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Can Balance be Boring? A Critique of the “Challenges Should Match Skills” Hypotheses in Flow Theory
Abstract and Figures
Two separate studies investigated if the balance between challenges and skills is the best indicator of a subjective experience in general and of an optimal experience in particular. Study 1 followed a group of 64 first year sport- and outdoor students on a 3 day coastal trip and a 3 day ski trip (10 event measures) and their memory of their trip (4 remembered measures), which gave 698 single reports on subjective experiences (76%). Study 2 followed a group of 26 s year outdoor students on a 5 day glacier course (10 event measures), which gave 260 single reports (100%). Multiple regression analysis, all with challenges, skills and the interaction between challenges and skills as the independent variables gave no support to the challenge skill ratio on subjective experiences, explaining on average 9 and 14 % of a scope of positive and negative experiences in Study 1 and Study 2 respectively. In Study 1, the experience fluctuation model (EFM) explained 2 % of the variance in a variable measuring pleasure and 3 % of the variance in an interest variable. In study 2, the EFM explained 12.7 % of the variance in the pleasure variable and 10.8 % of the variance in the interest variable. Neither of our flow indicators peaked in the balance condition of challenges and skills. Rather, empirical support was given for an imbalance model of challenges and skills. The findings contest the widespread idea that flow is produced when challenges and skills are harmonized.
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