. 1998. Leisure Interest Questionnaire. Paul, MN: JCH Consulting.
  2. Hansen, J. C. and Scullard, M. G. 2002. “Psychometric Evidence for the Leisure Interest Questionnaire and Analyses of the Structure of Leisure Interests.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 49:331-341.
  3. Kleiber, D. A. and Kelly, J. R. 1980. “Leisure, Socialization, and the Life Cycle.” Pp. 91-137 in Social Psychological Perspectives on Leisure and Recreation, edited by S. E Isa-Ahola. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
  4. McKechnie, G. E. 1975. Manual for the Leisure Activities Blank. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
  5. Super, D. E. 1986. “Life Career Roles: Self-realization in work and Leisure.” Pp. 95-119 in Career Development in Organizations, edited by D. Hall. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  6. Tinsley, H. E. A., Barrett, C. and Kass, R. A. 1977. “Leisure Activities and Need Satisfaction.” Journal of Leisure Research 9:110-120.