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Can Balance be Boring? A Critique of the “Challenges Should Match Skills” Hypotheses in Flow Theory

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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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... Beyond the sophistication and validity of these difficulty-skill models, it needs to be appraised, that the validity and dominance of this difficulty-skill-balance argument for flow potentiality are also heavily criticised. Some authors argue, that there are diverging empirical results that highlight that some individuals favour balance while some favour slight imbalances (Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre, 1989;Keller et al., 2011;Moneta and Csikszentmihalyi, 1996;Løvoll and Vittersø, 2014). Also, some research documents the fact that some individuals tend to experience flow more often than others, for reasons that are not yet fully known (Asakawa, 2004;Ullén et al., 2012;Moneta, 2012). ...
... Specifically, it is noted repeatedly that, the objective difficulty-skill balance could not sufficiently meet the subjective nature of flow experience, and is thus inherently limited in eliciting flow in participant equally likely (Moller, Meier, and Wall, 2010;Keller, 2016;Tozman and Peifer, 2016;Fong, Zaleski, and Leach, 2015;Engeser and Schiepe-Tiska, 2012). Instead, the role and sufficiency of difficulty-skill balance for flow facilitation could be moderated by cultural and individual preferences for slight under-or overload (Løvoll and Vittersø, 2014;Tse et al., 2016). It has for example been reported, that individuals with negative achievement motivation traits like fear of failure, show less intense flow experience responses (i.e. ...
... In line with this reasoning, self-selected difficulty approaches have been found to elicit more intense flow in SP settings (Barros et al., 2018). Such an effect might be caused by better matching of task difficulty preferences (the one-size fits all for optimal difficulty setting has been generally critiqued for the DM paradigm -see Fong, Zaleski, and Leach, 2015;Løvoll and Vittersø, 2014). From the present data, it also appears that the SP AUTO condition has elicited the most intense flow experience. ...
Thesis
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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.
... Among these, Frouchot (2019), in the tourism context, recently recalled the difference between Flow, and Optimal Experiences and Peak Experiences, in which ordinary people at ordinary times can have a fulfilling and happy experience while performing a task (e.g., working or travel). Prior studies highlighted that the Flow dimensions' weight can vary across the diverse contexts (Lee et al., 2019) and that the balance between challenges and skills is not a mandatory condition for Flow to be experienced (Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014). These findings may explain why the plethora of studies on the subject has led to diverse meanings and understandings (Frouchot, 2019). ...
... The lack of common ground in identifying the core elements of Flow can also be seen in studies in which the dimensions are not even identified (e.g., Chen, Ye, Chen, & Tung, 2010;Leung, 2020); instead, only some items are used to measure Flow. The difficult operationalization and evaluation of Flow are among the most common criticism of the concept (Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014). A thorough understanding of the Flow concept and the dynamics of its dimensions is determinant for improving the design of tourism experiences, to foster tourists' engagement and to produce positive outcomes. ...
... This review also shows that researchers are moving beyond the boundaries of Csikszentmihalyi's (1975Csikszentmihalyi's ( , 1990 phenomenological map. Firstly because finding a balance between skills and challenges is not the only way to measure Flow, considering that the imbalance between high challenges and high skills has proven to impact more on the subjective experience (Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014) and do not fully attend to the settings of tourism experiences. Secondly, other characteristics of Flow and similar concepts were found by other authors, which raise more questions about the future of the concept and the theoretical paths beyond the eight experiential channels (Apathy, Boredom, Worry, Anxiety, Relaxation, Control, Arousal, and Flow). ...
Article
The flourishing positive psychology field has Flow as a core construct. This systematic review of 185 articles examines Flow's concept, to analyse it theoretically, methodologically, empirically, and to provide an agenda for Tourism research. This paper adds to the knowledge in tourism psychology by exploring the Flow framework's core elements, incorporating its drivers, processes and outcomes, as an instrument to improve tourists' experiences. The study suggests the relevance of considering the tourist's characteristics and both the positive and negative outcomes of the Flow experience and other concepts, such as immersion or cognitive stimulation. Extant studies often use the Flow state scale as a measurement tool, but new opportunities are offered by using physiology instruments. Several propositions are put forth to foster the investigation on Flow in the tourism field, and to further the understanding of the tourists' behaviour and experience.
... Csikszentmihalyi (1990) assert that ow characterizes play, creativity and aesthetic activities. The ow theory is criticised for placing too much emphasis on the balance between skills and challenges, and too little on providing more nuanced descriptions of subjective experiences and positive functioning (Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014). In play and friluftsliv ow is often understood as a versatile, holistic, mental and bodily experience (Bentsen, Andkjaer, & Ejbye-Ernst, 2013;Fasting, 2019), where people feel at one with the environment, experience an altered sense of time and lose themselves in the play (Beames & Brown, 2016;Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014), and this is our approach to the concept. ...
... The ow theory is criticised for placing too much emphasis on the balance between skills and challenges, and too little on providing more nuanced descriptions of subjective experiences and positive functioning (Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014). In play and friluftsliv ow is often understood as a versatile, holistic, mental and bodily experience (Bentsen, Andkjaer, & Ejbye-Ernst, 2013;Fasting, 2019), where people feel at one with the environment, experience an altered sense of time and lose themselves in the play (Beames & Brown, 2016;Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014), and this is our approach to the concept. ...
Article
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This study conveys how young adults reflect upon their childhood experiences and memories of outdoor play, friluftsliv and outdoor places. Inspired by a phenomenological approach, we conducted walking interviews in nature areas where they used to play as children, revisiting the same informants and places as in a research project 14 years earlier. Today the respondents emphasise the experience of freedom encompassing joy, wonder and communication with surrounding nature and people, associating it with autonomy and self-determination. Joy, wonder and communication in someone’s experience are subjective existential categories often used to characterise friluftsliv in outdoor education. Personally meaningful to the young adults, these experiences have become important parts of who they are today. These results differ from previous research on outdoor play as it highlights freedom, joy and wonder. Based on this, we argue for facilitating self-directed outdoor play, and emphasize conscious choice of location for outdoor pedagogical work.
... Av 896 mulige rapporter kom det inn 698 rapporter (77.9%), fordelt på 474 rapporter fra situasjonsbetingede opplevelser og 224 rapporter fra minnene om turen. Flere resultater fra dette longitudinelle studiet er presentert andre steder (Løvoll, Røysamb, & Vittersø, 2017;Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014;Løvoll, Vittersø, & Wold, 2016). ...
... Priest, 1990). Imidlertid går funn i denne studien en annen retning, der det er mer informativt å se på opplevelser med høye utfordringer og opplevelser med høye evner som ulike egenskaper, men med svaert ulik struktur og betydning (Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014). Det ble ikke funnet vesentlige forskjeller mellom utvalg 1 og utvalg 2, der «evner» ble målt i utvalg 1 og «ferdigheter» ble målt i utvalg 2. Både begrepene «høye evner» og «høye ferdigheter» ser ut til å vaere typiske karakteristikker av å mestre, men kan også vaere tilstede ved opplevelser av å overvinne. ...
Chapter
Begrepet «mestring» tolkes ulikt innenfor ulike fagtradisjoner. I praktisk pedagogisk arbeid med friluftsliv er vår begrepsforståelse avgjørende for hvordan vi velger å legge til rette for gode opplevelser. «Mestring» kan i norsk dagligtale forstås både som sosial mestring, slik som å takle en sosial situasjon, men også som dyktighet innenfor en aktivitet, som for eksempel kajakkpadling. Begrepet peker dermed både på det sosiale aspektet og på ferdighet innenfor spesifikke aktiviteter. For å forstå mer av de indre prosesser om gode opplevelser, er målet med denne artikkelen å undersøke kvalitative dimensjoner ved selvrapportert mestring i friluftsliv, sett i lys av to ulike tradisjoner: sosialt orienterte mestringsteorier og ekspertiseorienterte mestringsteorier. Begge typer av opplevelser knyttes til positive følelser, men ulike positive følelser kan ha ulike funksjoner innenfor disse opplevelsene: Eudaimoniske følelser knyttes til læring, motivasjon og personlig vekst, mens hedoniske følelser knyttes til tilfredshet, harmoni og trygghet (Vittersø, 2016). Dimensjoner i de ulike tolkningsretningene blir belyst med beskrivelser av hva som er et godt læringsklima, støttet av selvbestemmelsesteori (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2017).
... when there is high challenge and low skill, anxiety is the outcome; when there is low challenge and high skill, boredom results and when there is low challenge and skill, there is apathy (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975). Recent research studies have however questioned the nuancing of challenge-skill balance, suggesting that a measure of 'imbalance' of more challenge than skill may better facilitate flow, at least in certain situations or for persons of certain dispositions (Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014;Moneta, 2004). ...
Conference Paper
First articulated by American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975, flow theory describes a state of deep involvement in an activity which is valued by the person doing it for its own sake and has an element of challenge. With its strong association with intrinsic motivation and enjoyment, flow can potentially play an important role in the Singapore education system as it embarks on the ‘learn for life’ phase to encourage and cultivate a mentality of lifelong learning in students. Flow is particularly relevant in music education as research had shown that music, being an inherently enjoyable activity, has an affinity with flow. This study therefore sought to examine and understand the flow experiences of Singaporean primary and secondary school students in the context of their school music classroom. The main objectives of the study were twofold: firstly, to determine if Singaporean students experienced flow during their school music classes, and if so, what the nature of their flow experiences were. In addition, the study sought to explore if the flow experiences of students with and without additional music training differed, and if so, how. The findings could then potentially inform practices and strategies to engender flow in the music classroom to realise the synergies between flow and music to improve students’ dispositions towards music learning. The sample was made up of 310 primary five (year 5) students from three primary schools and 100 secondary one (year 7) students from three secondary schools. A mixed method approach was adopted for the study to build a multi-faceted perspective of the students’ flow experiences by triangulating data from different sources. This involved the collection of quantitative data using a questionnaire and qualitative data through focus groups and video observations. The findings showed that the nine dimensions of flow could be mapped to the students’ experiences, indicating that they enjoyed flow-like experiences. Strongly characterised by enjoyment, the students’ experiences were generally positive, although the apparent prominence of some flow dimensions over others appeared to lend credence to the view that there were different nuances of flow and these impacted how students experienced flow. In particular, the relative weakness of challenge-skill balance in the students’ experiences could have resulted in their adopting a ‘relaxed’ attitude towards musical learning, which would not be conducive to cultivating a mindset of lifelong learning in students. The implication was that stronger elements of challenge needed to be planned in the classroom activities in order to bring about students’ musical growth through their enjoyment of the process of continually overcoming musical challenges to develop their intrinsic motivation to want to learn music. There was also a need to enable greater student autonomy and ownership in the music learning process to better facilitate flow.
... Fourth, challenging physical activities can produce a pleasant state known as "flow". The sense of "flow" may occur when the challenge match or slightly exceed our level of skill [47,48] i.e., when we are just barely in control. Feelings of control reduce the perceived risk [37,38]. ...
Article
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We examined the effect of emotions, associated with "powder fever", on decision-making in avalanche terrain. Background: Skiing in avalanche terrain is a voluntary activity that exposes the participant to potentially fatal risk. Impaired decision-making in this context can therefore have devastating results, often with limited prior corrective feedback and learning opportunities. Previous research has suggested that arousal caused by emotions affects risk assessment and intentions to engage in risky behavior. We propose that powder fever may induce similar responses. Methods: We used the following two experimental methods: laboratory studies with visual visceral stimuli (ski movies) and a field study with real stimuli (skiing exciting terrain). We evaluated the effect of emotions on attention, risk assessment, and willingness to expose oneself and others to risk. Results: Both the laboratory studies and the field study showed that skiing-related stimuli had a relatively strong effect on reported emotions. However, we found very few significant effects on decision-making or assessment of risk. Conclusions: Skiing activities make people happier. However, despite the clear parallels to sexual arousal, powder fever does not appear to significantly impair decision-making in our study. More research on the effects of powder fewer on milder forms of risk-taking behavior is needed.
... Although optimal experiences of fluid interaction may occasionally appear in video games, this is probably not sufficient to explain their multifaceted appeal for players. Also, recent research is challenging the classic skill-challenge equilibrium hypothesis, in that challenges which are always at the same level of skills may generate boredom instead of engagement, especially in the long term (Baumann, Lürig, & Engeser, 2016;Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014); this is very common in video games, in that challenges tend to be constantly varying instead of fixed. ...
Chapter
A promising field of application to analyze and better comprehend the impact of the flow concept is Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), in that the analysis and the design of computer interfaces pose notable challenges to its application. For example, in which cases the experience of flow should be promoted in the users, and in which other cases it should be avoided; or, whether and how an overall user engagement can be related to challenges/skills balance or imbalance. The first section of the present contribution provides a critical overview of the integration of flow in HCI, along with its relationship with other important constructs in the field such as presence/immersion, embodiment, breakdown and readiness-to-hand. In the subsequent sections, this contribution explores the role of flow in the interaction with specific technologies, namely video games, that constitute the most interesting example of complex interactive interfaces where a certain balance (or imbalance) between challenges and skills should be explicitly designed; virtual reality (VR) as the more immersive digital technology, which recently gained renovated importance because having become a commercial product thanks to the emergence of innovative devices on the global market; and other contexts, with a specific focus on the role of flow in the use of new technologies to promote health and well-being (Positive Technology). The last section will identify important guidelines for future research on the topic of flow and HCI, introducing the more inclusive and updated concept of Human Computer Confluence (HCC) and selected new lines of research on the transformative potential of digital technologies.
... An alternative to the classic model of flow is what can be described as a quadrant model of flow (see Fig. 1,panel B). 1 In this model, flow is experienced only when players feel that they have reached a high level of skill (offset by a high level of challenge). The quadrant model posits that the balance between challenge and skill does not always lead to optimal flow (Abuhamdeh & Csikszentmihalyi, 2012;Jin, 2012;Løvoll & Vittersø, 2014;Moneta & Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). For players who feel they have minimal skill and are playing what they feel is a minimally challenging game, apathy rather than flow should ensue. ...
Article
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Background and aims Interest surrounding the relationship between flow and problematic gameplay has surged. An important antecedent of flow in the context of video-gaming is the skill-challenge balance, but researchers have only manipulated this balance by changing speed of play. The current research seeks to examine the skill-challenge balance and flow in a mobile game in which challenge is increased via the complexity of puzzles. We predicted games like Candy-Crush would more strongly support a model of flow in which the greatest flow would be experienced by more skilled players and that high flow games would induce the most urge to continue play. Methods We had 60 Candy-Crush players play games near their level standing (maximal skill-challenge balance), or games that were too easy or too hard. Perceived skill, challenge, flow, and urge to continue gameplay were measured after each game. Results Players felt the highest degree of skill-challenge balance when playing games around their level standing. Easy games produced the least flow, while both regular and hard games produced comparable flow despite hard games being far more challenging and frustrating. The findings support models of flow positing those with highest perceived skill will experience greater flow. Finally, flow and arousal combine to increase urge to keep playing. Discussion and conclusions Our findings suggest those with high perceived skill will experience deep, immersive flow which motivates players to keep playing.
... This non-significant finding does not provide compelling evidence for the skill-challenge balance hypothesis and may have been a result of a lack of statistical power (Makin & Orban de Xivry, 2019). In the guided adventure recreation context, Løvoll and Vittersø (2014) similarly found that a balance between skill and challenge did not correlate with indicators of flow. Nevertheless, Fong, Zaleski, and Leach (2015) have provided compelling evidence, in the form of a metaanalysis, for the importance of the skill-challenge balance in a variety of contexts (e.g., work, leisure) and found a moderate relationship between flow and a skill-challenge balance. ...
Article
Objectives: Flow states may explain motivation for continued participation in adventure recreation (e.g., skydiving, kayaking). This review aimed to identify what is known about of flow states that occur during adventure recreation. Design Systematic review following PRISMA guidelines. Method: A systematic search of 10 databases (e.g., SPORTdiscus, PsychINFO) yielded 93 potentially relevant articles out of 9468 screened titles and abstracts. A thematic synthesis approach was used to appraise and synthesise 20 empirical articles, which fulfilled a priori eligibility criteria. Results: The findings from this review are based on insights gathered from 1179 adventure recreation participants. Participants were rock-climbers, surfers, mountaineers, kayakers, skydivers, ski jumpers, and adventure racers. The synthesis resulted in four analytical themes: antecedents and inhibitors of flow, characteristics of flow, consequences of flow, and conceptual differences. Adventure recreation may provide opportunities to experience flow in a unique context. For example, this review found that flow experiences can be influenced through immersion in nature and a desire to control and reduce risk. Conclusions: A central finding of this review of research that spanned from 1975 to 2019 is that flow, in the context of adventure recreation, is currently more descriptive than explanatory. Furthermore, evidence for flow in adventure recreation relies extensively on correlational and qualitative designs. Recommendations for future research include making use of quasi-experimental designs and emerging technologies for measuring psychophysiological indicators of flow. Keywords: Adventure; Extreme sport; Csikszentmihalyi; Optimal state; In the zone; Clutch
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Three studies involving 3 participant samples (Ns = 39, 55, and 53) tested the hypothesis that people retrieve episodic emotion knowledge when reporting on their emotions over short (e.g., last few hours) time frames, but that they retrieve semantic emotion knowledge when reporting on their emotions over long (e.g., last few months) time frames. Support for 2 distinct judgment strategies was based on judgment latencies (Studies 1 and 2) and priming paradigms (Studies 2 and 3). The authors suggest that self-reports of emotion over short versus long time frames assess qualitatively different sources of self-knowledge.
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Researchers have identified potential problems with the traditional measurement of challenge and skill on the self-report forms used in the experience sampling method (ESM) (Ellis, Voelkl, & Morris, 1994; Moneta & Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). The purpose of this study was to compare the effectiveness of two different approaches to measurement of challenge and skill. One approach was based on the traditional measurement of challenge and skill in relation to the activity in which participants were engaged and the second approach was based on measurement of challenge and skill in relation to participants' focus of attention. Thirty six undergraduate students were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: (a) measurement of challenge and skill in relation to activity or (b) measurement of challenge and skill in relation to what they were thinking about. In the first condition (i.e., challenge and skill in relation to activity), the contribution of the challenge-skill relationship was found to be significant in predicting level of affect and self-affirmation. In the second condition, (i.e., challenge and skill in relation to attention), the contribution of the challenge-skill relationship was not found to be significant in predicting level of affect or self-affirmation.
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This chapter focuses on the use of effortless attention in performing daily activities and tasks. It details a study developed by The University of Chicago and Claremont Graduate University, and named the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) to collect data from subjects of the study investigating the use of effortless attention in daily life. The findings are based on an ESM study of subjects consisting of middle and high school students from around the United States and the Sloan Study of Youth and Social Development. The Sloan study focuses on investigating both effortful and effortless attention experiences of the subjects. A large number of students reveal how effortless attention has helped them to focus better on several tasks without much effort.
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This chapter describes flow, the experience of complete absorption in the present moment, and the experiential approach to positive psychology that it represents. We summarize the model of optimal experience and development that is associated with the concept of flow, and describe several ways of measuring flow, giving particular attention to the experience sampling method. We review some of the recent research concerning the outcomes and dynamics of flow, its conditions at school and work, and interventions that have been employed to foster flow. Finally, we identify some of the promising directions for flow research moving into the future.