Dec. 3, 1998 Writer: Cathy Keen
Source: Howard E. A. Tinsley, (352) 392-8501
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Fishing, a form of self-expression that has more in common with refined needlepoint than rugged canoeing or hunting?
Checkers and canasta, more competitive than racquetball and baseball?
Picnicking, a sensual pleasure more similar to attending a play than to hiking or backpacking?
Leisure activity isn't just for fun, says a University of Florida psychologist who has developed a scale that classifies hobbies and avocations based on needs they satisfy in people. The scale can help people find more personal fulfillment by giving them insight into what they really like and by helping them to find substitutes when they can't pursue their favorite activities.
"The surprising thing is that activities you might think are very different have similar effects on people," said Howard E.A. Tinsley, a UF psychology professor who developed the measurement. "Probably no one would consider acting to have the same characteristics as roller-skating or playing baseball, but men and women who act as a hobby report feeling an intense sense of belonging to a group, much the same way others do in playing sports."
And activities providing the strongest sense of competition are not sports, but card, arcade and computer games, he found.
Tinsley, whose research on leisure has been published in several journals, is scheduled this spring to present some of the findings in Milwaukee at a conference of the Society for Vocational Psychology.
Based on surveys with more than 3,000 people about the satisfactions they get from various hobbies, Tinsley obtained numerical scores for values such as "challenge" and "hedonism," and grouped some 82 leisure activities into 11 categories. For example, dining out and watching movies fall into the "sensual enjoyment" category, playing soccer and attending sports clubs meetings satisfy participants' desires for a sense of "belongingness" and coin collecting and baking fulfill their need for "creativity."
"With so many people in jobs they don't care for, leisure is a prized aspect of people's lives," Tinsley said. "Yet it's not something psychologists really study. Economists tell us how much money people spend skiing, but nobody explains what it is about skiing that is really appealing to people."
Or how one activity relates to another, perhaps in unexpected ways, Tinsley said.
Fishing, generally considered more of an outdoor or recreational activity, for example, is a form of self-expression like quilting or stamp collecting, because it gives people the opportunity to express themselves by doing something completely different from their daily routine, he said.
"People drive by a lake and see guys in their bass fishing boats and think they're just sportsmen, but really they're taking part in an activity that gives them a chance to express some aspect of their personality," Tinsley said.
Another anomaly is picnicking, which is grouped with play attendance, mostly because it appeals to the senses.
"Going on a picnic usually means getting outside by a stream or lake or forest or someplace attractive, just as watching a play or musical has aesthetic qualities," he said.
Both activities also are immediately gratifying, without requiring stress or a long-term commitment, and they confer a sense of status, Tinsley said. "Picnicking often occurs in a family hierarchy, in which participants have a recognized position within a small community," he said. "Attending a play or musical offers a sense of standing because of the social perception that the cultured elite go to the theater."
For people who pride themselves on being conscientious, service activities such as attending church or volunteering in a scout group may be favorite ways to spend spare time. Those at the opposite extreme may love bingo or television, he said.
"People often disparage watching television, but by providing an opportunity to get away from any sense of obligation it gives viewers a chance to relax and renew their physical and intellectual resources," he said.
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