Assessing Satisfaction in Leisure Activities

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In "Leisure Experiences and Satisfaction," Roger C. Mannell examines the way the subjective experience of satisfaction can be measured in relationship to both specific leisure activities and to one’;s leisure experiences and one’;s life generally. However, there are a number of problems with his conceptualization of satisfaction, his measurement techniques, and in the results he achieves.

Mannell begins by first distinguishing the post-hoc satisfaction approach from two other approaches to studying leisure from a social-psychological perspective that assess the subjective perspective of the individual engaging in a leisure activity. One of these is the specific approach in which the research seeks to identify the "attributes and meanings that people must perceive as being associated with an activity or setting" or an experience for them to consider this as leisure. Such activities, settings, or experiences are generally characterized by being freely chosen and intrinsically motivated, and participants commonly describe these activities as ones that involve "enjoyment, relaxation, and a lack of evaluation." Also, these activities are often described as having a lack of constraint and as experiences in which one can express one’;s true self and engage in high-self-expression.

The second approach is called the immediate consciousness experience approach in which researchers examine the real-time experiences of people while they are actively engaging in leisure activities. In this case, researchers are especially interested in the "quality or texture" of what people are experiencing in the moment, along with the social and physical setting in which these experiences are occurring and the relationship of the personality of the individual having the experience on the nature of that experience. For example, the researchers may compare different categories of leisure activities, such as relaxed leisure like socializing and watching TV, and active leisure involving effort and concentration, such as participating in sports, games, and hobbies, and look at the kinds of moods evoked by different types of leisure.

Mannell is most interested in looking at the post hoc satisfaction approach in which participants are asked to think back on their experience and describe their level of satisfaction from their involvement in a particular leisure activity, setting, or experience. He also suggests that there are two dimensions for assessing this satisfaction – one is the source of satisfaction, such as whether one is considering a specific need or a quality of a specific activity or setting, and the level of specificity, whether it reflects to the satisfaction of a need or the satisfaction of an appraisal.

The result of combining these dimensions is to create a typology of leisure satisfaction, in which the level of specificity on one axis goes from motivation (based on fulfilling a particular need) to appraisal (based on evaluating the degree to which a leisure style or aspect of that style meets with the individual’;s current expectations) and the source of satisfaction goes from a molecular level (based on a specific type of satisfaction) to the molar level (based on achieving a general feeling of satisfaction for both one’;s needs and one’;s leisure lifestyle ). The four quadrants that result from combining these two axes into a typology include these: a component needs-satisfaction (satisficing specific needs based on the qualities of a person or the specific activity or setting), a global needs-satisfaction (satisfying all of a person’;s needs), component assessment-satisfaction (feeling satisfied by the perceived quality of a specific activity or setting), and global assessment satisfaction (feeling satisfied by the perceived quality of one’;s leisure lifestyle).

In other words, Mannell is trying to break down the way in which the examination of needs and their satisfaction can be conceptualization, while distinguishing the way in which satisfaction might be conceptualized if it is not connected to needs and motivations but is viewed based on an individual evaluating or appraising the quality of a leisure activity or assessing how well his or her leisure style meets his or her expectations. However, one might question if one can break apart these two dimensions, in that one’;s assessments, appraisals, and evaluations related to one’;s expectations might be based on one’;s needs. In that case, Mannell’;s typology is wrong, since there is no reason to distinguish motivation and evaluation, because one’;s motivation influences the way one evaluates something, so they are not two dimensions. A key basis for making this critique is derived from the widely accepted needs pyramid developed by Abraham Maslow and other theorists who have developed a general model of motivation based on needs, motives, goals, satisfactions, psychological benefits, and feedback .. An expectation can be viewed as the degree to which someone meets one’;s needs, so that expectations can not be separated from needs, as Mannell proposes in his typology.

Mannell’;s methodological approach is also beset with problems, since it is based on examining each of the four quadrants of his typology, beginning with assessment satisfaction, which he has separated out from needs satisfaction, which as already noted is problematic. In any case, Mannell describes a methodology in which respondents are asked to "rate their satisfaction with their total leisure style or some aspect of it on various types of rating scales." In his view, this notion of "satisfaction" is used rather than "happiness," which reflects temporary affective feelings in the present, or morale, which is considered a more future oriented perspective of being generally optimistic or pessimistic about life.

However, the concepts of satisfaction and happiness may be considered interchangeable, in that satisfaction can also be a feeling that one has in the moment, while happiness does not have to be a temporary affective feeling. In fact, in surveys, people are often asked how "happy" are they with a particular service they have received; how "happy" are they with life in general; I have been given such questionnaires myself. I also do not think "morale" necessarily referring to a future oriented perspective; it is often used to refer to how optimistic / positive or pessimistic / negative one feet about something now, or it may refer to how a group feels about something, such as when one reflects to the morale of a group in the workplace. So Mannell’;s way of clearing these basic terms is flawed.

Additionally, apart from these specific problems, there is a problem with the methodology used in measuring satisfaction. As Mannell notes, generally standardized measurement scales have been used to determine how satisfied or happy people are with particular leisure activities, and these measurements have not been driven by any theory. Rather the goal is to see what people like or do not like in order to make decisions about providing certain services. Another goal has been to assess how satisfied or happy people are with their leisure activities or leisure style in general or about the outcome of particular types of counseling or therapy to improve one’;s style of life.

Although the use of this approach has enabled researchers to examine levels of satisfaction with different activities and relate those responses to various demographic variables, such as "age, ethnicity, gender, occupation, and social status", the basic problem lies in the validity of trying to measure subjective data with standardized measurement scales. An accurate measurement depends on how accurate people are translating their subjective experience into a numerical rating. Moreover, the way a person makes this rating can vary depending on when that person is asked and other experiences that a person may have had that intervene between giving the rating and the past experience being rated. For instance, if someone has had a bad day, he or she might give a lower rating than someone who feels great that day. Even Mannell observes this problem when he states that "existing scales also seem limited in their ability to penetrate responses" feelings, particularly when the meaning of satisfaction is left to respondents and a single assessment at one point in time is used. "

It is also important to recognize that a measure of satisfaction or happiness is not a defining characteristic of leisure, since individuals can attain satisfaction or happiness from other activities that are not considered leisure. For instance, one can attain these feelings from accomplishing something at work; at approaching a certain financial goal; or at learning that one has gotten a bonus because one’;s company as a whole achieved a certain level of sales and income.

Finally, Mannell examines the nature of needs satisfaction in leisure research, taking the perspective that a need creates a "state of disequilibrium" in which people lack something, desire something, or are aware of achieving a potential satisfaction in the future, which they seek to satisfy. Then, they act in a way that they believe will enable them to satisfy that need, and if that activity or experience fulfills that need, they feel satisfied, such as by seeking out certain leisure activities in which they gain fulfillment. To this end, researchers commonly ask people to rate how important different needs or satisfactions are to them when they participate in specific leisure activities or settings. One example of this is the REP or recreational experience preference scale developed by Driver and associates or the PAL or paragraphs on leisure scale developed by Tinsley and associates.

However, again, these results suffer from the same problem as the satisfaction evaluation measures, since they depend on people trying to apply standardized ratings to measure their subjective experience. Because of this, the results can depend on not only the way different people make their ratings (for example, one person may tend to place higher ratings on something than another person, though a discussion with them may suggest they are experiencing something in a similar way), but a person’;s outlook due to experiences that day before making their ratings.

By contrast, I think the qualitative data is more meaningful, such as when researchers ask people to describe the particular satisfactions that they receive from particular activities or from their participation in certain recreational settings. For instance, people may describe how they like the experience of companionship, intellectual challenge, opportunity for self-expression, and other qualities. However, if they were asked to rate the level of satisfaction they experienced from the intellectual challenge, self-expression, or partnership that would create the same problem of trying to objectify a subjective experience with standardized ratings.

In sum, I think Mannell’;s description of the various methods researchers have used in trying to examine the use of satisfaction to measure leisure experiences reflects the many challenges facing researchers in the leisure field. In addition, I think he has problems in trying to fit these methods into a typology, since it is based on creating false distinctions between motivation and evaluation. Also, his descriptions reveal the difficult problem leisure researchers have in general in trying to come up with objective measures to measure qualitative experiences. As Mick Jagger has famously put it: "I can not get no satisfaction." Well, perhaps leisure researchers can not get no satisfaction either.