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Inverted U-Shaped Function Between Flow and Cortisol Release During Chess Play

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This study focused on the salivary cortisol level and its relation to the two components of flow (flow absorption and flow fluency) in tournament chess players exposed to one of the skill-demand-level manipulations (underload, fit, and overload). The aims of this study were to investigate how skill-demand-level manipulations affect cortisol release and how flow and cortisol release are related in the context of an engaging task. Specifically, the task involved fifty-seven tournament chess players playing chess against a software in one of the experimental groups. We assessed flow after chess playing for 25 min via questionnaire and collected saliva before chess playing (T1), right after chess playing (T2), and 10 min after T2 (T3). Our findings show that cortisol levels were affected by the skill-demand-level manipulations. At T3, participants in the overload group showed higher cortisol levels than participants in the fit and underload groups. There were no differences in cortisol release between the experimental groups at T2. In addition, we found the expected inverted U-shaped relation between cortisol release and flow absorption at T2. A moderate level of cortisol was associated with a higher level of flow absorption. In contrast, a higher level of cortisol was associated with a lower level of flow absorption. Against our expectations, flow fluency was not related to cortisol release. We discuss practical and theoretical implications of our results as well as potential for future research.
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RESEARCH PAPER
Inverted U-Shaped Function Between Flow and Cortisol
Release During Chess Play
Tahmine Tozman
1
Yichelle Y. Zhang
2
Regina Vollmeyer
1
Published online: 5 February 2016
Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016
Abstract This study focused on the salivary cortisol level and its relation to the two
components of flow (flow absorption and flow fluency) in tournament chess players
exposed to one of the skill-demand-level manipulations (underload, fit, and overload). The
aims of this study were to investigate how skill-demand-level manipulations affect cortisol
release and how flow and cortisol release are related in the context of an engaging task.
Specifically, the task involved fifty-seven tournament chess players playing chess against a
software in one of the experimental groups. We assessed flow after chess playing for
25 min via questionnaire and collected saliva before chess playing (T1), right after chess
playing (T2), and 10 min after T2 (T3). Our findings show that cortisol levels were
affected by the skill-demand-level manipulations. At T3, participants in the overload group
showed higher cortisol levels than participants in the fit and underload groups. There were
no differences in cortisol release between the experimental groups at T2. In addition, we
found the expected inverted U-shaped relation between cortisol release and flow absorption
at T2. A moderate level of cortisol was associated with a higher level of flow absorption. In
contrast, a higher level of cortisol was associated with a lower level of flow absorption.
Against our expectations, flow fluency was not related to cortisol release. We discuss
practical and theoretical implications of our results as well as potential for future research.
Keywords Flow experience Psychophysiology Cortisol Motivation Chess play
&Tahmine Tozman
t.tozman@psych.uni-frankfurt.de
1
Institute of Psychology, Goethe University Frankfurt, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 6,
60629 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
2
School of Psychology, The University of Sydney, Brennan MacCallum Building A18, Manning
Road, Sydney, Camperdown, NSW 2050, Australia
123
J Happiness Stud (2017) 18:247–268
DOI 10.1007/s10902-016-9726-0
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... As such, it has been a paragon for research on wellbeing and positive psychology of human flourishing, thriving, and optimal experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Research subjects on autotelic experience include rock climbers (MacAloon and Csikszentmihalyi, 1983;Schattke et al., 2014), dancers (Bernardi et al., 2018) and other athletes (Swann et al., 2012), chess players (Tozman et al., 2017), musicians (Chirico et al., 2015) and surgeons (Mulligan, 2016) who describe their state of complete absorption and full involvement as being "in flow" or, in more colloquial terms, as being "in the zone". ...
... The range of flow-inducing activities in humans is large, including a variety of sports (Schattke et al., 2014), chess (Tozman et al., 2017), performing surgery (Mulligan, 2016), playing music (Chirico et al., 2015) or even reading a book (Thissen et al., 2018). If we consider non-human animals with very different sensory and perceptual capacities, the variety of activities that induce flow will probably be even larger. ...
... Physiological correlates of flow have been explored in humans (de Manzano et al., 2010;Keller et al., 2011;Knierim et al., 2018;Peifer et al., 2014) and may also be fruitful in animals to identify physiological patterns indicative of flow-like states. In humans, flow seems to be associated with a moderate coactivation of both parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system (de Manzano et al., 2010;Peifer et al., 2014;Tozman et al., 2017). However, the relationship between flow and sympathetic arousal is u-shaped whereas flow and parasympathetic activity are linearly and positively correlated (de Manzano et al., 2010;Peifer et al., 2014). ...
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The concept of flow, a state of complete absorption in an intrinsically rewarding activity, has played a pivotal role in advancing notions of human well-being beyond minimising suffering towards promoting flourishing and thriving. While flow has played a fundamental role in human positive psychology, it has not yet been explored in non-human animals, leaving an enormous void in our understanding of intrinsic motivation in animals. As ethology and related fields keep progressing in uncovering complex cognitive and affective capacities of non-human animals, we propose the time is ripe to translate the concept of flow to animals. We start by embedding flow in the topic of intrinsic motivation and describe its impact on positive human psychology and potentially positive animal welfare. We then disambiguate flow from related concepts discussed in the animal literature. Next, we derive experimental approaches in animals from the canonical characteristics of flow in humans and provide guidelines for both inducing and assessing flow by focusing on two characteristics that do not necessarily depend on self-report, namely resistance to distraction and time distortion. Not all aspects of the human flow experience are (yet) translatable, but those that are may improve quality of life in non-human animals.
... En effet, évaluer l'état de flow au cours de l'activité elle-même (en direct) est une solution appropriée dans certains contextes en évitant ainsi des limites de la méthode du questionnaire (e.g., rétrospection, interruption des états de flow). À cette fin, quelques études ont évalué le flow avec des mesures physiologiques, telles qu'avec des électroencéphalogrammes (Nacke et al., 2011), avec le niveau de cortisol salivaire (Tozman et al., 2017), avec le rythme cardiaque ou encore avec des électromyogrammes (De Manzano et al., 2010). ...
... entre les scores issus de la grille d'observation et les scores issus du questionnaire, semble assez satisfaisante, particulièrement pour deux outils de nature différente (e.g., Cronbach, 1960). En comparaison, les recherches examinant la convergence entre les mesures physiologiques et les questionnaires en auto-évaluation indiquent des corrélations comprises entre 0.10 et 0.20, et jusqu'à 0.45 pour les plus élevées (voirBian et al., 2016;de Sampaio Barros et al., 2018;Kivikangas, 2006;Peifer et al., 2014;Tozman et al., 2015Tozman et al., , 2017. Ainsi, la méthode d'observation est au moins aussi efficace que les mesures physiologiques. ...
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Les données de la littérature indiquent que la stratégie de distraction (e.g. jouets, distractions audiovisuelles) est efficace dans la régulation de l’anxiété préopératoire auprès des enfants. Il paraît cependant nécessaire de s’intéresser aux processus à l’œuvre dans l’efficacité de cette technique, notamment avec l’étude de l’état de flow (état d’intense concentration et d’absorption). La problématique de ce travail de recherche est d’évaluer si l’engagement de l’enfant sur l’activité distractrice peut influencer son effet bénéfique. Dans cette thèse l’étude 1, réalisée auprès de 50 adultes vise à développer et valider une grille d’observation du flow afin de pallier le manque d’outil de mesure du flow qui soit adapté au contexte péri-opératoire et aux enfants. Puis, trois études ont été menées dans un service d’anesthésie pédiatrique auprès de 100 enfants, afin d’étudier l’effet du flow, généré par une distraction technologique (jeu vidéo ou dessin animé), sur la régulation de l’anxiété préopératoire. Dans l’ensemble, les résultats obtenus mettent en évidence que les enfants en flow sur la distraction tirent davantage de bénéfices de cette intervention que les enfants faiblement en flow. Également, le flow montre un caractère dynamique au cours de l’attente. Par ailleurs, dans une démarche exploratoire, les répercussions postopératoires de l'anxiété ont été examinées ainsi que d’autres variables qui semblent moduler la relation entre flow et anxiété (rôle du parent accompagnateur et des soignants). Cela ouvre des perspectives prometteuses dans l’amélioration clinique de cette stratégie de régulation de l’anxiété.
... At the hormonal level, this assumption is strengthened by the significant decrease in the cortisol level. A rising cortisol level is often used as an indicator for mental stress situations, as it is needed to mobilize glucose for the skeletal musculature to prepare the body for fightor-flight reactions (Tozman et al., 2017), which does not happen in this study. Similarly, in other competitive, sedentary situations, such as professional chess, no or only small increases in cortisol levels have been found (Tozman et al., 2017;Mendoza et al., 2020). ...
... A rising cortisol level is often used as an indicator for mental stress situations, as it is needed to mobilize glucose for the skeletal musculature to prepare the body for fightor-flight reactions (Tozman et al., 2017), which does not happen in this study. Similarly, in other competitive, sedentary situations, such as professional chess, no or only small increases in cortisol levels have been found (Tozman et al., 2017;Mendoza et al., 2020). Although the circadian rhythm could have contributed to this, the observed cortisol reduction was significantly more pronounced than what would typically occur during this period in the absence of external influences (Bailey and Heitkemper, 2001). ...
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... The most commonly investigated hormone thought to be related to flow states is cortisol (Tozman et al., 2017). Although cortisol is often referred to as the 'stress-hormone', cortisol plays a crucial role in helping individuals to cope with stress (Ulrick-Lai & Herman, 2009). ...
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Adventure recreation participants, such as rock-climbers, skydivers, and free-style skiers have reported that one of the most important reasons for continued participation in adventure recreation is a state of mind focused on the present moment. Most psychologists have referred to this state as flow. More recently, sport and exercise psychology researchers have proposed another optimal state called clutch. However, the majority of optimal psychological states research in adventure recreation contexts has generally made use of flow models that treat optimal psychological states as a singular state. Thus, there is a need to better understand if and how distinct optimal psychological states, such as flow and clutch, function in adventure recreation contexts. This project is an investigation of flow and clutch states with a focus on the adventure recreation context. To understand the antecedents, characteristics, and consequences of flow and clutch states, the following three studies were completed: a systematic review of flow states in adventure recreation (Study One), a mixed method study with advanced rock-climbers in outdoor and indoor settings (Study Two), and a qualitative study with a diverse group of adventure recreation participants (Study Three).
... Flow experience differs from this pattern of physiological arousal. Even though flow-associated patterns of physiological arousal have been far less examined than acute stress and relaxation, the preliminary research suggests an inverted u-shaped relationship between the flow experience and the activation of the HPA axis, and also the SNS [41,48], implying that during flow a moderate level of physiological arousal occurs. Regarding PNS activity, the associations appear to be more complex, as research has revealed another inverted u-shaped relationship with flow [49] and also generally increased activity of the PNS during flow in stress-relevant contexts [41]. ...
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... Furthermore, if the flow is a greatly motivating condition, then even comparatively beginner performers must be encouraged to continue performing precisely from the beginning to a novel English learning experience. Practical support for the idea that flow contained by online learning platforms is generated by the equilibrium of skills and challenges that come from different kinds of research that influences the extent to which an activity is deemed as challenging in an online learning platform by raising or lowering the speed at which students must engage (Keller and Bless, 2008;Keller et al., 2011;Jin, 2012;Kennedy et al., 2014;Harmat et al., 2015;Baumann et al., 2016;Tozman et al., 2017;Larche and Dixon, 2020;Wu et al., 2021). Specifically, Shernoff et al. (2014) emphasized that commitment is possibly improved after a person recognizes the task challenge and his or her abilities as a high level and stable. ...
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... In other words, flow appeared to occur during 2 increased parasympathetic modulation of sympathetic activity (Tian et al., 2017) and in an inverted 3 U-shaped arousal (Peifer et al., 2014). This optimal (moderate) level reflects an inverted U-shaped 4 relationship between challenge and flow (e.g., Tozman et al., 2017), suggesting that an individual 5 first needs to be challenged or aroused, and that flow then occurs at an optimal level, around the 6 peak of the inverted-U (when challenged but not overly so). 7 ...
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Research on psychological flow is well established, although criticisms remain regarding conceptual and measurement issues associated with the construct. This scoping review maps flow-related research across scientific disciplines, examining the conceptualization, measurement instruments, and outcomes of flow between 2012 and 2019. Across 236 sources that met the review criteria, 108 different flow-related constructs were measured by 141 instruments, and 84 possible antecedents were identified. Despite the varied approaches, a common set of overarching antecedent constructs included "optimal challenge" and "high motivation," and recurring characteristics of the flow experience itself included "absorption," "effort-less control," and "intrinsic reward." Applied studies-albeit inconsistent in approach and largely correlational in nature-predominantly linked flow to "positive development" (i.e., well-being and health), "high functioning," and "further engagement." We contextualize the findings of the review relative to important work on flow that has recently emerged (following the review period)-in doing so, we hope this review offers a contemporary framework that can be used for the study of flow across scientific disciplines. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
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