Measurement of Ethical Behavior in Leisure among High- and Low-Risk Adolescents
Wildmer, Mark A., Ellis, Gary D., Trunnell, Eric P., Adolescence
Particular recreation and leisure choices made by adolescents may place them at increased risk and predispose them to a variety of delinquent behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, violence, truancy). This is especially the case with youth designated as "high risk." Studies have indicated that adolescent substance abuse, violence, homicide, and death resulting from alcohol-related accidents has reached epidemic proportions (Centers for Disease Control, 1992a, 1992b). Further, 40% of 10th graders have reported being intoxicated during the school year, and 14% of 12th graders reported drinking to inebriation on at least a weekly basis (Blum, 1987), while 40% of high school seniors reported using illicit drugs (Iso-Ahola & Crowley, 1991).
Many multidisciplinary prevention and treatment programs have targeted at-risk youth (Jessor, 1993), but few have included leisure behavior as a salient component. The importance of such a component was revealed by Iso-Ahola and Crowley (1991) who found that adolescent substance abusers described their leisure as boring. Thus, leisure activity and the choices leading to such activity were seen to be important elements in predicting at-risk behaviors among adolescents.
A measure that discriminates the ethical behaviors and attitudes of adolescents with regard to their recreation and leisure would provide a valuable resource tool for research, prevention, and intervention programs. Although the application of ethical theory to recreation and leisure choices has been discussed previously (e.g., Mobily, 1985; Sylvester, 1986, 1987, 1991), no previous research has operationalized this concept. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to create an instrument to measure the ethical component of recreation and leisure behavior that can be used to distinguish between high- and low-risk adolescents. The development of the Adolescent Ethical Behavior in Leisure Scale (AEBLS) was based on an interpretation of the ethical system presented in Aristotelian philosophy. A brief discussion of this philosophy as it pertains to leisure follows.
Philosophical Foundation of the AEBLS
The Aristotelian perspective has endured the test of time and remains respected among modern philosophers (e.g., Adler, 1978, 1991; Evans, 1987; Morrall, 1977). Adler (1991) argued that the best ethical model for modern society is an approach based on the old "treasure of practical wisdom found in Aristotle's moral philosophy" (p. 6).
Aristotle's ethical work is based on the assumption that people should act in ways that will bring them happiness (i.e., Eudamonia or the good life). The Aristotelian or "classical" concept of happiness, however, differs substantially from the contemporary concept. Today, happiness is generally viewed as a positive psychological state (Hudson, 1992). In contrast, the classical view of happiness focuses on individual character and the habit of making right choices throughout life (Adler, 1991; Hudson, 1992). For Aristotle, an ethical life was characterized by the habit of right action (virtue), actions based on reflection, moderation, prudence, wisdom, and justice. Through reflection on life and leisure opportunities, one can make prudent and wise choices that lead to an ethical life.
Friendship is another important component of the Aristotelian ethical life. Aristotle believed that meaningful relationships with family and friends make an important and necessary contribution to the ethical life (Aristotle, 1986; Cahn, 1977). Beyond friendships and right action, Aristotle viewed leisure as the essential and crowning component of an ethical life (Adler, 1991; Aristotle, 1986). Aristotelian leisure includes engaging in speculative thought (theorein) or contemplation while in a state of mind free from the necessities of existence (skole) (Dare, Welton, & Coe, 1987). According to Adler (1991), Aristotelian leisure is defined as those "activities by which human beings learn and grow and thereby acquire one or more intellectual virtues . . . of art, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. . . . Leisuring is learning in all the ways that human beings can learn and perfect themselves intellectually" (p. 83).
An Aristotelian ethical life, therefore, is characterized by a curious, inquisitive approach to living that leads to learning beyond that needed for survival, meaningful relationships (friendships), and virtuous (moral) behavior. The distinction between ethical conduct and leisure conduct may seem vague because the classical (Aristotelian) "view considers moral conduct and leisure conduct synonymous" (Sylvester, 1991, p. 444). Consequently, the AEBLS was developed to represent the content areas essential to Aristotelian ethical leisure behavior: intellectual activity, creative activity, meaningful relationships, and moral behavior. The AEBLS was developed to measure the extent to which an individual's leisure behavior reflects the Aristotelian ethical life.
To establish construct and criterion-related evidence of the validity of inferences that can be made from scores on the AEBLS, variables conceptually related to Aristotelian leisure behavior were identified for inclusion in this study. The following discussion briefly reviews the identified variables and their conceptual relationship with the AEBLS.
High vs. low risk. All adolescents today are at-risk, but specific groups of adolescents may be at varying levels of risk. The public high school population, for example, would, as a whole, be at lower risk than their peers who have a history of delinquent behaviors and who have been placed in residential treatment or detention centers. Low-risk adolescents are more likely to engage in ethical leisure behavior than their high-risk peers. This argument was tested through the following hypothesis:
[H.sub.1]: The AEBLS mean of the low-risk group will be significantly greater than the AEBLS mean score of the high-risk group.
Adolescent substance use and school bonding. An ethical life is founded on wise and prudent decisions, not on social or peer pressure. Self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse may be socially acceptable among adolescents, or even provide a transitory positive psychological state, but these behaviors may also result in incarceration, physical harm, or worse. Substance abuse is not in harmony with the Aristotelian ethical life (Broadie, 1991).
Conversely, intellectual and creative activities that lead to self-improvement reflect wise and prudent choices. School bonding, defined as the choice to stay in high school, continue one's education, and an interest in learning (Kumpfer & Turner, 1990-1991) are all part of an Aristotelian ethical life. Adolescents engaged to a greater extent in the Aristotelian ethical life avoid harmful substances and seek intellectual and creative activity. Based on Aristotelian ethics, the following hypotheses about the relations between AEBLS and these variables were tested:
[H.sub.2]: A significant, negative correlation will be found between the AEBLS and school bonding.
Leisure boredom. Dispositional leisure boredom has been characterized as the chronic absence of optimal arousal in leisure resulting from too little psychological stimulation (Iso-Ahola & Weissinger, 1987). A strong conceptual linkage exists between dispositional leisure boredom and the Aristotelian ethical life. The Aristotelian ethical life is characterized by a curious, inquisitive approach to living and meaningful relationships (Adler, 1991). Because of these and other factors associated with Aristotelian leisure behavior, adolescents engaged in an Aristotelian ethical life should not be predisposed to leisure boredom. The following hypothesis about the relationship between an Aristotelian ethical behavior in leisure and leisure boredom was tested:
[H.sub.4]: A significant negative correlation will be found between the AEBLS and dispositional leisure boredom.
Discriminating variables. Scores on the AEBLS should not be influenced by gender or race. Therefore, gender and race should not be systematically related to scores on the AEBLS. Two hypotheses concerning discriminant evidence of validity were tested:
[H.sub.5]: No significant correlation will be found between the AEBLS and sex.
[H.sub.6]: No significant correlation will be found between the AEBLS and race.
Sensory and cortical pleasure. Smith (1991) suggests that humans are different from all other living creatures in the ways that pleasure may be experienced. He identified three categories of pleasure: sensory, expressive-cortical, and intellectual-cortical. Sensory is derived from activities that stimulate the peripheral receptors. Expressive-cortical is derived from activities that use "creative thought to produce something which also gives sensual pleasure or adds a major intellectual dimension to a sensory experience" (p. 80). Intellectual-cortical is defined as "pleasure without the use of sensory stimulation" (p. 80). Expressive-cortical and intellectual-cortical are unique to humans.
Individuals who engage in these uniquely human behaviors are involved in activities that characterize Aristotelian leisure (Adler, 1991; Aristotle, 1986). In contrast, individuals who engage in predominantly sensory types of recreation do not exhibit Aristotelian ethical behavior in leisure. Consequently, the following hypotheses concerning the relationship between AEBLS and sensory vs. cortical recreation were tested:
[H.sub.7]: A significant, positive correlation will be found between the AEBLS scores and evaluation of cortical recreation activities.
[H.sub.8]: A significant, negative correlation will be found between the AEBLS scores and evaluation of sensory recreation activities.
Two studies were conducted addressing construct- and criterion-related evidence of validity. Study 1 involved testing hypotheses concerning to relationships between AEBLS scores and leisure boredom, substance use, school bonding, race, and sex. Study 2 involved testing hypotheses concerning the relationship between AEBLS scores and evaluations of sensory and cortical forms of recreation.
Development and Expert Review of Items
Sixty-two items representing Aristotelian ethical leisure behavior were written. The content of the AEBLS included intellectual activity, creative activity, meaningful relationships, and moral behavior. Because Aristotle (1986) argued that the crowning characteristic of an ethical life is intellectual and creative activity, 25 items were written to represent the intellectual domain and an additional 16 items were written to represent the creative activity domain. Nine items were written to represent the meaningful relationship domain and 12 items represented moral activity. Items were reviewed by two experts in Aristotelian philosophy and three test-construction experts. Items were revised based on the panel's recommendations. Sample items are presented in Table 1.
Sample Items and Corresponding Domains from the AEBLS
Intellectual Activity Domain
1. I think about world problems in my free time. 5. I study literature during my free time. 20. I think about human rights in my free time.
12. I do creative writing in my free time (poems, stories, etc.). 24. I try new activities that bring variety to my life. 56. I use my free time to be creative.
3. I spend my free time doing things that build friendships. 11. I try to make new friends during my free time. 27. I like to visit with my family during the holidays.
9. I help those in need during my free time. 42. I am fair when I play games. 46. I volunteer for public service during my free time.
Study 1 was an investigation into the internal consistency and criterion-related evidence of validity of inferences that can be made from the AEBLS. High- and low-risk research participants completed the AEBLS, the Leisure Boredom Scale (Iso-Ahola & Weissinger, 1990), a set of questions related to school bonding (Durrant, 1986; Kumpfer & Turner, 1990-1991), a questionnaire about substance use (Durrant, 1986), and a list of questions concerning demographics. Data were analyzed in terms of internal consistency of items on the AEBLS and the criterion-related evidence of validity of inferences that could be drawn from the AEBLS.
Study 1 research participants. The sample included 346 high school-age adolescents from agencies serving high-risk (n = 145) and low-risk youth (n = 201). The high-risk participants included 38 adolescents from a detention center (Juvenile Hall) in Northern California and 107 adolescents from a long-term treatment center (school) in Utah. The low-risk participants included 201 adolescents from a Northern California public high school.
Research participants in Study 1 were between the ages of 12 and 19 (mean = 16.1). The low-risk group included 111 males and 90 females, while the high-risk group included 91 males and 49 females (five participants failed to report their sex). Fifteen percent of the low-risk and 33% of the high-risk group were racial minorities.
Study 1 instrumentation. Research participants were asked to complete the 62 item AEBLS, the Leisure Boredom (LBS) (Iso-Ahola & Weissigner, 1987), and questions focusing on school bonding and substance use (Durrant, 1986). In support of validity of inferences concerning dispositional leisure boredom drawn from LBS scores, Iso-Ahola and Weissinger (1990) reported Cronbach alpha coefficients ranging from .85 to .88 for the LBS. A confirmatory factor analysis also indicated the existence of a single salient factor.
In addition to the LBS, questions regarding school bonding and substance use were included to examine criterion-related evidence of validity (Durrant, 1986). These questions focused on degree of liking of school, interest in learning, educational goals, and current and anticipated use of tobacco (chewing and smoking), alcohol, and marijuana.
Study 1 procedure. The measures were consolidated into a single packet and were distributed, along with standardized administration instructions, to the supervising administrators at each agency. Typically, each group was a class of 25-35 students. All participants completed the packets in a classroom setting.
Study 1 method of data analysis. Data were analyzed for reliability and criterion-related evidence of validity. Cronbach's alpha was calculated as the estimate of internal consistency. Several analyses related to validity were conducted. A t-test was conducted to test the significance of the difference between AEBLS means of the high- and low-risk samples ([H.sub.1]). Principle components analysis was used to reduce the three school bonding questions to a single factor score and to reduce the seven substance use questions to a single factor score. Zero order correlations were then calculated between the AEBLS and the following variables: (1) the substance use factor ([H.sub.2]), (2) the school bonding factor ([H.sub.3]), (3) dispositional leisure boredom ([H.sub.4]), sex ([H.sub.5]), and race ([H.sub.6]).
Study 1 results. The AEBLS alpha reliability estimate was .90. The alpha reliability estimate for the LBS was .86.
The AEBLS mean score for the low-risk group was 167.4 (SD 22.4, SE1.47) and the AEBLS mean score for the high-risk group was 152.9 (SD 27.3, SE 2.60). The t ratio was 5.22, which was significant at the p [less than] .05 level. Thus, hypothesis 1 was supported; a significant difference was found between the means on the AEBLS scores of the two groups studied. The low-risk group mean score was 15 units higher than the high-risk group mean score.
A principle components analyses of the school bonding and substance use variables identified single-factor solutions that seemed to fit the data very well. In the analysis of the school bonding variables, the first principle component had an eigenvalue of 1.88 and explained 62.7% of the variance. Eigenvalues of the remaining factors were less than 1.0. Each of the three variables had a loading that was greater than .75 on the first principle component. Results of the principle components analysis of the substance use items were similar. Only one principle component had an eigenvalue greater than 1.0, with that component explaining 59.6% of the variance. "Chewing tobacco" had a loading of .53 and all of the remaining loadings were in excess of .73.
Consistent with the stated hypotheses, a significant, positive correlation was found between AEBLS scores and school bonding (r = .60, p [less than] .001) and significant, negative correlations were found between the AEBLS and substance use (r = -.34, p [less than] .001) and dispositional leisure boredom (r = -.446, p [less than] .001). Nonsignificant relationships were found between scores on the AEBLS and race (r = -.04, p [greater than] .05) and gender (r = .13, p [greater than] .05).
In order to further examine evidence of construct validity of inferences that can be drawn from AEBLS scores, the relationship between AEBLS scores and evaluation of two different recreation types, sensory and cortical, was studied. Participants evaluated three sensory and three cortical recreation activities.
Study 2 research participants. Seventy-one adolescents from a Northern California high school, grades 9-12, participated in Study 2. Participants were enrolled in required general education courses, providing a representative, though not strictly random sample. Research participants ages ranged from 15 to 17, with a mean of 15.74. Fifty-three percent of the research participants were male and 47% were female; 5% were from minority groups.
Study 2 instrumentation. The AEBLS and an instrument based on the semantic differential method (Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1961) were used in Study 2. Seven adjective pairs from the evaluation dimension of meaning were used to measure evaluation of each activity (Osgood et al., 1961). These pairs included good-bad, pleasant-unpleasant, pleasurable-painful, meaningful-meaningless, wise-foolish, important-unimportant, valuable-worthless.
Study 2 procedures. The AEBLS and the semantic differential scales were organized into a single packet. An investigator supervised the standardized administration. Following the completion of the AEBLS, the independent variable recreation type (sensory vs. cortical) was presented by six different 35mm slides depicting recreation contexts. These included: watching television (American Gladiators [sensory] and NOVA [cortical]); running a river (white water rafting the Colorado [sensory] and retracing J. W. Powell's exploration of the Colorado [cortical]); and snow skiing (Heliskiing [sensory] and cross-country skiing while learning about Yellowstone National Park [cortical]). A narrative was presented with each slide emphasizing the sensory or cortical elements of each activity depicted in the slide. The semantic differential scale was completed following the presentation of each slide and its corresponding narrative. Responses for evaluation of the cortical and sensory activities were summed to create a single score for each context.
Study 2 results. Cronbach's alpha reliability estimate for the AEBLS in Study 2 was .98. The reliability estimates for the cortical and sensory semantic differential scales used were .97 and .93, respectively. A correlation of .28 between AEBLS and evaluation of cortical recreation was found. The correlation between the AEBLS and evaluation of sensory recreation was -.40. Both of the correlation coefficients were significant (p [less than] .05), thus supporting the hypotheses associated with Study 2.
The purpose of this study was to create an instrument to measure the ethical component of recreation and leisure choices that can be used to distinguish between adolescents and their respective leisure behaviors. Hypotheses related to the reliability and validity of the inferences of the AEBLS were tested in two studies. Study 1 tested hypotheses about the ability of the AEBLS to discriminate between high- and low-risk adolescents and about the relationships between the AEBLS and the criterion variables. All of the Study 1 hypotheses were accepted, thus providing initial evidence supporting the reliability and validity of inferences of the AEBLS for the population studied. Study 2 tested hypotheses about the relationship between the AEBLS scores and evaluation of sensory and cortical recreation types. Study 2 hypotheses were also accepted, thereby providing additional evidence in support of the construct validity of inferences that can be drawn from scores on the AEBLS.
Mobility (1985 and Sylvester (1986, 1987, 1991) have discussed the importance of ethical theory to leisure choices. The present study is the first to operationalize an ethical conception of leisure. The evidence supporting the validity of inferences of the AEBLS suggests that the Aristotelian ethical construct represents a meaningful factor in the lives and development of adolescents.
Low-risk adolescents scored significantly higher on the AEBLS than did high-risk adolescents. This suggests that with further development and research the AEBLS might be used as a screening tool to identify adolescents who are at higher risk of engaging in delinquent behaviors. The AEBLS might also be used with adolescents in detention and treatment centers that provide recreation services to identify individuals who may benefit from learning new leisure skills. The AEBLS may also benefit researchers who examine adolescent leisure behavior as it relates to delinquency and boredom, an important factor that has received little attention.
Adolescents who scored higher on the AEBLS were less likely to perceive leisure as boring. And, as indicated in previous research (Iso-Ahola & Crowley, 1991), adolescents who perceive leisure as boring are more likely to be involved in substance abuse. The findings of this study also indicate that adolescents who engage in an Aristotelian leisure behavior are more likely to enjoy school and learning. Adolescents who scored higher on the AEBLS expressed an interest in continuing their education. On the whole, these findings suggest an important relationship between the leisure behavior of adolescents and their level of risk with regard to substance use, dropping out of school, and other negative behaviors.
The mechanisms of the effects of leisure behaviors on delinquent behaviors remain elusive. Social and ecological influences certainly contribute to the negative behaviors of high-risk adolescents (Henggeler, 1982). Lack of leisure-related competence may also lead to leisure boredom which, in turn, may lead to substance use and other negative behaviors of high-risk adolescents. The causal nature of this relationship could be investigated by testing the effects of an educational intervention designed to promote Aristotelian leisure among high-risk adolescents. The program could teach skills related to intellectual and creative leisure activities, building meaningful relationships, and making ethical choices.
The initial AEBLS studies suggest that the measure has potential as a valuable tool for research, prevention, and intervention programs for at-risk youth. Further development of the AEBLS should include an examination of the latent structure of the measure through factor analysis. Research to develop a short form should also be undertaken.
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Financial support for this study was provided by the Western Laboratory for Leisure Research at the University of Utah.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments provided by Wayne W. Munson.
Gary D. Ellis, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Recreation and Leisure Studies; Eric P. Trunnell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Health Education, University of Utah.
Reprint requests to Mark A. Widmer, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Recreation Management and Youth Leadership, 273 Richards Building, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602.…
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Publication information: Article title: Measurement of Ethical Behavior in Leisure among High- and Low-Risk Adolescents. Contributors: Wildmer, Mark A. - Author, Ellis, Gary D. - Author, Trunnell, Eric P. - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 31. Issue: 122 Publication date: Summer 1996. Page number: 397+. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1996 Gale Group.
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