Spending more time on your hobbies can boost confidence at work — even if they are sufficiently different from your job

Can rock climbing help rocket scientists?

person sitting at a pottery wheel making something out of clay

None of us enjoys having our job cut into our leisure time. So the next time your boss asks you to work late and miss your band rehearsal or board game night, point them to a new study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.


Researchers have found that spending more time on a hobby can boost people's confidence in their ability to perform their job well. But watch out — if your hobby is too similar to your work, then increased time on leisure activities may actually have a detrimental effect.

A number of studies have looked at how family life can affect productivity and satisfaction in the workplace, but there has been surprisingly little research on the influence of leisure activities. So Ciara Kelly at Sheffield University and colleagues recruited 129 hobbyists — from amateur climbers to improv comedians — to look at how the time spent on their hobbies shaped their work life.

To begin with, the team measured the seriousness of each participant's hobby, asking them to rate their agreement with statements like "I regularly train for this activity", and also assessed how similar the demands of their job and hobby were. Then, each month for seven months, participants recorded how many hours they had dedicated to their activity, and completed a scale measuring their belief in their ability to effectively do their job, or their "self-efficacy", in which they rated themselves on statements like "At work I am able to successfully overcome many challenges." They also completed a scale measuring their resilience at work.

The researchers found that when participants spent longer than normal doing their leisure activity, their belief in their ability to perform their job increased. But this was only the case when they had a serious hobby that was dissimilar to their job, or when their hobby was similar to their work but they only did it casually. When their hobby was both serious and similar to their job, then spending more time on it actually had a detrimental effect, decreasing their self-efficacy.

Why might that be? To maintain a serious hobby, people need to invest significant psychological resources, say the authors — so if the activity has the same kinds of demands as their work, they may be left drained and unable to perform as well at their job. But if their hobby is quite different from their career, it may not interfere in the same way but instead help them develop other knowledge and skills that can boost their confidence at work. "Consider a scientist who is an avid rock climber," says Kelly. "Since climbing is so far removed from their day-to-day work activities, they can still recover from the demands of their job and replenish their resources."

Of course, the data don't provide conclusive evidence about the direction of the effect: it's possible, for instance, that the time people spend on their hobbies is influenced by their experiences at work, rather than the other way around. And it would be interesting to know how people without hobbies compare: is it better to have a serious hobby that is similar to one's work, or no hobby at all?

Still, the results suggest that companies may want to encourage employees to pursue interests outside of work, as long as those activities differ from their day-to-day tasks. And they also may give pause to those who dream of packing it all in and turning their hobby into a career. Go ahead — but, warn the authors, "our findings might suggest that people in this position should take up a different serious leisure activity."

The relationship between leisure activities and psychological resources that support a sustainable career: The role of leisure seriousness and work-leisure similarity

Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren) is Editor of BPS Research Digest.

Reprinted with permission of The British Psychological Society. Read the original article.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Scientists discover why fish evolved limbs and left water

Researchers find a key clue to the evolution of bony fish and tetrapods.

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  • A new study says solar and lunar tide impacts led to the evolution of bony fish and tetrapods.
  • The scientists show that tides created tidal pools, stranding fish and forcing them to get out of the water.
  • The researchers ran computer simulations to get their results.
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Optimism may be dangerous in a pandemic, say behavioral psychologists

Most people believe themselves to be less at risk from COVID-19 than others similar to them, according to a recent UCL survey conducted in the U.S.

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  • The most effective way to counter the damaging effects of cognitive bias in the context of COVID-19 may be by calling on empathy in individuals.
  • The dangerous effects of optimism bias may be compounded by confirmation bias, salience bias, and internet echo chambers.
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