Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Personality and Affective Correlates of Leisure Activity Participation by Older People

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Personality and Affective Correlates of Leisure Activity Participation by Older People

Article excerpt

Leisure behavior and participation in discretionary activities by older people represent one of the classic areas of investigation in gerontology. A program of research by Havighurst and his associates (Donald & Havighurst, 1959; Havighurst, 1957, 1961; Havighurst & Feigenbaum, 1959) set the stage for our understanding of the meaning of leisure-time activity in older people, and ultimately was incorporated into a loosely-formulated activity theory of successful aging. This formulation suggested that favorable psychological outcomes were associated with continued involvement in social and other activities. As contrasted with the earlier disengagement theory (Cumming & Henry, 1961), which has had few validations of its assertions that related well-being to behavioral and psychological disengagement, activity theory has had more empirical support. The present research probed the relationship between activity participation and psychological well-being among a group of older people by focusing on a variety of activities and a broader range of personality factors and subjectively-experienced emotions than previous research had done. In particular, personality dimensions hypothesized to regulate internal and external emotional experience (e.g., those related to neuroticism and introversion-extraversion) were hypothesized to be differentially related to participation in discretionary activities. Further, such behavioral leisure was hypothesized to be related more strongly to one of the two major affect types (positive affect) than to the second type (negative affect). Earlier research relating leisure behavior and well-being and more recent explorations of leisure and the psychology of stimulation constituted the background for the research.

LEISURE BEHAVIOR AND WELL-BEING

Frequency of participation in activities has been shown to be related to various indicators of well-being, such as life satisfaction (Kelly, Steinkamp, & Kelly, 1987; Ragheb & Griffith, 1982; Riddick & Daniel, 1984) or the Cantril Ladder format ("worst possible life" to "best possible life," Palmore, 1979). The support has not been consistent, however, For example, Lemon, Bengtson, and Peterson (1972) found that among a group of measures that operationalized activity, only informal activities with friends was associated with life satisfaction. Cutler (1976), and Hoyt, Kaiser, Peters, and Babchuk (1980) are among several that failed to demonstrate any relationship between formal activities and well-being. Most of this research used single indicators of well-being. A need was thus seen to determine whether some types of well-being are differentially related to activity participation.

LEISURE AND THE PSYCHOLOGY OF STIMULATION

Csikszentmihalyi (1975), Ellis (1973) and others have called our attention to the understanding of leisure that is afforded by knowledge gained from the study of motivation, esthetics, and the psychology of stimulation. An extended overview of this work was provided by Iso-Ahola (1980) in his adaptation of optimal arousal theory (Berlyne, 1978) to this field. The classic Yerkes-Dodson law (1908) suggested that moderate levels of motivation resulted in optimally effective behavior, as compared to levels that were too low or too high. Wohlwill(1966) used the same principle to suggest that stimulation either slightly lower than, or higher than, the level to which the person was adapted, would be experienced more positively. This feature was also incorporated into Lawton and Nahemow's (1973) ecological model of environmental press and competence. Iso-Ahola's application suggested that both stimulus overload and stimulus deprivation lead to the person's withdrawal. A state of incongruity between the amount of stored information and incoming information has optimal limits within which the person's behavior is motivated and hedonic tone is maximal. He suggests that people choose leisure behaviors to maintain a state of optimal arousal consistent with stable personality needs and temporally changing intrapersonal needs of the moment. …

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