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Flow is an optimal experience characterized by the perception of high challenges and high skills, positive affect, complete absorption in the activity carried out and intrinsic motivation. Although much research has examined the psychological features of flow, little is known about its biological underpinnings. The present study aimed at contributing to this gap by investigating the psychophysiological correlates of flow experience during daily routines. To this end, 15 university students took part in an experience sampling study, in which they provided real-time information on daily activities and associated experience while cardiac activity was monitored. After seven days of observation, 32 flow events were identified among 10 participants. A multilevel regression analysis revealed a significant correlation between optimal experience and specific cardiovascular indexes. In particular, the experience of flow was associated with increased heart rate and increased LF/HF ratio, suggesting relative sympathetic enhancement. These findings are in line with those obtained by previous related studies and indicate the feasibility of investigating physiological correlates of subjective experience in ecological contexts.
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Psychophysiological Correlates of Flow
During Daily Activities
Andrea GAGGIOLI a,b,1, Pietro CIPRESSO a,b , Silvia SERINO a,b,
and Giuseppe RIVA a,b
a
Applied Technology for Neuro-Psychology Lab,
Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Milan, Italy
bDepartment of Psychology, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy
Abstract. Flow is an optimal experience characterized by the perception of high
challenges and high skills, positive affect, complete absorption in the activity
carried out and intrinsic motivation. Although much research has examined the
psychological features of flow, little is known about its biological underpinnings.
The present study aimed at contributing to this gap by investigating the
psychophysiological correlates of flow experience during daily routines. To this
end, 15 university students took part in an experience sampling study, in which
they provided real-time information on daily activities and associated experience
while cardiac activity was monitored. After seven days of observation, 32 flow
events were identified among 10 participants. A multilevel regression analysis
revealed a significant correlation between optimal experience and specific
cardiovascular indexes. In particular, the experience of flow was associated with
increased heart rate and increased LF/HF ratio, suggesting relative sympathetic
enhancement. These findings are in line with those obtained by previous related
studies and indicate the feasibility of investigating physiological correlates of
subjective experience in ecological contexts.
Keywords. Flow, psychophysiology, experience sampling method, ECG, wearable
sensors.
Introduction
The concept of flow, also called “optimal experience”, was introduced by psychologist
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi almost three decades ago, in the attempt to understand the
nature of self-rewarding, “autotelic” activities [1]. Since then, a large body of research
has documented the psychological characteristics of this experience, which includes
positive emotions, complete absorption in the ongoing activity, effortless attention,
merging of action and awareness, heightened sense of control, and time distortion.
Additional defining features are perception of high challenges and high skills, and clear
feedback from the task at hand. By contrast, a very small number of studies have
examined the psychophysiological correlates of flow [2]. Moreover, the studies
conducted so far have been limited to the lab, because of the technical and
technological challenges associated with the measurement of physiological parameters
in naturalistic contexts. However, the analysis of psychophysiology of flow experience
in everyday situations would allow identifying objective markers of this experience to
integrate the subjective assessment used until now. In addition, the identification of the
1 Corresponding Author.
Annual Review of Cybertherapy and Telemedicine 2013
B.K. Wiederhold and G. Riva (Eds.)
IOS Press, 2013
© 2013 Interactive Media Institute and IOS Press. All rights reserved.
doi:10.3233/978-1-61499-282-0-65
65
physiological mechanisms underlying the experience of flow can contribute to a deeper
understanding of this mental state, i.e. by helping to identify the role played by
emotions during optimal experience. Finally, in the field of human-computer
interaction, the definition of physiological indicators of flow could be useful in order to
develop interactive systems (i.e. videogames) that optimize the user experience by
automatically adapting to his/her level of engagement. In an attempt to contribute to
these issues, the present study examined the feasibility and reliability of assessing
cardiac correlates of flow in naturalistic environments, using a wearable
electrocardiogram (ECG) wirelessly connected to a smartphone.
1. Previous Research On The Psychophysiology of Flow Experience
Up to now, research on psychophysiological correlates of flow has been sporadic (for a
review, see [2]), mostly due to the difficulty in operationalizing this concept. Recently,
Peifer [2] developed a theoretical model that integrates the concepts of flow and stress.
Moving from Lazarus’ cognitive-relational theory of emotions [3], the model posits
that stress can be transformed into an optimal experience through reappraisal of a
negative situation into a pleasant challenge (p. 154); in this view, hence, flow can be
considered a cognitive coping strategy. More specifically, the experience of flow
results in an “optimized physiological activation” which is associated with i) a
decreased activation in default networks of the brain; and ii) moderate peripheral
arousal following a U-shaped function of activation (p. 160). Arousal can be measured
by several techniques, such as Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), respiration/pulse rates,
blood pressure and muscle tension. However, the measurement of these parameters
together in daily-life settings using non-invasive equipment can be problematic. For the
purpose of the present study, thus, we decided to focus the investigation on
cardiovascular measures, with specific reference to heart-rate variability (HRV)
indexes. HRV is regarded as an indicator of the autonomic regulation of cardiac
activity [4]. In particular, power spectrum analysis (PSD) is used to study the effect of
sympathetic and parasympathetic activities on heart activity. Generally, in a short-term
recordings spectrum, three main components are commonly distinguished: the very low
frequency band (VLF; below 0.04 Hz), the low frequency band (LF; 0.04 - 0.15 Hz)
and the high frequency band (HF; 0.15-0.4 Hz) [4].
2. Materials and Method
Fifteen university students (8 males and 7 females, M = 23,33, SD = 1,49) volunteered
in a seven-day ESM study, implemented through the mobile phone-based data
collection platform PsychLog [5]. This smartphone-based tool allows administering
self-report questionnaires at specific times or randomly within a day and to
simultaneously collect heart rate and activity information from a wireless ECG
equipped with a three-axial accelerometer. Participants received a short briefing about
the objective of the experiment and filled the informed consent. Then, they were
provided with the mobile phone with pre-installed PsychLog application, the wearable
ECG and accelerometer sensor (Shimmer Research™) and a user manual including
experimental instructions. The application was pre-programmed to collect data over 7
consecutive days, at random intervals during waking hours. During the observation
week, participants filled out self-report forms after being signalled at random times
during the course of their daily routines. Each ESM form includes questions about
A. Gaggioli et al. / Psychophysiological Correlates of Flow During Daily Activities66
place, activities carried out, social context, and 1-7 Likert-type scales investigating the
affective, motivational and cognitive dimensions of experience; two additional scales
assessed participants’ perceived levels of challenges and skills in the activity carried
out when beeped. At the end of the experiment, participants returned both the phone
and the sensors to the laboratory staff.
Figure 1. The wearable ECG sensor platform used in the experiment
3. Data Analysis
Overall, 561 self-reports were collected, including 377 valid ECG records. Lykert-type
scales data were standardized (M = 0; SD = 1) on each participant’s weekly mean for
every variable. Flow episodes were identified by i) above-average balance between
perceived challenges and skills and ii) above-average values of positive emotions:
cheerful, satisfied, energetic/vigorous, enthusiastic. These criteria allowed identifying
32 flow events across 10 participants. The ECG recording window started 20 minutes
before the onset of the beep and ended 20 minutes after the beep, totalling 40 minutes
of cardiac monitoring for each flow event. To analyze ECG sampling, QRS peaks and
RR interval time series were processed in order to compute a set of heart rate
variability (HRV) indexes. ECG plots were first inspected for artefact correction, and
then a fast Fourier transform was used to compute power spectrum in the LF (0.04–
0.15 Hz) and HF (0.15–0.40 Hz) bands and LF/HF ratio, which is an indicator of the
balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic tone. Since data are nested within
participants, in order to examine the relationship between flow and cardiovascular
measures a multilevel regression analysis was applied.
4. Results and Discussion
Data analysis revealed that the experience of flow was associated with increased heart
rate, i.e decreased RR Interval mean [B = -0.628; S.E. = 0.269; p < .020] and increased
LF/HF ratio [B = 0.079; S.E. = 0.034; p < .021] (generally assumed to reflect
sympathetic dominance). The model showed a good fitness according to the Quasi
Likelihood under Independence Model Criterion (QIC) [Value: 217.64] and the
Corrected Quasi Likelihood under Independence Model Criterion (QICC) [Value:
219.641]. Overall, these findings are in line with those obtained by a previous study
conducted by De Manzano et al. [6], who investigated psychophysiological correlates
of optimal experience in piano players. These observations also resonate with the
psychophysiological model of flow elaborated by Peifer [2], which posits an inverted-
Bluetooth
A. Gaggioli et al. / Psychophysiological Correlates of Flow During Daily Activities 67
U function of physiological arousal and optimal experience, with low and high
cardiovascular activation indicating a state of relaxation or a state of stress respectively
and a moderate arousal associated with flow.
Figure 2. Example of the HRV indexes profile (in both time and frequency domains) associated with a
specific flow episode
Conclusion
To our best knowledge, this is the first study to show the feasibility of exploring the
psychophysiological correlates of flow in naturalistic environments. Although
preliminary, our findings are in line with previous related studies and may provide
further support to the hypothesis that optimal experience and “eustress” share strong
similarities [2].
Acknowledgments
This work was supported by the European-funded project ‘‘Interstress-Interreality in
the management and treatment of stress-related disorders’’, grant number: FP7-247685
(http://www.interstress.eu/).
References
[1] M. Csíkszentmihályi, Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco (CA), 1975.
[2] C. Peifer. Psychophysiological Correlates of Flow-Experience. In S. Engeser (Ed), Advances in Flow
Research, Springer, New York, (2012), 139-164.
[3] R.S. Lazarus. From psychological stress to emotions: A history of changing outlooks. Annual Review of
Psychology 44 (1993), 1-21.
[4] Malik, M. (1996). Heart rate variability. Circulation, 93(5) 1043-1065.
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[5] A. Gaggioli, G. Pioggia, G. Tartarisco, G. Baldus, D. Corda, P. Cipresso, G. Riva. A mobile data
collection platform for mental health research. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing 17(2) (2013) 241–
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[6] B. Appelhans, L. Luecken. Heart rate variability as an index of regulated emotional responding. Review
of General Psychology, 10 (2006) 229-240.
[7] O. de Manzano, T. Theorell, L. Harmat, F. Ullén. The psychophysiology of flow during piano playing.
Emotion 10(3) (2010) 201–311.
A. Gaggioli et al. / Psychophysiological Correlates of Flow During Daily Activities 69
... Furthermore, interest, which can be described as a motivational state resulting from attraction to a certain domain or activity (Reeve, 2008), was found to be related to flow (e.g., Eisenberger et al., 2005;Bressler and Bodzin, 2013;Bachen et al., 2016;Bricteux et al., 2017). Intrinsic motivation was investigated particularly often in its relation to flow, with evidence for a positive link found in various settings, such as education (Schüler et al., 2010;Keller et al., 2011b;Valenzuela and Codina, 2014;Meyer et al., 2016), Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) use (Voiskounsky and Smyslova, 2003;Montgomery et al., 2004;Keller and Bless, 2008;Yan and Davison, 2013;Kim et al., 2014;Chen and Lu, 2016); daily activities (Gaggioli et al., 2013) and physiological aspects (Keller et al., 2011a;Ulrich et al., 2014). ...
... Flow was found to relate negatively to cardiac output and systolic blood pressure, and positively to diastolic blood pressure and heart rate (de Manzano et al., 2010;Gaggioli et al., 2013;Harris et al., 2017). Furthermore, mixed associations of flow with SA were found, with some studies showing positive associations (Nacke and Lindley, 2008;de Manzano et al., 2010;Gaggioli et al., 2013;Ulrich et al., 2016b), other studies showing negative associations (Harmat et al., 2015;Tozman et al., 2015;Harris et al., 2017) and-under stress-the relationship was found to be inverted u-shaped (Peifer et al., 2014;Tozman et al., 2015). ...
... Flow was found to relate negatively to cardiac output and systolic blood pressure, and positively to diastolic blood pressure and heart rate (de Manzano et al., 2010;Gaggioli et al., 2013;Harris et al., 2017). Furthermore, mixed associations of flow with SA were found, with some studies showing positive associations (Nacke and Lindley, 2008;de Manzano et al., 2010;Gaggioli et al., 2013;Ulrich et al., 2016b), other studies showing negative associations (Harmat et al., 2015;Tozman et al., 2015;Harris et al., 2017) and-under stress-the relationship was found to be inverted u-shaped (Peifer et al., 2014;Tozman et al., 2015). Two studies found no association between flow and SA (Kivikangas, 2006;Hirao et al., 2012a). ...
Article
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Flow is a gratifying state of deep involvement and absorption that individuals report when facing a challenging activity and they perceive adequate abilities to cope with it ( EFRN, 2014 ). The flow concept was introduced by Csikszentmihalyi in 1975, and interest in flow research is growing. However, to our best knowledge, no scoping review exists that takes a systematic look at studies on flow which were published between the years 2000 and 2016. Overall, 252 studies have been included in this review. Our review (1) provides a framework to cluster flow research, (2) gives a systematic overview about existing studies and their findings, and (3) provides an overview about implications for future research. The provided framework consists of three levels of flow research. In the first “Individual” level are the categories for personality, motivation, physiology, emotion, cognition, and behavior. The second “Contextual” level contains the categories for contextual and interindividual factors and the third “Cultural” level contains cultural factors that relate to flow. Using our framework, we systematically present the findings for each category. While flow research has made progress in understanding flow, in the future, more experimental and longitudinal studies are needed to gain deeper insights into the causal structure of flow and its antecedents and consequences.
... Recent studies in psychophysiology research have investigated the physiological indicators of flow [8], [10], [11], [17]. Even though there is no agreement about the exact relation between physiological activation and flow, researchers have focused on understanding the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) -responsible for the autonomic activation -and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)responsible for relaxation -branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) [11]. ...
... Even though there is no agreement about the exact relation between physiological activation and flow, researchers have focused on understanding the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) -responsible for the autonomic activation -and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)responsible for relaxation -branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) [11]. Electrodermal activity and cardiovascular measurements are in general the most used physiological parameters considered in psychophysiolgic studies of flow [10]- [12]. Being EDA a direct measure of the activation of the SNS and the cardiovascular measurements, that can be derived from BVP, providing information of both branches, they seem to represent promising proxies of flow [11]. ...
... For instance, Peifer et al. observed an inverted-U relation between physiological arousal (derived from cardiovascular indices) and flow [12]. Gaggioli et al. found a positive relation between cardiovascular measurements with flow during daily activities performed in a natural environment by 10 participants [10]. ...
Conference Paper
Flow is a positive affective state occurring when individuals are fully immersed into an activity. Being in flow during work activities can lead to higher performance and productivity. Despite the importance of flow at work, few approaches have been proposed for its automatic recognition using sensor data and most existing studies are conducted in laboratory settings with simulated work activities. In this paper, we investigate the use of physiological data, collected using wrist-worn devices, combined with context information, obtained through self-reports, to automatically distinguish between low and high levels of flow. We investigate the role of the context for flow perceptions and in its automatic recognition. Further, we compare the performance of several sensor fusion strategies based on shallow and deep learning. To evaluate our approach we use a data set of 390 activities collected during actual work days. Our results show that using raw blood volume pulse, electrodermal activity and the type of activity as input to a sensor-based late fusion approach, implemented using convolutional neural networks, allows to reach a balanced accuracy of 70.93%.
... Some earlier approaches of flow self-report assessment like the indirect assessment of flow through the assessment of perceived difficulty and skill alone are still being used by some researchers (e.g. Labonté-Lemoyne et al., 2016;Gaggioli et al., 2013). However, this approach has mostly fallen out of favour due to this indirect and highly reductionist flow measurement approach (Moneta, 2012). ...
... ESM studies with neurophysiological measures still face severe challenges in terms of participation acceptability (how long are people going to participate, with how many daily interruptions that are to capture flow experience variance), and measurement feasibility (application of neurophysiological measurement is severely limited in daily life, given the high occurrence of measurement artefacts). Notable examples that are attempting to overcome these limitations are recent studies on daily flow experiences that make use of wearable sensors (Gaggioli et al., 2013;Rissler et al., 2018). ...
... Furthermore, both measurement systems are not only highly developed for research purposes (the EEG for instance, has been employed in research for almost 100 years -see Buzsaki, 2006), but are also increasingly available for the utilization in field studies and daily applications. ECG sensors are readily integrated into chest belts that can be worn throughout the day (Baig, Gholamhosseini, and Connolly, 2013;Weippert et al., 2010), and have for these reasons already been used in field studies on emotion and flow experiences (Wilhelm et al., 2006;Gaggioli et al., 2013). Moreover, ECG sensors have been directly integrated into textiles to enable continuous and comfortable cardiac activity observation (Yoo et al., 2009). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
The experience of flow is a unique sensation of complete task absorption and effortless action that is highlighted as a correlate of peak performances, personal and social growth, and general well-being. For organisations, higher flow frequencies, therefore, relate to a more engaged, skilled, and productive workforce. Especially as global phenomena like increasing knowledge work demand and low worker engagement are developing, organisations could strongly benefit from fostering workers’ flow experiences. However, facilitating flow represents a substantial challenge due to the variety of workers’ abilities, tasks and workplace configurations. Knowledge workers are faced with unstructured and complex tasks, that require numerous domain-specific abilities and cooperation with others. Workplaces are diversifying with boundaries disappearing between centralized and digitally-mediated workspaces. This variety means that only person-, task- and situation-independent approaches can deliver comprehensive flow support. For this reason, research on the experiences neurophysiological basis is increasingly pursued. On this basis, adaptive Neuro-Information Systems (NeuroIS) could be developed that are able to detect flow continuously (especially through wearable sensor systems), and that can provide flow-supporting mechanisms. Presently, despite these efforts, the knowledge on how to detect flow with neurophysiological measures is sparse, highly fragmented, and lacks experimental variety. On the individual level, competing propositions exist that have not been consolidated through cross-situational, and multi-sensor observation. On the group level, almost no research has been conducted to investigate neurophysiological correlates in social interactions, particularly not in digitally-mediated interactions. This dissertation addresses these gaps through the cross-situational observation of flow using wearable ECG and EEG sensor systems. In doing so, limitations in the present state of experimental flow research are addressed that refer to central shortcomings of established paradigms for the controlled elicitation of flow experiences. Specifically, two experiments are conducted with manipulations of difficulty, naturalism, autonomy, and social interaction to investigate the question of how flow elicitation can be intensified, and the experience detected more robustly across situations. These investigations are based on an extensive integration of the theoretic and empiric literature on flow neurophysiology. Altogether, the results suggest flow to be represented by moderate physiological activation and mental workload, by increased attentional task engagement and by affective neutrality. Especially EEG features indicate a diagnostic potential to separate lower from higher flow intensities by the reflection of optimal and non-optimal (individual and group) task difficulties. To catalyse, that the positive promises of fostering flow in individuals and social units, can be realised, avenues to advance flow facilitation research are outlined.
... 301; see also Box 8.4). Gaggioli, Cipresso, Serino, and Riva (2013) replicated de Manzano's findings on increased sympathetic activation during flow, this time in daily activities. ...
... They found an activation of the sympathetic branch of the ANS, represented through increased LF/HF ratio and increased heart rate, to be associated with flow. Further research also found increased LF/HF ratio and increased heart rates in flow experienced in everyday activities and in a game under experimental conditions (Gaggioli et al., 2013;Harris et al., 2017). These findings support the view that the effortlessness during flow is a subjective experience that dissociates from the actual physiological costs, at least on the level of cardiovascular activity. ...
Chapter
In recent years, flow has been increasingly investigated from a physiological perspective and interest in such studies is growing fast. In order to contribute to this ongoing research, this chapter aims to report and integrate existing theories and findings concerning the physiology of flow experience and to stimulate further investigation. The first part of this chapter will give an overview about existing literature explicitly dealing with the psychophysiology of flow. Secondly, a theoretical psychophysiological framework is developed based on prominent stress theories. The third part discusses physiological correlates of flow, integrating existing literature on flow and related concepts such as stress, attention and cognitive control. The chapter ends with an integrative definition of flow experience, the proposition of a physiological flow pattern, practical implications and an outlook on future research perspectives.
... For instance, Peifer and colleagues identified an inverted u-shaped relationship between flow and cortisol, a stress hormone, suggesting that while optimal flow occurs at a certain level of stress, too much stress may impair flow (Peifer et al., 2015;Peifer et al., 2014). Gaggioli, Cipresso, et al. (2013) found that during flow experiences, the heart rate and heart rate variability increased, suggesting that the experience of flow is related to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response (see Jansen et al., 1995). ...
... To date, flow research involving cardiovascular measures has produced mixed results (see Knierim, Rissler, Dorner, Maedche, & Weinhardt, 2018, for an overview). Whereas some evidence points to SNS dominance during flow (Bian et al., 2016;De Manzano, Theorell, Harmat, & Ullén, 2010;Gaggioli, Cipresso, Serino, & Riva, 2013;Keller, Bless, Blomann, & Kleinböhl, 2011), other studies have identified heightened PSNS activation during flow in the form of a decreased HR (Drachen, Nacke, Yannakakis, & Pedersen, 2010) and increased HRV (Léger, Davis, Cronan, & Perret, 2014;Peifer, Schächinger, Engeser, & Antoni, 2015;Tozman, Magdas, MacDougall, & Vollmeyer, 2015). However, these studies have investigated mostly physical activities of widely divergent kind. ...
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Fiction reading is a popular leisure activity associated with a variety of pleasurable experiences, including suspense, narrative transportation, and—as indicated by recent empirical studies—also flow. In the context of fiction reading, flow—generally defined as a pleasurable state of mind experienced during an optimally stimulating activity—is specifically related to an optimal balance between text-driven challenges and the reader’s capabilities in constructing a mental story model. The experimental study reported here focused on the psychophysiological underpinnings of flow in the reading context. Cardiovascular data were collected from 84 participants both during a relaxation baseline prior to reading and during reading. Participants were randomly assigned to read one of three versions of a chapter from Homer’s Odyssey. According to statistical readability indices, these versions were low, intermediate, or high in readability, and hence in cognitive challenge. Flow was measured immediately after reading with a self-report scale that was tailored to assess reading-specific flow experiences. Regression analyses revealed that cardiovascular activation patterns measured before reading that are reflective of parasympathetic dominance—that is, an inner state associated with relaxation and cognitive fluency—moderated flow experiences during reading. In line with the stipulations of flow theory in regard to matching challenge levels being the key determinant for flow, this pattern supported subsequent flow experiences only in response to text versions of high or intermediate, but not of low cognitive challenge. Differences in cardiac vagal tone during reading were, however, not sensitive to our experimental modifications and not predictive of flow experiences.
... To further support this considered dissociation, flow states have been shown to be driven by goal-directed behaviour with high levels of cognitive control based on psychophysiological data in flow studies employing both EEG and ECG [20,[147][148][149]. The unique autonomic profile seen in multiple flow studies of parasympathetic activity modulating sympathetic activation support this notion by allowing for goal-directed behaviour that is supported by effective strategies of active coping and successful adaptation. ...
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This paper conceptualizes a comprehensive body of neurocognitive knowledge of flow states based on two primary competing neurocognitive theories underpinning flow’s purported functioning, the transient hypofrontality hypothesis and the network synchronization model. With these models in mind, a new neurocognitive model of flow is synthesized based on the similarities of these pre-existing theories and utilizing the internal models of the cerebellum to elucidate the differences and crossover in the current flow research. Ultimately, this paper works to provide a platform for researchers to use as a future reference and for hypothesis generation.
... An important, emerging area of flow research examines the physiological correlates of flow (e.g. Bian et al., 2016;de Manzano, Theorell, Harmat, & Ullén, 2010;Gaggioli, Cipresso, Serino, & Riva, 2013;Harmat et al., 2015;Keller, Bless, Blomann, & Kleinböhl, 2011;Knierim, Rissler, Hariharan, Nadj, & Weinhardt, 2018;Mauri, Cipresso, Balgera, Villamira, & Riva, 2011;Peifer, Schulz, Schächinger, Baumann, & Antoni, 2014;Tian et al., 2017;Tozman, Magdas, MacDougall, & Vollmeyer, 2015;Tozman, Zhang, & Vollmeyer, 2017). Recent findings of a link between "flow proneness" and dopamine receptor availability (de Manzano et al., 2013;Gyurkovics et al., 2016) provide compelling support for the notion that flow is an enjoyable, intrinsically-motivating state, given the link between dopamine and both pleasure and motivation. ...
Chapter
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Expert performance is commonly accompanied by a subjective state of optimal experience called flow. Previous research has shown positive correlations between flow and quality of performance and suggests that flow may function as a reward signal that promotes practice. Here, piano playing was used as a flow-inducing behavior in order to analyze the relationship between subjective flow reports and psychophysiological measures. Professional classical pianists were asked to play a musical piece and then rate state flow. The performance was repeated five times in order to induce a variation in flow, keeping other factors constant, while recording the arterial pulse pressure waveform, respiration, head movements, and activity from the corrugator supercilii and zygomaticus major facial muscles. A significant relation was found between flow and heart period, blood pressure, heart rate variability, activity of the zygomaticus major muscle, and respiratory depth. These findings are discussed in relation to current models of emotion, attention, and expertise, and flow is proposed to be a state of effortless attention, which arises through an interaction between positive affect and high attention.
Chapter
Flow—the pleasant state of absorption of a person with an activity—has rarely been investigated from a physiological perspective. However, interest in such studies is growing fast. Only recently, researchers started to apply psychophysiological measures to study flow-experiences. In order to contribute to this ongoing research, this chapter aims to report and integrate existing theories and findings concerning the physiology of flow-experience and to stimulate further investigation. The first part of this chapter will give an overview about existing literature explicitly dealing with the psychophysiology of flow. A theoretical psychophysiological framework is then developed on the basis of prominent stress theories. The third part discusses physiological correlates of flow, integrating existing literature on flow and related concepts such as attention and cognitive control. The chapter ends with an integrative definition of flow-experience, practical implications, and an outlook on future research perspectives.
Heart rate variability (HRV) has become a useful parameter for the quantification of autonomic nervous function. HRV has been quantified, either by time domain or frequency domain analysis. Time domain measures, such as CVRR and RR50, are easy to calculate but they only provide information related to parasympathetic activity. The spectral analyses, on the other hand, give us information concerning 3 oscillatory components. The high frequency band (the frequency between 0.15-0.5 Hz) is known as the respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), and the middle frequency band (0.88-0.15 Hz) is attributed to baroreflex components. The low frequency band (0.01-0.08 Hz) may be of various origins, such as blood flow rhythm, periodic respiration (including Cheyne-Stokes respiration), renin-angiotensin, and thermal regulation. The efferent nerve to the high frequency band is totally operated by the parasympathetic system. The low frequency band is regulated by both sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We demonstrated that the diurnal variation of HRV may afford additional information, such as ultradian changes of autonomic activity, possibly due to REM/NREM cycles. It is believed that simultaneous monitoring of other physiological parameters such as EEG, EOG, respiration, and blood pressures, might give us information concerning the dynamic nature of autonomic nervous function.
Psychophysiological Correlates of Flow-Experience
  • C Peifer
C. Peifer. Psychophysiological Correlates of Flow-Experience. In S. Engeser (Ed), Advances in Flow Research, Springer, New York, (2012), 139-164.