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John Neulinger
Born 26 April 1924(1924-04-26)
Dresden, Germany
Died 20 June 1991 (aged 67)
Dolgeville, New York, USA
Nationality German-American
Fields Social psychology
Leisure studies
Institutions City College of New York
Alma mater Hunter College
New York University
Known for Theory of leisure
Perceived freedom
Leisure society

John Neulinger (April 26, 1924 - June 20, 1991) was a noted German-American psychologist and Professor Emeritus of psychology at City College of New York. Neulinger is best known for contributing a social psychological theory of leisure to the field of leisure studies.[1] Neulinger's theory of leisure is defined by a psychological state of mind that requires two criteria for leisure: perceived freedom and intrinsic motivation. In Neulinger's theory, individuals can be said to be in a state of leisure if they simply perceive that they have the freedom to choose activities and are motivated by an activity for its own sake, not just for its consequences. Neulinger first popularized his ideas in the 1974 book, The Psychology of Leisure.


Early life

Neulinger was born in Dresden, Germany to Rudolf and Julie Neulinger née Konirsch. At least two siblings are known, a brother named Kurt and a sister, Liselotte. Neulinger attended the Staatsoberrealgymnasium in Děčín, Czechoslovakia as a child,[2] but was taken to a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. His experience in Nazi Germany influenced his psychological theories regarding the connection between freedom and leisure in the same way as psychologist Viktor Frankl.[3]

Having survived the war, Neulinger moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen. Neulinger attended Hunter College and graduated in 1960. He received his doctorate in psychology from New York University in 1965. Neulinger married Josephine Levitus on July 22, 1950, and later had one child, a son named Ronald. In 1970, the marriage ended in divorce, and he later married fellow psychologist Gabrielle Stutman.[4]


From 1964-1965, Neulinger was a research associate for the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City. After 1967, he spent the rest of his life working at the City College of the City University of New York: first as an assistant professor from 1967-1971; an associate professor from 1972-1976; and finally as a professor of psychology from 1977-1986. Neulinger was a member of the International Sociological Association, the American Psychological Association, the Gerontological Society, and Phi Beta Kappa.[4] He helped found the Academy of Leisure Sciences and was president of the Academy from 1982-1983.[5] Neulinger was also Director of the Leisure Institute in his home town of Dolgeville, New York, and he helped found the Society for the Reduction of Human Labor and acted as its Chair.[1]

Leisure theory

"Leisure is a state of mind; it is a way of being, of being at peace with oneself and what one is doing...Leisure has one and only one essential criterion, and that is the condition of perceived freedom. Any activity carried out freely without constraint or compulsion, may be considered to be leisure. To leisure implies being engaged in an activity as a free agent, and of one's own choice."
—John Neulinger, in The Psychology of Leisure (1974)[6]

Neulinger's leisure theory, sometimes referred to as the Neulinger paradigm,[7] was first published in the 1974 book, The Psychology of Leisure. The theory is a continuum model of leisure, with the criterion a condition Neulinger calls perceived freedom. This perceived freedom is a state of mind where one freely chooses to perform an activity—any activity—because one "wants to do it".[8] If an individual is involved in an activity where there is only intrinsic reward and perceived freedom, that person is said to be engaged in leisure. However, if the activity involves only extrinsic reward and the absence of perceived freedom, an individual is said to be in a state of non-leisure. There are six stages from one extreme to the other: Pure leisure, leisure-work, leisure-job, pure work, work-job, and pure job.[7]

Neulinger's theory of leisure shows that intrinsic motivation and perceived freedom can directly change the perception of leisure.[9] But, like other social psychological theories of leisure, Neulinger's theory has been criticized for its lack of "discriminant power". The criterion of perceived freedom is not exclusive to leisure activities, and the failure of the theory to account for the differences between real freedom and the illusion of freedom is often challenged. Nevertheless, Neulinger's theory has exerted considerable influence on social psychology and leisure, and perceived freedom is still a popular concept in leisure studies.[8]

Neulinger believed that human civilization could one day look forward to a society based on leisure, a leisure society where modern technology and science frees the average person from focusing on providing merely for subsistence needs and the worry associated with meeting those needs. Neulinger envisioned a world where the very concept of a "job" was no longer plausible, where work would be leisure-oriented. Unlike the past, Neulinger's vision was of a society where non-leisure activities form a minimum part of our day, where work would be carried out with meaning and without coercion, freely chosen, self-rewarding, and intrinsically motivating.[2][3] In his last publication before his death, Neulinger advocated for a societal transformation to that of a "universal leisure society instead of more centuries of useless destruction and worldwide conflicts".[1]


Neulinger died at home of a heart attack at the age of 67 on June 20, 1991, in Dolgeville, New York.[10] Since his death, colleagues in the field of leisure studies have referred to Neulinger as a "leisure visionary".[11]




  • Neulinger, John (1981) [1974]. The Psychology of Leisure. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas. ISBN 0398031061.  
  • Neulinger, John (1986) [1977]. What Am I Doing? The WAID. Dolgeville, NY: Leisure Institute.  
  • Neulinger, John (1981). To Leisure: An Introduction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 0205069363.  
  • Neulinger, John (1990). Road to Eden After All: A Human Metamorphosis. Leisure Institute. ISBN 9050130143.  


See also


  1. ^ a b c Parker, Stan (Jan., 1991). "Appreciation: John Neulinger, 1925–91". Leisure Studies (Routledge) 11 (1): 93. doi:10.1080/02614369100390341. ISSN 02614367.  
  2. ^ a b Neulinger, John (Oct., 1990). "A Leisure Society: Idle Dream or Viable Alternative, Encroaching Menace or Golden Opportunity (1989-04-22)". in Howard R. Gray; Larry L. Neal; S. Harold Smith. J. B. Nash Lecture Series. Boston: American Association for Leisure and Recreation. pp. 161–173.  
  3. ^ a b "Memoriam". Academy of Leisure Sciences. Retrieved 2009-03-10. "In his final years, he came to believe that society was rapidly moving toward a post-industrial phase in which technology would provide the means to minimize human labor and that human beliefs and values needed to be developed that would embrace such a change."  
  4. ^ a b "John Neulinger 1924-1991". Contemporary Authors Online. Thomson Gale. 2003.  
  5. ^ Sourced to Contemporary Authors Online. For the official record, see:"Members of the Academy of Leisure Sciences". Academy of Leisure Sciences. Retrieved 2009-03-10.  
  6. ^ Torkildsen, George (2005). "Leisure and Recreation: A Variety of Meanings". Leisure and Recreation Management. Routledge. pp. 49. ISBN 0415309956.  
  7. ^ a b Leitner, Michael J. (2004). "Concepts of Leisure". Leisure Enhancement. Haworth Press. pp. 2–20. ISBN 078901534X.   See also: Ross, Craig M. "HPER R160: Foundation of Recreation and Leisure". Questions From the Past Week: Explain Neulinger's Paradigm. Indiana University Dept of Recreation & Park Administration. Retrieved 2009-03-10.  
  8. ^ a b "Social Psychological Theories of Leisure". Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America. Charles Scribner's Sons. 2004. pp. 521–522. ISBN 0684312654.  
  9. ^ Holt, Marieke; Candace Ashton-Shaeffer (May 2001). "Therapeutic Recreation's Role in Meeting the Needs of Heart Transplant Patients". Parks and Recreation (National Recreation and Park Association) 36 (5): 58–64.  
  10. ^ "John Neulinger, 67, Psychology Professor". Obituaries (The New York Times): pp. 21. 1991-06-22. Retrieved 2009-03-05.  
  11. ^ Spigner, C.; Havitz, M. E (1993-11-01). "Social marketing or social justice: A dialogue on access to recreation for the unemployed". Parks and Recreation (National Recreation and Park Association) 28 (11): 51–57.  

Further reading

  • Rojek, Chris; Susan M. Shaw, Anthony James Veal (2007). A Handbook of Leisure Studies. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 140390278X.  
  • Wearing, S.; A. Deville; K. Lyons (2008). "The Volunteer's Journey through Leisure to the Self". in Kevin D. Lyons, Stephen Wearing. Journeys of Discovery in Volunteer Tourism. CABI. pp. 63–71. ISBN 184593380X.  


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