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Role of psychology in leisure studies

This is an excerpt from Dimensions of Leisure for Life by Human Kinetics.

Psychological Theories and Leisure Application

One of the major fields of study that influence social science is psychology. Psychology is the study of the way the human mind works and how it influences behavior. We all use the principles of psychology daily without realizing it. When we reward ourselves with a night at the movies for doing something good, we are using psychology's learning principle of positive reinforcement. When we get nervous right before we drop in from the top of a skateboard ramp, we are activating our autonomic nervous system. When we talk to ourselves in our heads, telling ourselves to calm down, work harder, or give up, we are using psychological cognitive approaches. These examples illustrate psychology as the study of humans' thoughts, emotions, and behavior.


If you examine the definition of psychology closely, you can see that it is heavily entrenched in leisure and leisure behaviors. For example, why does one person choose to jump out of a plane whereas another person says, “Look at that idiot jumping out of a perfectly good plane.” One of the psychological theories at play in these scenarios is the theory of sensation seeking. Sensation seeking is “the need for varied, novel and complex sensations and the willingness to take physical
and social risks for the sake of such experiences” (Zuckerman, 1983, p. 10). According to the theory of sensation seeking, four subcomponents make up how much a person desires sensation-seeking attributes and opportunities:

  • Thrill and adventure seeking, which relate to the willingness to take physical risks and participate in high-risk sports
  • Experience seeking, which relates to the need for new and exciting experiences
  • Disinhibition, which relates to a willingness to take social risks and engage in health risk behaviors (e.g., binge drinking or having unprotected sex)
  • Boredom susceptibility, which relates to intolerance for monotony and repetitive activities