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Peak Performance, the Runner’s High and Flow

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Aim of this chapter is to summarize the research about the relationship between that what is known as the “Runner`s High,” “Flow-Experiences” and physical performance with a focus on running. Research about flow-states in sport has a long-standing tradition since Csikszentmihalyi (1975) first published this approach, especially in relation to endurance sports. Most of these studies attempted to establish empirical evidence either for preconditions of flow-experiences (e.g. the demand-skill-fit) or the relationship between flow-experiences and performance This chapter will describe early research in the context of the “Runner`s High” and “Flow-Experiences, starting with first studies in the late 1970’s consisting of self-report data, EEG-study approaches, neurotransmitter-studies, then the development of the “Flow-Theory” by Csikszentmihalyi reflecting currently existing and different approaches with neuro-endocrine,, and finally, the neuro-cognitive background. The chapter also will provide further information about previous work in the cognitive neurosciences that might also account for the phenomenon of flow-experiences, especially the Transient Hypofrontality Theory (THT) with regard to running. Finally, a brief review in the applied field will be given.
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Chapter 2 3
Peak Performance,
the runner’s high,
and flow
Oliver Stoll
This chapter summarizes the research about the rela-
tionships among the runner’s high, flow experiences,
and physical performance (i.e., running). Research
about flow states in sport, especially in endurance
sports, has a longstanding tradition dating back to
when Csikszentmihalyi (1975) first published his find-
ings on the phenomenon. Most research studies have
attempted to establish empirical evidence for precon-
ditions of flow experiences (e.g., the demand–skill fit)
or for the relationship between flow experiences and
performance. This chapter first describes early research
on the runner’s high and flow experiences, including
initial studies in the late 1970s consisting of self-report
data, electroencephalographic (EEG) approaches, and
neurotransmitter investigations. Next, I discuss various
models of the runner’s high and flow, as well as the
development of Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory, which
reflects existing neuroendocrine approaches. Finally,
I describe the neurocognitive background of flow and
the runner’s high. I also provide information about
work in the cognitive neurosciences that may account
for the phenomenon of flow experiences, including the
transient hypofrontality theory with regard to running.
Finally, I give a brief review of the practical applications
of this knowledge.
EARLY RESEARCH
According to Dietrich (2007), who extensively
examined the phenomenon of flow experiences in
running, many experienced runners can identify
with the following example:
It’s a beautiful Sunday morning and you
are running along your favourite patch of
asphalt. The day calls for a one hour run
and right around the 30-minute mark
you settle into a comfortable rhythm.
You feel remarkably relaxed, the little
nagging aches in your knees seem to
have evaporated, and you are overcome
by a pleasant feeling of happiness. As
you keep plugging along, you forget the
fact that you are running altogether and
experience a pervasive sensation of peace
and inner strength. Life’s little worries
appear to you as just what they are, little,
and before you know it, you pass the one
hour mark and feel invincible, perhaps
even ecstatic. (p. 275)
Sachs (1984) demonstrated a variety of reports
about what runners call the runner’s high (e.g., lift
in the legs, mental awareness, physical excellence,
ability to suppress pain or discomfort, euphoria,
laughing and crying at the same time, feeling free
and natural in the surroundings or being at peace
in the world). Based on this information, Sachs con-
structed a preliminary definition of the runner’s high
as “a euphoric sensation experienced during running,
usually unexpected, in which the runner feels a
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0000124-023
APA Handbook of Sport and Exercise Psychology: Vol. 2. Exercise Psychology, M. H. Anshel (Editor-in-Chief)
Copyright © 2019 by the American Psychological Association. All rights reserved.
1ST PAGES
Oliver Stoll
2
heightened sense of well-being, enhanced apprecia-
tion of nature, and transcendence of barriers of time
and space” (p. 274).
Several studies have examined the percentage
of runners experiencing this high. Lilliefors (1978)
studied a selected group of runners and found that
78% reported experiencing a sense of euphoria
during their runs. Furthermore, 49% said that the
euphoria was sometimes spiritual in nature. Sachs
(1980) found that 77% of the 60 runners interviewed
had experienced the high. Others, however, report
very low percentages of runners having this experi-
ence. For example, following a presentation to a
group of 40 runners about the psychological aspects
of running, Sachs (1978) inquired about their expe-
riences related to the runner’s high and found that
only 10% had experienced the phenomenon. (These
large differences are addressed later in the Research
Methodology section of this chapter.)
In reality, not very many runners actually have
these experiences. Indeed, basic problems in the
research methodology and in constructing a suit-
able definition still exist. The literature on the run-
ner’s high uses at least 27 different adjectives and
phrases to describe this special state of conscious-
ness (Sachs, 1984). These terms include euphoria,
strength, speed, power, gracefulness, spirituality,
sudden realization of one’s potential, glimpsing
perfection, moving without effort, and spinning out
(Sachs, 1980). Additionally, research evidence on
the runner’s high is virtually nonexistent, primarily
owing to the difficulty of studying a phenomenon
that supposedly occurs unexpectedly “in the field.”
Nevertheless, there is at least one laboratory study
that shows that a type of flow state can be induced
by regulation of an individual workload on a tread-
mill (see Reinhardt, Lau, Hottenrott, & Stoll, 2006).
Wagemaker and Goldstein (1980) were the first
to conduct a scientific study of the runner’s high,
using EEG readings before and after running sessions.
Before running, the EEG readings of participants were
similar to those of people who were fatigued. Running,
however, reversed the fatigue. After running, the
EEG patterns indicated normal waxing and waning
of activity between the right and the left hemisphere.
Study participants also stated that they could think
more clearly after running and that their fatigue
disappeared. They felt better, were more rested,
and could concentrate and study more effectively.
Wagemaker and Goldstein suggested that the runner’s
high develops after 25 to 35 minutes of running.
Nevertheless, the true existence of the runner’s
high remains highly debated. The early studies in this
field showed inconsistent findings. As discussed earlier,
Sachs (1980) found reports of runners who experi-
enced positive mood elevations. However, Levine,
Gordon, Jones, and Fields (1978) and Levin (1982)
suggested that the runner’s high does not exist. For
example, Levin reported anecdotal observations that
those who expect to experience a runner’s high will
be disappointed. Furthermore, he stated that begin-
ning runners may find running tough, tedious, tiring,
and often painful. If there is a high, the author con-
tinued, it is because this difficult run is over and the
next one does not have to be contemplated yet.
Next, I present the various theories and models
about the development of a possible runner’s high.
I not only include existing empirical evidence for
the phenomenon but also discuss areas wherein the
evidence is lacking.
THEORIES AND MODELS
Brain Dominance
An early explanation of the runner’s high phenom-
enon was the model of brain dominance first hypo-
thesized by Sachs (1984). The model identified
differences in brain laterality (i.e., right- vs. left-brain
dominance) among runners. Sachs speculated that
running may induce a meditation state in which the
left side of the brain “turns off,” permitting the right
brain to take over. Indeed, Glaser (1976) suggested
that the state of the mind during a run might be
termed right-brain consciousness. Black (1979) also
has suggested that running increases right-brain domi-
nance. Ornstein and Galin (1976) further suggested
that when tasks require the use of one hemisphere,
there is an increase in the level of alpha waves in the
other hemisphere. Clearly, the runner’s high as
described here is characteristic of right-brain function.
Numerous researchers have identified functional
differences between the cerebral hemispheres
(e.g., Bever, 1975; Bogen, 1969; Gazzaniga, 1970;
Ornstein, 1972). The left hemisphere is characterized
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Peak Performance, the Runner’s High, and Flow
3
by activities that are verbal, analytic, abstract,
rational, and objective. The right hemisphere’s
activities are depicted as preverbal, holistic, sym-
bolic, spatial, and subjective. Although selected
researchers (e.g., Glaser, 1976; Black, 1979) are
careful to note that their speculations are tentative,
their descriptions of the runner’s high suggest that
right-brain dominant individuals are more likely to
experience the high than are left-brain dominant
individuals. Because it is clear that many runners
do not experience the runner’s high, it may be the
case that those with left-brain dominance have
difficulty shifting to the right brain, as suggested
by Ornstein (1972).
Endorphins and Endocannabinoids
The endorphin hypothesis (Stoll & Stoll, 1996) is
among the older explanation models for the causes
of a runner’s high and is probably the most popu-
lar one. Endocannabinoid theory, first presented by
Sparling, Giuffrida, Piomelli, Rosskopf and Dietrich
(2003), followed the endorphin approach in its basic
assumptions. In the late 1970s, a psychophysiological
explanation model for the runner’s high first appeared
in the academic literature. Several articles published
since then have summarized research into the brain’s
own opiates (Durden-Smith, 1978; Snyder, 1977;
Villet, 1978). Naturally occurring opiate-like peptides
known as endorphins have been discovered (Howley,
1976; Hughes, 1975; Snyder, 1977). Glaser (1978,
p. 2) suggested that endorphins might be the “miss-
ing link” in Sachs’s (1984) research for the “addictive
factor” in “positive addiction.”
Early research on endorphins attempted to find
evidence of chemical compounds secreted within the
body by examining individual differences in exercis-
ing at different levels of intensity and time periods.
One group of compounds examined during this time
were catecholamines, which are transmitter sub-
stances, such as epinephrine (adrenaline). Epineph-
rine is released into the bloodstream when the body
becomes prepared physiologically for the fight-or-
flight response. When this response occurs, the blood
vessels in the skin contract; the blood flow to certain
internal organs is diverted to the heart, arm muscles,
and leg muscles; extra sugar is released from the liver;
and heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration all
increase (Cronan & Howley, 1974; Howley, 1976). To
explain evidence of the runner’s high, it was hypoth-
esized that the bodies of habitual exercisers develop
a lower threshold level for epinephrine release com-
pared with nonrunners. However, researchers did not
always find that catecholamines increased with physi-
cal exercise, so a search for the causes of the “second
wind” phenomenon was undertaken.
In the early 1970s, the discovery of opiate recep-
tors in the brain of mammals gave new direction to
this research area (Hughes, 1975; Pert & Snyder,
1973). The results of these early studies indicated
that the receptors were parts of cells where certain
compounds, such as opiates, could bind, thus pro-
ducing their effect. Because it was unlikely that
the opiate receptors existed for compounds made
from the opium poppy, a search began for naturally
occurring opiates (see Goldstein, 1976). Research-
ers found that there was a pain-reducing chemical
within the brain. This chemical was termed endor-
phin, which means a natural or body-made analgesic
or pain reducer (Farrell, 1985). Endorphins are pro-
duced in the brain and by the pituitary and adrenal
glands. Chemically, endorphins are similar to opi-
ates, although they are many times more powerful
than opium. The release of endorphins also causes
the release of other chemicals, such as cortisone.
Cortisone helps the body utilize sugar for energy.
There are several types of endorphins within the
brain and pituitary gland. All of these endogenous
opiates produce the same effects as exogenous opiates
(Hughes, 1975; Pargman & Baker, 1980). The type
most generally associated with the runner’s high is
beta-endorphin.
Chemically, beta-endorphins consist of a sequence
of 30 amino acids. A 5–amino acid sequence called
enkephalin often is found with beta-endorphins
(Pargman & Baker, 1980). Enkephalin is an opiate
peptide, 20 to 50 times more powerful than exogenous
opiates. It is believed that beta-endorphins help
reduce the pain that runners experience and thus are
responsible for producing the runner’s high (Berk,
Tan, Anderson, & Reiss, 1981; Droste, Greenlee,
Schreck, & Roskamm, 1991). It also is speculated that
beta-endorphins are responsible for addiction to run-
ning. The reasoning is that addiction occurs because
running results in a steep climb in beta-endorphins
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Oliver Stoll
4
that satisfies runners. When the beta-endorphin
effects start to wear off and the runner experi-
ences withdrawal symptoms, he or she must
“shoot up” again.
The discovery of opiate receptors and endor-
phins has led to new areas of research. For example,
Hosobuchi, Adams, and Linchitz (1977) noticed
that electrical stimulation of the brain produces
pain relief. This in turn led researchers to hypoth-
esize that electrical stimulation caused the release
of endorphins, which bound to the opiate recep-
tors and reduced pain. To test this hypothesis, six
individuals, mostly cancer patients experiencing
pain that could not be relieved with narcotic drugs,
had electrodes surgically implanted in their brains
through which an electrical current could be passed.
Five of the six individuals reported that this provided
complete pain relief. To ascertain whether the pain
reduction was caused by endogenous opiates, such
as endorphins, an opiate antagonist (naloxone)
that would nullify the effects of the opiate was
administered. If an endogenous opiate (endorphin)
was causing the reduction in pain, then the naloxone
would eliminate the effects of the endorphin and
cause the pain to return. Results indicated that upon
administration of naloxone, all but one of the indi-
viduals reported the return of pain. (The participant
who did not report the return of pain may have had
an insufficient dosage.) Hosobucci, Adams, and
Linchitz (1977) concluded that there is a neural
system within the brain that uses endogenous opiates
to provide pain relief. The researchers then wanted
to ascertain the extent of pain relief. When they
elicited acute pain with needle pricks and tempera-
ture (heat/cold), all individuals reported normal
pain sensation. In other words, the endorphins
relieved chronic pain but not acute pain.
Levine, Gordon, Jones, and Fields (1978) found
similar results. They sought to demonstrate whether
the brain released endogenous pain-reducing com-
pounds, and if so, whether that pain-reducing com-
pound was an endorphin. In this study, 26 individuals
who had surgery to remove impacted wisdom teeth
were examined. Specifically, the investigators sought
to determine whether the pain-producing situation of
dental surgery would result in the body’s production
of a pain-reducing compound. If so, investigators
further sought to determine if the compound was
an opiate. The results demonstrated that pain is an
important activation mechanism for the release of
pain-reducing compounds. It also was found that
the injection of naloxone reversed the analgesic
effects, indicating the chemical reducing the pain
was opiate in origin.
Researchers then asked whether there was another
condition under which endorphins might be released.
Fraioli et al. (1980) suggested that the important vari-
able for endorphin release was stress. To investigate
this question, the researchers studied the effect of a
physically stressful activity—specifically, treadmill
running—on the release of endorphins. The results
showed that exercise significantly increased release
of endorphins as well as their analgesic effect.
Several studies also were conducted to examine
the specific role of endorphins as a pain reducer. For
example, Glaser (1978) conducted research on the
effect of blocking the action of endorphins through
chemical means (the drug naloxone) on subjec-
tive evaluations of running. No positive relation
was obtained between taking naloxone and reduced
pleasure while running. Glaser suggested that not
enough naloxone had been given to adequately
block the effects of the endorphins. Mandell (1981)
also considered possible relations between neuro-
transmitters and the runner’s high in his discussion
of the phenomenon he termed the second wind.
Riggs (1981) further provided an excellent review of
endorphins, neurotransmitters, and neuromodula-
tors and their relation to exercise.
In another study, Pargman and Baker (1980)
surmised that enkephalin may play a significant
role in the runner’s high. Additional work was
done by Appenzeller (1980), who found tremen-
dous increases in serum beta-endorphin levels in
runners after a 45.9 km race, with levels reaching
approximately 200% of prerace figures. Although
beta-endorphin levels for runners ages 40 years
and older were lower than levels for those ages
39 years and younger, increases for both groups
from prerace to postrace were statistically sig-
nificant and proportionally similar. These results
were confirmed by Stoll and Wagner (1994), who
identified significant beta-endorphin increases in
a sample of 11 runners from prerun to postrun
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Peak Performance, the Runner’s High, and Flow
5
in an 80 km race. They reported no simultaneous
increases in well-being, however.
In 1981, two studies of runners found that run-
ning elevates beta-endorphin levels. Results of the
first study, by Gambert, Garthwaite, Pontzer, and
Hagen (1981), showed that 20 minutes of running
produced a significant increase in beta-endorphin
levels. In the second study, Carr, et al. (1981) dis-
covered that men had a greater increase in levels
than did women. Yet, an editorial that appeared in
response to the Carr et al. study revealed that there
was still no firm evidence that beta-endorphins
caused the runner’s high (Appenzeller, Standefer,
Appenzeller, & Atkinson, 1980).
Research from Markoff, Ryan, and Young (1982)
further supported the idea that endorphins were
not responsible for the runner’s high. In their study,
runners completed the Profile of Mood States before
running 20 miles. After running, participants were
asked to complete the questionnaire again. The run-
ners then were either injected with naloxone or
sterile water and asked to complete the question-
naire a third time. Thus, there were three testing
periods: prerun, postrun, and after postrun injection.
The postrun scores showed a significant reduction
in anger/hostility and depression/dejection. Had the
postrun change been produced by endorphins, nalox-
one would have reversed the results. However, testing
after postrun injection did not produce any differ-
ences in the scores. The authors concluded that given
the failure of naloxone to change mood, any changes
in mood after running are not endorphin related.
Another study (Gracely & Wolskee, 1983) indi-
cated that while endorphins may not be causing
the runner’s high, two systems—an opiate and a
nonopiate—nonetheless may be at work to relieve
pain. The researchers were aware of the placebo
effect of pain reduction and wanted to determine if
pain is reduced because it is a stressor that causes a
release of opiates. They chose to study dental patients
who had wisdom teeth removed. Two hours after sur-
gery, when pain should be severe, half the patients
were given no treatment and half were given naloxone.
Each of these groups was then further subdivided,
with half of those who had received nothing given
a placebo and half given no treatment. Both of the
placebo groups experienced pain relief. Thus, the
placebo produced pain reduction, even in the
naloxone group, in which the pain relief should
have been blocked. This study demonstrated that
pain relief was occurring because of a compound
other than an opiate.
McMurray, Sheps, and Guinan (1984) confirmed
that beta-endorphins play no role in the runner’s
high. Six women participated in their experiment,
walking on a treadmill until exhaustion. At selected
times during the test, the women were asked to rate
their level of exertion on a 15-point Likert scale. All
women completed the treadmill test twice. During
one test, the women were injected with a saline
solution. During the other test, they were injected
with naloxone. Additionally, several physiological
measurements were made throughout the testing.
The researchers hypothesized that if beta-endorphins
alleviate pain, the women injected with the saline
solution would be able to exercise longer and with
less perceived exertion than they would when
injected with naloxone, which ostensibly would
block the effect of beta-endorphins. There were no
differences in results between those injected with a
saline solution and those injected with naloxone in
terms of time to exhaustion, perceived exertion,
and physiological measurements.
Does intense physical activity increase serum
beta-endorphin levels? According to the results
of a study by Appenzeller et al. (1980), it does. In
their study, runners showed tremendous increases
in serum beta-endorphin levels after a 45.9 kilometer
race, reaching approximately 200% of prerace fig-
ures. Although beta-endorphin levels for runners
ages 40 years and older were lower than levels for
those ages 39 years and younger, increases for both
groups from prerace to postrace were statistically
significant and proportionally similar. Appenzeller
et al. (1980) noted the following: “Endurance run-
ning produces a marked increase in β-endorphin.
Whether this increase persists after physical activity
and is responsible for the runner’s high, the behav-
ioural alterations of endurance-trained individuals,
improved libido, heightened pain threshold, absence
of depression, and other anecdotal effects of endur-
ance training remains conjectural” (p. 419). This
issue is discussed further in this chapter in the
section of Research Methodology.
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Oliver Stoll
6
One area of recent research that provides a
new and perhaps more promising area of study
focuses on endocannabinoids. Activation of the
endocannabinoid system causes intense subjective
experiences—analgesia, relaxation, and reduced
anxiety. Endurance athletes have reported feelings
of silent introspection, general well-being, and the
sense that time stands still. Given these remarkable
similarities, it was only a matter of time before scien-
tists wondered whether the endocannabinoid system
is activated during exercise. A study conducted by
Sparling, Giuffrida, Piomelli, Rosskopf, and Dietrich
(2003) found the first evidence for such activation.
Trained male college students ran on a treadmill or
cycled on a stationary bike for 50 minutes at 70% to
80% of maximum heart rate. Sparling et al. (2003)
reported evidence that exercise of moderate inten-
sity activates the endocannabinoid system, suggest-
ing a new mechanism for exercise-induced analgesia
and possibly other physiological and psychological
adaptations to exercise. Sparling et al.’s study led to
the speculation that the exerciser’s high might be a
cannabinoid high. One should be cautious, how-
ever, when describing exercise-induced changes
in psychological function as being a direct con-
sequence of alterations in a single bodily system.
According to Sparling et al., it is more likely that
an activity such as motion involves changes in
different neurotransmitter systems.
The specific role of endorphins and endocannabi-
noids in the development of the runner’s high remains
unclear. It is apparent, however, that (intensive)
running over a period of at least 20 minutes usually
leads to a release of endogenous opioid peptides (e.g.,
endorphins, endocannabinoids). These peptides are
mainly known to function as pain reducers, not as
chemicals that induce an altered state of conscious-
ness. Despite these findings, research in this area
regrettably continues to have several methodological
shortcomings, which are reviewed later in this chapter
(see Research Methodology section).
Cognitive Approach
Runner’s high increasingly has become a unidimen-
sional concept linked to endorphins or endocanna-
binoids. In my opinion, endocannabinoid theory
should not substitute one neurotransmitter for
another and perpetuate the simple reductionist idea of
a single neurochemical being responsible for a variety
of complex psychological processes. A more cognitive
approach is needed instead, one that connects the run-
ner’s high to a positive state of mind that in turn leads
to positive emotions (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975). In his
flow theory, Csikszentmihalyi (1975) described the
situational and psychological antecedents of these
positive emotional states, such as fun, enjoyment,
and happiness in sports. Flow is arguably the most
commonly known concept in the field of positive
psychology, and it arose from Csikszentmihalyi’s
studies on intrinsically rewarding activities.
Originally, Csikszentmihalyi (1975) studied activi-
ties such as rock climbing, playing chess, composing
music, modern dancing, playing basketball, and con-
ducting surgery. Csikszentmihalyi sought to deter-
mine why people pursue these activities even though
they offer little, if any, extrinsic rewards. He claimed
that if we better understood what makes people put
a lot of effort into something that is seemingly lack-
ing an extrinsic reward, it may help individuals to
be less dependent on extrinsic rewards. Based on the
interviews from Csikszentmihalyi’s qualitative pilot
study in 1975, the term flow accurately described the
phenomenon identified. Flow research began with the
study of activities that often occurred in achievement-
oriented situations. Most contemporary flow research
still focuses on achievement in the areas of sports,
academia, and work, wherein the balance of challenge
and skill is important for fostering flow. However, the
actual components of flow experiences remain debat-
able, and even today the precise definition of flow
continues to be elusive. Nonetheless, there are certain
core components generally accepted as accompanying
flow: (a) merging of action and awareness, (b) center-
ing of attention, (c) loss of self-consciousness, (d) feel-
ings of control, (e) distortion of temporal experience,
and (f) an autotelic nature to the experience.
In summary, flow is the feeling that one is in
control of the action, that there is a clear-cut
goal but at the same time a merging of action and
self-awareness, and that the experience is highly
enjoyable (Jackson, 2000). Flow emphasizes the
interaction between a person’s physical and men-
tal resources and environmental demands. It is an
optimal multidimensional state in which complete
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Peak Performance, the Runner’s High, and Flow
7
absorption in the task at hand leads to many experi-
ential qualities (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975). Flow states
are most likely when there is an even match between
a person’s skills in a particular sport and the environ-
mental demands for performing those skills. Accord-
ing to Csikszentmihalyi (1990), a high level of skill
proficiency combined with demanding environmen-
tal circumstances that require full attention will lead
to a high-intensity flow experience. The process of
finding the optimal balance, however, can be a deli-
cate matter, as flow can easily become anxiety.
Anxiety is often triggered when a person per-
ceives the situational demands as outweighing
his or her resources. On the other hand, the oppo-
site may occur when the perceived environmental
demands are far below the performer’s skill level,
in which case boredom and apathy are evoked.
Schallberger and Pfister (2001) as well as Rheinberg
and Vollmeyer (2003) asserted that in many
empirical studies on flow, a link between demand
and high-level skill is considered the only pre-
requisite, while other important components of the
flow experience are usually omitted. A more appro-
priate method of measurement would take into
consideration all of Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975)
proposed components as well as their complex
interaction. Rheinberg and Vollmeyer (2003)
developed and validated a reliable instrument to
measure all flow components: the Flow Short Scale,
which consists of 16 questions. Ten of the ques-
tions contribute to a general flow score, subdivided
into two factors: smoothness of action and immer-
sion in the task. Three questions cover the worry
component and three questions assess the balance
of demand and skill. A number of sport activities,
including marathon running (Stoll & Lau, 2005)
and parachuting (Leder, Wenhold, & Szymanski,
2008), have been investigated using the Flow Short
Scale. A further modification of the scale is needed
that addresses Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975) suggestion
that only a high level of skill will lead to an intensive
flow state. According to Rheinberg (2006), the type
of activity should also be considered. With regard
to complex sporting tasks, flow will usually occur
only once the basic steps have been mastered and
automatized, whereas in technically simple sporting
tasks, flow experiences may occur at all skill levels.
Flow is also claimed to be the state of optimal,
or at least significantly improved, performance
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). The reason flow corre-
lates with highly skilled performance is thought to
be that learning and generally enjoying the activity
means that a person will perform the activity more
often for longer periods of time (Landhäuβer &
Keller, 2012). Indeed, according to Csikszentmihalyi
(1988), the following outcomes of flow experiences
usually are described: (a) enjoyment (affective),
(b) increased motivation regarding the activity
(motivational), (c) development of skills in the long
run (cognitive), and (d) increased or improved
performance (affective, cognitive, motivational).
Flow is often thought to be the cause of better
performance, rather than a correlate or consequence
of it. This claim is probably the most problematic
proposition regarding flow. The inherent problem
is that demand skill balance is a key ingredient in
inducing flow and is usually controlled adaptively
in studies. This means that in the test setting, the
level of demand is adapted constantly to suit the
participant’s skill level. Therefore, it is impossible
to deduce any relation to increased performance. In
addition, it is difficult to determine whether flow
is reported due to the perceived high success or
whether high success is caused by flow.
Engeser and Rheinberg (2008) studied the
effects of flow in an academic setting to determine
the relationship between reported flow and success
(operationalized as performance on a statistics
examination). University students were asked to
complete the Flow Short Scale while preparing for
the exam. Flow was correlated with the examination
results: When previous performance level was con-
trolled for, there was a small but significant positive
correlation between the reported amount of flow
and exam success. However, the authors noted that
flow—a highly enjoyable state—had positively influ-
enced the study routines of those who experienced
it, thus increasing their performance level.
Engeser and Rheinberg (2008) also examined
flow in those playing the computer game PacMan.
The participants reported higher amounts of flow
than did the students taking an examination, per-
haps due to the clear goals and immediate feedback
involved, and indicated that levels of reported flow
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Oliver Stoll
8
only marginally influenced performance. This finding
is significant, as it questions the causal link between
flow and physical performance. Studies by Schiefele
and Roussakis (2006) and Keller and Bless (2008)
supported these findings as well; they found no asso-
ciation between flow experience and performance.
Such results were highly unexpected, as a high cor-
relation usually is observed between flow and perfor-
mance, at least as has been demonstrated in creativity,
teaching, learning, and sports (see Csikszentmihalyi
et al., 2005). A study by Schüler (2007) did demon-
strate a causal link between flow and positive affect.
Therefore, much more empirical evidence is needed
to validate the somewhat anecdotal claim that flow
experiences are the cause of life satisfaction.
FLOW EXPERIENCES AND PEAK
PERFORMANCE IN RUNNING
Psychology and long-distance running have a long
tradition in sport research, dating from the early
1980s. Research aims have included detecting the
influence of endorphins on the runner’s high, identi-
fying personality profiles and motives of runners, and
understanding stress and coping or self-regulation
(Doppelmayr, Finkernagel, & Doppelmayr, 2005;
Keller & Blomann, 2008; Masters, Ogles, & Jolton,
1993; McBain, Martin, & Lovell, 2014).
The relationship between running and flow expe-
riences, as well as the trigger mechanisms, has been
less well researched, with studies often focusing on
the positive outcomes of flow. Experiencing flow
has been linked to peak performance in a variety of
settings, such as academia (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990;
Engeser, Rheinberg, Vollmeyer, & Bischoff, 2005;
Schüler, 2007), sport (Jackson, Thomas, Marsh, &
Smethurst, 2001), and the workplace (Eisenberger,
Jones, Stinglhamber, Shanock, & Randall, 2005).
On the other hand, Schüler and Nakamura
(2013) have focused on the “dark side” of flow in
three separate studies of kayakers and rock climbers.
The researchers suggested a link between flow and
impaired risk awareness or risky behavior. Specifi-
cally, they expected flow experiences to enhance
self-efficacy beliefs, which in turn were hypoth-
esized to result in low risk awareness and risky
behavior in sport settings. In addition, the research-
ers predicted that individuals’ level of experience
in the activity would moderate these effects. In all
studies, flow was related to risk awareness. Study 2
showed that flow is associated with risky behavior,
while both Study 2 and Study 3 revealed that the
relationship between flow experiences and risky
behavior was mediated by self-efficacy. The media-
tions in Study 3 were moderated by level of expe-
rience: Inexperienced participants responded to
self-efficacy beliefs evoked by flow with impaired
risk awareness and with risky behavior. Overall, the
flow concept remains controversial, especially when
it comes to psychological outcomes and peak perfor-
mance in sports (other than running). So, what can
we discern from studies with runners?
In two different studies, Stoll and Lau (2005)
analyzed the trigger mechanisms of flow experi-
ences, as well as the flow performance of marathon
runners. Their results were inconsistent. In the first
study, the flow experiences of 160 marathon runners
were measured with the Flow Short Scale. Scale
scores can be analyzed as a total sum score, or scores
can be analyzed across the following subscales: feel-
ing absorbed, smooth run, rumouring/concerns,
and optimal fit between demands and abilities. The
authors divided the sample into two groups: optimal
fit reporters and nonoptimal fit reporters. A t-test
showed no significant differences in flow between
optimal and nonoptimal fit reporters. A comparison
between optimal fit reporters and nonoptimal fit
reporters on the dependent variable of finishing
times, however, showed a significant difference.
Specifically, optimal fit reporters ran faster than non-
optimal fit reporters. This was the first hint that the
demand–skill fit plays a central role and that it may
be a moderator if performance is taken into account.
What about other moderators (or mediators)?
Schüler and Brunner (2009) confirmed the rewarding
effect of flow experiences and performance in mara-
thon runners. They hypothesized that flow influences
the marathon race performance via an indirect reward-
ing effect. It was assumed that the positive quality of
flow rewards the prerace running activity and thereby
enhances training behavior, which again leads to high
race performance.Additionally, Schüler, Wegner, and
Knechtle (2014) conducted a study of ultraendurance
athletes (runners, triathletes, and cyclists) who
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9
completed a competition of at least 6 hours duration.
Their aim was to determine the relationship between
flow experiences and implicit motives. They surmised
that implicit motives serve as a trigger mechanism for
the development of flow experiences. The research-
ers tested whether the implicit achievement and
affiliation motives interact with the need for compe-
tence and the need for social relatedness satisfaction,
respectively, in predicting flow experience and well-
being in the studied athletes. Results showed that
highly achievement-motivated individuals benefited
more from the need for competence satisfaction in
terms of flow than did individuals with a low achieve-
ment motive. This suggests that implicit motives
have to be taken into consideration in explaining the
link between flow experiences and performance in
ultradistance running.
Wolffeifen, Schneider, Martin, Kerhevé, Klein, and
Salomon (2016) expected that the flow experience
would be characterized by specific changes in cortical
activity, especially a transient hypofrontality (discussed
subsequently in this chapter). Hypofrontality has
recently been connected with an increase in cognitive
performance postexercise. The cognitive performance,
mental state, flow experience, and cortical activity
of 11 ultramarathon runners (six females and five
males) were assessed before, several times during,
and immediately after a 6-hour run. Findings indi-
cated that perceived physical relaxation and flow
state increased significantly after 1 hour of running,
then decreased during the following 5 hours. In addi-
tion, perceived physical state and motivational state
remained stable during the first hour of running,
but then decreased significantly. Cognitive perfor-
mance, as well as the underlying neurophysio logical
changes, recorded as event-related potentials,
remained stable across the 6-hour run. Even though
women reported significantly higher levels of flow,
no further gender effects were noticeable. The fact
that self-reported flow experience only increased
during the first hour of running before decreasing led
the authors to assume that changes in cortical activity
and the experience of flow may not be linked.
Ufer (2017) studied 32 ultrarunners at the Kalahari
Extreme Marathon, asking the runners to complete a
customized and extended version of the Flow Short
Scale (Rheinberg, Vollmeyer, & Engeser, 2003) at
six different times during and immediately after
completion of the race. In addition, objective per-
formance data, such as rankings and finish times,
were also analyzed. Results indicated that there was
no relationship between flow and performance, nor
between flow and challenge–skill balance. However,
significant correlations were shown between perceived
skills and flow and between flow and satisfaction
with one’s performance. A year later, Ufer (2017)
conducted a follow-up study that included surveys
of 129 ultramarathon runners in eight different
competitions (with race distances between 100 and
250 km), assessing flow experiences as well as other
psychological measures while the runners competed
(e.g., measurements were obtained at the rest sta-
tions) over different times in the race. In line with
other studies, Ufer found that runners with a good
skill–demand fit reported higher flow. Additionally,
he found that flow scores decreased when difference
between skills and demands increased, similar to
a curvilinear function. Furthermore, he reported a
positive correlation between flow and athletes’
satisfaction with their performance.
In summary, these empirical results suggest that
flow may not be an optimal experience. Schüler and
Brunner (2009) and Stoll and Lau (2005) found that
in a marathon race, flow was not associated with
higher performance, whereas in other sports flow
generally has been reported to be associated with
high performance (Jackson & Roberts, 1992). Per-
haps in a marathon race it is necessary for the self to
be a vivid “dictator” who forces the body to run. If
this is true, flow would actually hinder this process
(see Schüler & Langens, 2007). In more complex
and technical sports, flow may be an optimal experi-
ence. Yet, Schüler and Brunner (2009) also found
that flow was associated with higher training moti-
vation. In this respect, flow is an optimal experience
for the motivation to run but not for better perfor-
mance in the marathon race.
THE TRANSIENT HYPOFRONTALITY
THEORY
This approach is the newest attempt to hypothesize
a mechanism to induce flow experiences. Developed
by Dietrich (2006), the transient hypofrontality
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10
theory (THT) proposes a common neural mechanism
for altered states of consciousness (e.g., flow experi-
ences). The theory is explicitly based on functional
neuroanatomy and views consciousness as com-
posed of various attributes, such as self-reflection,
attention, memory, perception, and arousal. These
processes are ordered in a functional hierarchy, with
frontal lobe involvement required for the top attri-
butes. Although the THT implies a holistic view in
which the entire brain contributes to consciousness,
it is evident that not all neural structures contribute
equally to conscious experience. This layering
concept localizes the most sophisticated levels of
consciousness in the zenithally higher-order struc-
ture, called the prefrontal cortex. From such consid-
erations, the THT of altered states of consciousness
can be formulated to unify all altered states of con-
sciousness (including flow) into a single theoretical
framework (Dietrich, 2007; Dietrich & McDaniel,
2003; Dietrich & Stoll, 2010).
Because the prefrontal cortex is the neural substrate
of the topmost layers, any change to conscious
experience first and foremost should affect this
structure, followed by a progressive shutdown of
brain areas that contribute more basic cognitive
functions. All altered states share phenomeno-
logical characteristics whose proper functions are
regulated by the prefrontal cortex, such as time
distortions, disinhibition from social norms, or
changes in focused attention. This suggests that
the neural mechanism common to all altered states
is the transient downregulation of functional net-
works in the prefrontal cortex. The reduction of
specific contents to conscious experience is known
as phenomenological subtraction. In altered states
that are characterized by less prefrontal hypo-
activity, such as long-distance running, meditation,
or hypnosis, the modification to consciousness is
much more subtle.
To date, there has been little empirical evidence
for the THT as a mechanism for the development
of flow experiences. In an initial laboratory study,
Reinhardt et al. (2006) attempted to induce flow
experiences in runners on a treadmill. For decades,
beginning with the early days of flow research,
physical activity has been a central subject. More
recently, however, it has become obvious that a
continuous diagnostic of the flow construct is a
more suitable approach for measuring the dynamics
of flow experiences. Furthermore, flow experiences
and finishing time were correlated. For this reason,
the aim of the following study was to analyze if the
postulated demand–ability fit (Csikszentmihalyi,
1990) of runners in laboratory conditions is a pre-
condition for the development of flow experiences.
A second purpose was to document the dynamics
of flow experiences in a continuous performance
situation, as well as the correlation of flow experi-
ences with physiological variables. Using a demand-
oriented speed regulation of the treadmill, runners
(n = 30) were required to move above their average
demand level for 40 minutes. The treadmill that was
used (i.e., the Pulsar h/p/Cosmos 30) could individu-
ally regulate the speed of the runners based on a pretest
of heart rate variability. The target workload zone
was individually calculated based on up to 80% of the
maximal heart rate capacity of each individual runner
(Laukanen, Maijanen, & Tulppo, 1998; Tulppo,
Mäkikallio, Takala, Seppänen & Huikuri, 1996). Flow
was measured with the Flow Short Scale (Rheinberg,
Vollmeyer, & Engeser, 2003).
Summarizing the main results of this study,
runners reported a continuous deep and stable flow
experience every 10 minutes while running in the
calculated target workload zone. Flow scores exceeded
5 (maximum score = 7) while the individuals were
running. These flow experiences were independent
from subjective reports of a demand–ability fit. The
demand–skill fit correlation was low (r = .37) but posi-
tively associated with feeling absorbed after 20 minutes
of continuous running in the heart rate target zone. All
other correlations were even lower, and were not sig-
nificant. Furthermore, our analysis showed that cor-
relations between the physiological parameters (e.g.,
lactate) and subjective demand appraisal also support
the research paradigm that runners can be moved into
an individually controlled “demand–ability situation”
under laboratory conditions. While running, the
lactate of the participants was close to the aerobic–
anaerobic threshold, which shows that the individuals
ran intensively and that the demand subdimension
from the Flow Short Scale correlated positively with
lactate. Again, this result shows that flow experiences
require an intensive running workload.
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11
In another study, Reinhardt, Wiener, Heimbeck,
Stoll, Lau, and Schliermann (2008) attempted to
replicate these results in a clinical setting. If flow
experiences are the consequence of a downregulated
prefrontal cortex, and if this downregulation can be
induced by an intensive endurance workload, this
approach could be effectively applied as part of run-
ning therapy for depression. One symptom of depres-
sion is rumination, which is dependent on prefrontal
cortex activity. Reinhardt et al. (2008) used the
previously mentioned workload regulation approach
to induce flow in 31 adult volunteers with moderate
depressive disorders. Using a load-oriented, speed-
regulating bicycle ergometer, participants cycled
within an individual demand level for 40 continuous
minutes. Flow state during the activity was measured
using the Flow Short Scale (Rheinberg, Vollmeyer,
& Engeser, 2003). Effects of mood variations were
assessed immediately before and after the training
using a Profile of Mood Questionnaire (Abele-Brehm
& Brehm, 1986). Confirming Study 1, the partici-
pants reported a continuous, deep, and stable flow
experience. The effects of mood variation can thus be
illustrated as an iceberg profile, wherein negative emo-
tions (e.g., depression, anger, lack of energy) decrease
and positive emotions (e.g., feeling activated, elevated
mood, calmness) increase.
A third study using this paradigm was conducted
by Saad Al Youssef (2013). Using a within-subjects
design and two different neuropsychological tests, a
comparable pattern of impairment emerged in this
experiment. A sample of 33 participants, including
11 females and 22 males, were asked to run on a
treadmill, again following the workload paradigm,
for 30 minutes in a given individual demand level.
Heart-rate target zone (OwnZone) was calculated
from individual heart rate variability (Laukanen
et al., 1998; Tulppo et al., 1996), and the previously
mentioned treadmill (Pulsar h/p Cosmos 30) was
used to adjust individuals’ speed to achieve 80% to
90% of their maximal heart rate. In the experimen-
tal condition, participants were asked to complete
a prefrontal-dependent cognition test (Wechsler,
2008) while running. In the control condition, on
another day, participants were asked to complete
a prefrontal-independent test while running. To
measure prefrontal-dependent cognition, the
mathematical subtest of the Wechsler Intelligence
Test was used (Wechsler, 2008), in which numbers
have to be downcalculated in steps of 3-number
blocks within a given time, for a total of 22 calcu-
lation tasks. To measure prefrontal-independent
cognition, participants reacted to a given visual
stimulus—a red cross—displayed on a monitor
fixed to the treadmill. Participants were expected to
score lower on flow experiences in the experimental
condition, as compared with the control condition.
Performance was impaired on the mathematical
thinking task, which measured sustained attention
and working memory ability. During the experimen-
tal and control conditions, flow experiences were
also measured on three occasions using the Flow
Short Scale. Participants in the control condition,
who reacted to the visual stimulus, reported signifi-
cantly higher flow scores than did participants in the
experimental condition (who calculated numbers).
Participants showed no differences in verbal ability
between the conditions. Furthermore, individuals in
the experimental condition showed a decreased
pace while running on the treadmill compared with
individuals in the control group.
RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
In this section, I discuss problems with the methodol-
ogy of research on the possible connections of the run-
ner’s high, flow experiences, and peak performance.
I begin with the development of theoretical approaches
and conclude with actual existing research.
Regarding the endorphin approach, there are
several methodological concerns pertaining to valid-
ity. Although several studies (e.g., Carr & Fishman,
1985; Colt, Wardlaw, & Frantz, 1981; Moretti, et al.
1981) have shown significant increases in endorphin
levels after exercise, related work with naloxone has
both supported and failed to support its increase as
the cause for the runner’s high. Of particular interest,
however, is the fact that research on endorphins has,
for the most part, been concerned with measure-
ment at the peripheral level. Measurement of endor-
phins in the bloodstream raises the question of
what effects the endorphins have at the central level
in the brain. Are the effects of increased endorphins
at the peripheral and central levels the same?
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12
Hawley and Butterfield (1981) doubted that this
proposition is true. Only if central nervous system
levels of beta-endorphins are elevated in response
to exercise can endogenous opioids be implicated
in the subjective phenomena (e.g., euphoria, anti-
nociception) frequently reported during exercise.
Hawley and Butterfield further pointed out that in
human beings, ACTH does not cross the blood–
cerebrospinal fluid barrier, and that beta-endorphins
likewise seem impermeable: Intravenous injection
of the opioid does not affect perception of pain
or mood and does not alter beta-endorphin levels
within cerebrospinal fluid, whereas its injection
into the cerebral ventricle and intrathecal space
causes profound analgesia.
As already mentioned, studies examining the
exercise–endorphin connection have produced
equivocal results, and many of the studies have
been plagued by methodological confounds. For
instance, beta-endorphin has almost the same
amino acid sequence as other members of the
pro-opiomelanocortin family, such as adrenocorti-
cotrophic hormone. This makes cross-reactivity to
the detecting antibody a serious confound. Also,
adrenocorticotrophic hormone is a stress hormone
that is known to increase with exercise, compound-
ing the problem of cross-reactivity. There are also
major inconsistencies between the endorphin
hypothesis and the physiological and biochemical
responses to endurance exercise. For instance,
beta-endorphins bind best to the opioid receptor,
part of the endogenous opioid system that medi-
ates the analgesic and euphoric properties of the
opiates. However, minimal activation of the same
endogenous opioid system is also responsible for
the severe respiratory depression, pinpoint pupils,
and inhibition of gastrointestinal motility that
accompany opiate use. The most limiting factor,
however, is that the endorphin hypothesis rests
entirely on research measuring endorphins in
circulating blood (ethical reasons preclude the
determination of central concentrations of endor-
phins). Because endorphins are too large to cross
the blood–brain barrier, peripheral activation in
the systemic circulation cannot be taken as indica-
tive of central effects (Stoll & Alfermann, 2003;
Stoll & Stoll, 1996).
Initially, Csikszentmihalyi (1990) used qualitative
data obtained through personal interviews to explore
a new model for intrinsically rewarding behavior,
which led him to develop the concept of flow. Further
qualitative and quantitative (i.e., questionnaires)
research techniques were used, each involving
various challenges for measuring the construct,
conditions, and occurrence of flow (Swann, 2016).
One challenge is how to measure flow as close as
possible to the moment of occurrence. Therefore,
the experience sampling method (ESM) was used, in
which a questionnaire is completed upon receipt of a
signal. However, this method interrupts the momen-
tary experience and might not be as appropriate for
sports as for other task domains (Swann, 2016).
Seifert and Hedderson (2010) took an event-
focused approach; they observed skateboarders in a
skate park, then approached and interviewed each
person directly about their experiences. Addition-
ally, Swann et al. (2015) found that elite golfers were
able to recognize flow in other players, which led
the researchers to conclude that flow is observable.
Furthermore, Swann et al. (2015) stated that “obser-
vations may be a useful avenue for flow research”
(p. 230). Observation may be useful in appraising flow
elements in sport and exercise through bodily expres-
sion (e.g., joy, a sense of safety, fluency of movement).
The ESM method could be combined with interviews
to appraise individual perceptions soon after the
flow occurrence. Altogether, it appears that the ESM
method may be a better way of measuring flow expe-
riences, especially if this data can be combined with
observational and psychophysiological data.
NEW DIRECTIONS IN FUTURE RESEARCH
If a purely psychophysiological explanation for the
runner’s high exists, more research is needed that
links running to aspects of the endocannabinoid sys-
tem. Sparling et al. (2003) provided the first evidence
that exercise activates the endocannabinoid system,
and their findings are suggestive of a neurohumoral
mechanism for exercise analgesia (see also Dietrich
& McDaniel, 2003). Because exercise dramatically
elevates anandamide levels in the systemic circula-
tion, this compound may be produced in extraneural
tissues and act on peripheral sensory fibers to relieve
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Peak Performance, the Runner’s High, and Flow
13
pain. Study findings support this hypothesis in
two ways. First, anandamide is synthesized in and
released from a variety of peripheral cells, includ-
ing sensory neurons. Because anandamide is rap-
idly inactivated in peripheral tissues, the elevated
levels of circulating anandamides observed by
Sparling et al. (2003) are likely to be an under-
estimate of the local concentrations of anandamide
at its sites of action. Second, anandamide causes
profound antinociceptive and antihyperalgesic
effects by binding to CB
1
cannabinoid receptors
located on pain-sensing C-fibers.
The CB
1
receptor is densely expressed in brain
regions implicated in the control of motor functions,
emotion, and cognition. Due to its highly lipophilic
properties, anandamide crosses the blood–brain barrier
readily, avoiding the principal problem plaguing the
endorphin hypothesis. Activation of central CB
1
recep-
tors by exogenous cannabinoids, such as THC, causes
intense subjective experiences similar to those reported
by endurance athletes, such as analgesia, sedation
inducing a postexercise calm, anxiolysis, and a sense of
well-being. It is intriguing to speculate that rises in sys-
temic anandamide levels during exercise may occur in
parallel with a central engagement of the endocannabi-
noid system. This process might help account for the
psychological counterparts of exercise analgesia, either
directly or by interacting with other neurotransmitter
systems such as opioids or catecholamines. Irrespective
of the speculation that endocannabinoids might play a
contributory role in the runner’s high, the findings of
Sparling et al. (2003) suggested a plausible mechanism
for exercise analgesia and opened unexpected perspec-
tives in exercise physiology.
It remains unclear whether a flow experience is
an altered state of consciousness or something dif-
ferent. Dietrich (2007) suggested that it is, at least, a
special state of consciousness. Indeed, the key charac-
teristics of flow can also be found in altered states of
consciousness; for instance, take the one-pointedness
of mind that occurs when the muscle of attention is
flexed and one event or object becomes the exclu-
sive content of consciousness. Any distractions are
eliminated from consciousness, especially evaluative
metalevel cognitive processes such as self-reflection,
worry, or failure. Time loses its meaning and one
operates solely in the here and now. Because these
higher mental functions are encoded in the prefrontal
cortex, their absence indicates that flow is also a state
of prefrontal hypofunction (Dietrich, 2006). Further
research could focus on empirical validation of the
THH and its role in explaining flow experiences in
long-distance running, as well as the consequences of
this phenomenon for performance.
Unfortunately, flow experiences are often mea-
sured using psychometric scales, which may be
too rigid and inflexible to measure such a complex
phenomenon. Csikszentmihalyi and Larson (1987)
presented a more valid instrument to measure
flow experiences, called the Experience Sampling
Method (ESM). The ESM captures variations in self-
reports of mental processes. It can be used to obtain
empirical data on the following types of variables:
(a) frequency and patterning of daily activity, social
interaction, and changes in location; (b) frequency,
intensity, and patterning of psychological states
(i.e., emotional, cognitive, and conative dimensions
of experience); and (c) frequency and patterning of
thoughts, including quality and intensity of thought
disturbance. According to Csikszentmihalyi and
Larson (1987), “the purpose of using this method
is to be as ‘objective’ about subjective phenomena
as possible without compromising the essential
personal meaning of the experience” (p. 527). The
usual ESM procedure involves having participants
carry an electronic pager that emits random signals
several times a day for several days. When signalled,
participants immediately respond to a series of
questions, usually in a booklet of questionnaires
they carry with them. The questionnaires are con-
cise (usually taking 2 minutes or less to complete),
so daily activity is interrupted as little as possible.
ESM has advantages over direct observation and
time diaries, two other methods of gathering data
about day-to-day experiences and natural aspects
of behavior. According to Voelkl and Brown (1989),
when compared with live observation, ESM is not as
intrusive, which decreases reactive behavior. It is also
more time efficient for the researcher. Compared to
time diaries, ESM elicits data that are immediately
recalled and thus are higher in quality than data that
must be recalled for an entire 24-hour period prior,
whereby distortions and rationalizations become
contaminants (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1987;
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Oliver Stoll
14
Voelkl & Brown, 1989). Time diaries also do not
provide a direct link between the person’s thoughts
and the context, as ESM does. The greatest strength
of ESM is that participants report their subjective
states in addition to their objective environments or
circumstances, providing richer insight than obser-
vations or time diaries (Voelkl & Brown, 1989).
Another advantage is that the signal devices can be
set to operate simultaneously, thus providing special
opportunities for the analysis of the interdependence
of experiences in groups, which would be difficult to
achieve by other means (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson,
1987). Methodologically, however, ESM has limita-
tions related to validity, reliability, and data analysis.
Validity and reliability of ESM have been explored
by Csikszentmihalyi and Larson (1987) and by
Mittelstaedt (1995). Constructs measured by the
ESM showed a convergent validity with conceptu-
ally related self-reports, such as self-esteem scales,
and physiological measures, such as heart rate moni-
tors. The results of the ESM have also been found to
be significantly different for groups of people based
on level of psychopathology, showing discriminant
validity. Reliability of the ESM has been investigated
by comparing ESM data with time diary data—the
two methods produce almost identical values of time
allocation for different activities (Csikszentmihalyi
& Larson, 1987). Also, the first half of a week’s ESM
data on activity involvement did not differ from the
second half, confirming internal stability (Voelkl &
Brown, 1989).
A major concern with the ESM is that subjects will
become stereotyped in their responses and fail to dif-
ferentiate between situations over time. Analysis of
data comparing the variance in the data from the first
half to the second half of the week showed that, with
time, individual responses become more predictable,
but activity effects remained stable (Csikszentmihalyi
& Larson, 1987). Researchers deduced that there is
not so much a lessened sensitivity to environmen-
tal effects as a more precise self-anchoring on the
response scales. Another concern with the ESM
pertains to its intrusiveness while being used. Parti-
cipant evaluations of ESM conducted by numerous
researchers have found the method to be acceptable
and not disruptive for 68% to 95% of the participants
involved and to represent their experiences well
(Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1987; Mittelstaedt,
1995; Voelkl & Brown, 1989). Given these strengths
and weaknesses of the EMS, it would be worth using
the method as a diagnostic instrument to assess flow
while athletes are running. Gauvin and Szabo (1992)
used it as a diagnostic tool to assess withdrawal symp-
toms for exercise-dependent runners, but so far there
apparently are no studies using this method with
runners while active.
To understand the neurocognitive mechanism of
THH, we need more neurocognitive studies, partic-
ularly ones including diagnostic instruments from
cognitive science and the neurosciences. Neuro-
scientific data on flow unfortunately are scarce due to
instrumental issues, such as the difficulty of achiev-
ing a flow state while reclining or sitting in a move-
ment-constricting machine (e.g., an fMRI machine)
that produces almost 100 decibels worth of noise. In
an attempt to overcome this obstacle, Ferrell, Beach,
Szeverenyi, Krch, and Fernall (2006) used hypnosis
to induce vivid recollection of flow state performance
in athletes. Yet, the Ferrell et al. study is unfortunately
problematic for several reasons, including the nature
of the hypnotic state, which possibly influences the
activity. Participants may be mentally recreating past
performance, which might cause enjoyment and
excitement that was not originally there, or the recre-
ated memory might be highly selective. In addition,
the relatively small sample size further compromises
authenticity of the results. However, these limita-
tions demonstrate the difficulty that researchers
face in studying the neurological correlates of flow.
Naturally, other methods for studying neural corre-
lates exist, such as EEG, but they are less accurate,
are more invasive, and have many of the same
problems as fMRI scans.
A clear distinction between the different percep-
tions of runners experiencing the runner’s high is
needed. As shown in this chapter, there are numer-
ous different reports encompassing absence of pain
or discomfort, meditation, hypnosis, daydreaming,
and out-of-body or near-death experiences. Further
research should be conducted to classify these
reports and thus eliminate myths and anecdotes
about this topic. The first step in improving our
understanding of the perception of the runner’s high
could be systematic, qualitative research. Researchers
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Peak Performance, the Runner’s High, and Flow
15
need to categorize and give a specific structure to
this abstract phenomenon (e.g., develop a first
classification of runner’s high experiences).
PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
AND APPLICATIONS
Because of the rewarding nature of flow experi-
ences, individuals are motivated to run and work
on their performance again and again (Engeser
& Schiepke-Tiska, 2012). Performing an activity
repeatedly could lead to improved skill, so to
re-experience flow, the performer likely will have
to set more challenging goals. Thus, flow is a moti-
vating force but not an automatism for excellence.
Furthermore, flow could be regarded as a highly
functional state that therefore should foster perfor-
mance for most sport and exercise activities.
There is a correlation between happiness and flow
experiences. A person in a flow state does not have
the conscious experience of being happy. In fact, this
could even terminate the person’s total immersion in
the activity. However, flow is a rewarding experience,
which subsequently leads to enjoyment and satisfac-
tion. In general, it also provides fulfillment for the
person who experiences flow, and lends structure
and meaning to life, even to the point of being part of
one’s personal identity. It would be helpful to teach
people how to induce flow experiences.
Reinhardt et al. (2006) offered training sugges-
tions to help runners induce flow experiences by
regulating their individual workload according to
their heart rate variability. We know that demand–
skill fit is a central aspect in the development of
flow experiences. Thus, individual goal-setting
interventions should be applied. In particular, a
clear, objective, and realistic goal for training and
competition should foster the ability to induce flow
experiences in running. Psychoeducational pro-
grams, however, should also focus on the negative
of flow in order to prevent injuries or accidents.
CONCLUSION
Flow is the mental state one is in when completely
absorbed in an activity that is intrinsically rewarding—
that is, activity that is not performed for any other
reason than for its own reward (Csikszentmihalyi,
1975). The characteristics of flow experiences are
under some debate, as is the actual definition of flow
itself. However, the core components that accom-
pany flow as an experience are generally accepted:
merging of action and awareness, centering of atten-
tion, loss of self-consciousness, feeling of control,
distortion of time, and an autotelic nature. The stan-
dard conditions for inducing flow include clear goals,
clear feedback, and a perceived balance of skill with
demand. Of these three conditions, much research
has been focusing on the skill–demand balance as
the key to inducing flow. Yet, the real challenge is
that jointly these conditions for flow are not suffi-
cient, and that the frequency of flow experiences in
life and in different tasks in the laboratory setting are
also dependent on, or at least correlated highly with,
other conditions, primarily personality traits.
Flow is extremely enjoyable, though not necessar-
ily in the moment itself, because attention is directed
toward the task at hand instead of toward the self.
The enjoyment of flow stems from the enjoyment of
life in general and from the process of self-growth.
As one develops skills through training, to achieve
flow the demands must equally increase. Flow is also
claimed to be the cause of better performance, not
only a correlate or a consequence of it (Ufer, 2017).
This claim is probably the most problematic proposi-
tion regarding flow because there is no clear evidence
to support it. The inherent problem is that demand
skill balance, a key ingredient in inducing flow, is
usually controlled adaptively in studies (Landhäuβer
& Keller, 2012). This means that in test settings,
the level of demand is constantly adapted to suit the
test participant’s skill level, making it impossible to
deduce any relation to increased performance. The
problems go deeper, however—even in the case of
measuring flow at a set and stable demand level, the
difficult task remains of determining whether flow
stems from perceived success or whether success was
caused by flow (Landhäuβer & Keller, 2012).
Additionally, as an approach explaining the mecha-
nism, the endorphin theory is both outdated and
methodologically problematic. The endocannabinoid
theory is a bit more promising and the THH is more
promising still, but the latter has not yet been
empirically validated. Thus, utlization of the flow
1ST PAGES
Oliver Stoll
16
concept in connection with running remains an
emerging approach, but one that will receive much
more research attention and application in sport
psychology in the future.
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... Other studies have also suggested that the pain caused by physical exercise stimulates the secretion of betaendorphin, which has both analgesic and euphoric actions. A form of addiction to intense physical exercise and the associated pain could thus exist in physically trained individuals (Stoll, 2019). Such individuals might then tend to seek these sensations more than avoid them, which would also explain the participants' ability to perform in our associative condition. ...
... Certains individus souhaitent parfois se confronter à une difficulté plus élevée lorsque l'estime de soi est engagée (Brehm & Self, 1989). Il a de plus été suggéré que les douleurs associées à l'exercice physique puissent stimuler la sécrétion de bêta-endorphine, dont les actions analgésiques et euphorisantes conduiraient les coureurs expérimentés à un état de « flow », aussi appelé « runner's high » (Stoll, 2019). Ces individus pourraient ainsi avoir tendance à rechercher les sensations désagréables d'effort plutôt qu'à les éviter. ...
... Ces individus pourraient ainsi avoir tendance à rechercher les sensations désagréables d'effort plutôt qu'à les éviter. La bêta-endorphine causerait alors une forme de dépendance à l'exercice physique (Stoll, 2019 le CPF pourrait implémenter l'activité de processus inhibiteurs impliqués dans la régulation des coûts de l'effort Perrey et al., 2016). Certains résultats de nos études 2 et 3 permettent de discuter cette éventualité. ...
Thesis
Le cortex préfrontal (CPF), habituellement connu pour son implication dans le contrôle cognitif supérieur, apparaît particulièrement impliqué dans le maintien de l’effort physique. Si cette implication suggère l’existence d’une composante psychologique dans la capacité à tolérer et maintenir l’exercice, les mécanismes neurocognitifs sous-jacents demeurent relativement méconnus. Des propositions théoriques récentes envisagent que l’arrêt de l’exercice soit déterminé par un processus décisionnel contrôlé par le CPF. L’intégration et l’évaluation consciente des coûts (i.e, sensations désagréables de fatigue) et des bénéfices (e.g., récompenses) associés à la tâche d’effort conditionneraient cette décision. Le maintien de l’effort serait dynamisé lorsque les bénéfices estimés augmentent ou que les coûts perçus diminuent. Toutefois, la manière dont le fonctionnement cognitif et le CPF pourraient moduler l’intégration de ces informations pour favoriser une décision orientée vers la poursuite de l’exercice reste à clarifier. Le niveau d’attention accordée aux coûts et aux bénéfices jouerait un rôle dans ce processus. De plus, les sensations désagréables de fatigue seraient limitées via une fonction inhibitrice implémentée au niveau du CPF. L’objectif de ce travail doctoral était de préciser l’implication des dimensions neurocognitives et notamment du CPF dans l’intégration et le traitement des coûts et des bénéfices susceptibles de moduler le maintien de l’effort. Les résultats de l’étude 1 n’ont pas permis de révéler l’implication du CPF dans l’endurance physique via l’engagement de sa fonction cognitive d’inhibition. Toutefois, les résultats des études 2, 3 et 4 ont indiqué que l’orientation de l’attention, plus ou moins dirigée vers les coûts ou les bénéfices, modulait les performances d’endurance et l’activité des régions du CPF impliquées dans l’intégration et la régulation de ces informations. Une focalisation de l’attention sur les bénéfices monétaires a amélioré les performances comparativement à une focalisation sur les coûts de l’effort ou à une tâche de distraction cognitive. Les focalisations sur les coûts et les bénéfices ont induit une intensification de l’activité des régions antérieures et inférieures du CPF impliquées dans l’interprétation de ces informations (étude 3). De plus, la réalisation d’une tâche de distraction cognitive a repoussé la décision d’arrêter l’exercice et a entrainé une diminution de l’activité inhibitrice de régions préfrontales susceptibles de réguler les coûts de l’effort (étude 2). Cette partie de nos résultats suggère la capacité de l’attention à repousser l’arrêt de l’exercice en favorisant l’intégration consciente des bénéfices (via une focalisation vers ces informations) et en perturbant celle des coûts (via une distraction cognitive). Elle tend aussi à souligner l’implication du CPF dans la régulation des coûts perçus et le traitement des coûts et des bénéfices associés à l’effort d’endurance. De manière relativement contradictoire, une focalisation sur les coûts n’a pas nécessairement conduit à un arrêt plus précoce de l’effort (comparativement à une condition de distraction cognitive) mais à une amélioration de l’endurance musculaire chez les individus disposant des meilleures capacités aérobies (étude 4). Faciliter l’intégration consciente des coûts de l’effort s’avérerait ainsi favorable au maintien de l’exercice chez certains individus. Les résultats de ce travail renforcent l’idée d’une implication des processus neurocognitifs dans le maintien de l’effort physique. Chercher à identifier les stratégies attentionnelles favorisant l’engagement dans l’exercice physique et le maintien de l’effort chez différentes populations constitue une perspective de recherche intéressante, notamment chez des individus sédentaires pour qui la pratique physique représente un réel enjeu de santé.
... For example, a bisection task experiment showed temporal acuity increases as a consequence of voluntarily initiating auditory sequences (Iordanescu et al., 2013). However, perhaps the most famous experience of movement affecting time comes from the phenomenology of endurance sports practitioners, who, lost in the flow of the motion, may lose all sense of time (Csikszentmihalyi, 2000;Stoll, 2019). As with the time-perception literature in general, the causal role of action in flow experience remains unclear as research has predominantly focused on cognitive aspects, such as cognitive load and attention. ...
... First, natural movement commonly involves optical flow, the pattern of velocity of a scene relative to the observer (Gibson, 1950), and the mere perception of speed within visual patterns causes time dilation (Kanai et al., 2006). Second, physical exertion naturally leads to arousal, and although the endorphin model of "runner's high" lost its academic cachet (Stoll, 2019), arousal does affect temporal perception (Droit-Volet & Gil, 2009). Thus, to investigate how motor activity itself affects time perception requires controlling for these normally covarying factors. ...
Article
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Sensing the passage of time is important for countless daily tasks, yet time perception is easily influenced by perception, cognition, and emotion. Mechanistic accounts of time perception have traditionally regarded time perception as part of central cognition. Since proprioception, action execution, and sensorimotor contingencies also affect time perception, perception-action integration theories suggest motor processes are central to the experience of the passage of time. We investigated whether sensory information and motor activity may interactively affect the perception of the passage of time. Two prospective timing tasks involved timing a visual stimulus display conveying optical flow at increasing or decreasing velocity. While doing the timing tasks, participants were instructed to imagine themselves moving at increasing or decreasing speed, independently of the optical flow. In the direct-estimation task, the duration of the visual display was explicitly judged in seconds while in the motor-timing task, participants were asked to keep a constant pace of tapping. The direct-estimation task showed imagining accelerating movement resulted in relative overestimation of time, or time dilation, while decelerating movement elicited relative underestimation, or time compression. In the motor-timing task, imagined accelerating movement also accelerated tapping speed, replicating the time-dilation effect. The experiments show imagined movement affects time perception, suggesting a causal role of simulated motor activity. We argue that imagined movements and optical flow are integrated by temporal unfolding of sensorimotor contingencies. Consequently, as physical time is relative to spatial motion, so too is perception of time relative to imaginary motion.
... To answer the previous question, we have to turn to another important theory for game scholarship: flow theory (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2001). According to this theory, people can achieve a state of flow in which they feel focused, calm, and able to succeed when a person's skill at a task is perfectly balanced with the level of challenge that task presents (Chen, 2007;Stoll, 2019). It is essentially a dynamic state of optimal human functioning, and the theory has been applied to both traditional sports (Stoll, 2019) and video games (Chen, 2007). ...
... According to this theory, people can achieve a state of flow in which they feel focused, calm, and able to succeed when a person's skill at a task is perfectly balanced with the level of challenge that task presents (Chen, 2007;Stoll, 2019). It is essentially a dynamic state of optimal human functioning, and the theory has been applied to both traditional sports (Stoll, 2019) and video games (Chen, 2007). It is also the antithesis of the "tilt," described by gamers as a frequent precursor to negative trolling activity (Cook et al., 2018). ...
Article
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The demand framework is commonly used by game scholars to develop new and innovative ways to improve the gaming experience. However, the present article aims to expand this framework and apply it to problematic gaming, also known as trolling. Although still a relatively new field, research into trolling has exploded within the past ten years. However, the vast majority of these studies are descriptive in nature. The present article marries theory and trolling research by closely examining interdisciplinary empirical evidence from a single platform—video games—and applying the various forms of demands to propose a testable, dual-route model of trolling behaviour. Within the video game context, I argue the presence of two primary causal mechanisms that can lead to trolling: 1) Demand imbalance between players and the game; and 2) demand imbalance between players. The article discusses how these two types of imbalance can lead to trolling, which kinds of demands can be imbalanced, and how future researchers can use the demand framework to expand our understanding of trolling.
... One can also run "virtual marathons," covering a marathon distance on one's own and sending an electronic proof of this to the organizer. The Estonian ultrarunning community has likewise been burgeoning as many runners gradually move on to longer distances and novel running formats. 1 For an integrated discussion of the development of Csikszentmihalyi's flow theory and research on "runner's high" see Stoll (2019). ...
Article
Full-text available
Recreational long-distance runners’ exercising levels often considerably exceed those necessary for keeping healthy. As their running careers unfold, many runners become inspired not so much by fitness and health but by other corollaries of running, such as capacity to endure high levels of pain and exhaustion or novel bodily experiences. As I show in the ethnographic example of Estonian runners, a “low-resolution” explanation of such a shift in runners’ motivations allows it to be understood in conventional terms of addiction. Three symptoms commonly highlighted in definitions of exercise addiction – tolerance, continuance, and withdrawal – were particularly salient in the careers of many interviewed runners. However, the reasons for developing these symptoms were not merely psycho-physiological and their implications were not clear-cut which calls for a more nuanced approach to runners’ bodily experiences, the meanings attributed to these, as well as running addiction and its relationship with health and well-being.
... To illustrate this, one may consider an athlete who engages in long-distance running. At some point, he or she may feel all is going well and gets into the so-called 'runner's high', which has also been associated with flow (Stoll, 2019). It can be expected that DMN as well as CEN activity would both be low and hypofrontality could be observed. ...
Article
Full-text available
Flow is a state of full task absorption, accompanied with a strong drive and low levels of self‐referential thinking. Flow is likely when there is a match between a person's skills and the task challenge. Despite its relevance for human performance and the vast body of research on flow, there is currently still relatively little insight in its underlying neurocognitive mechanisms. In this paper, we discuss a set of large brain networks that may be involved in establishing the core dimensions of flow. We propose that dopaminergic and noradrenergic systems mediate the intrinsic motivation and activate mood states that are typical for flow. The interaction between three large‐scale attentional networks, namely the Default Mode Network, Central Executive Network and the Salience Network is proposed to play a role in the strong task engagement, low self‐referential thinking, feedback and feelings of control in flow. The proposed relationships between flow and the brain networks may support the generation of new hypotheses and can guide future research in this field.
... performance (Jackson et al., 2001;Swann et al., 2018). Commonly defined as a harmonious 39 psychological state, intrinsically rewarding, involving intense focus and absorption in a specific 40 activity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975;Csikszentmihalyi, 2002;Stoll, 2019;Swann et al., 2018), flow has 41 been contextualized in a framework of challenge-skill balance, clear goals and sense of control 42 (Jackson and Csikszentmihalyi, 1999;Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi, 2002). Under this view, the 43 state of flow has been traditionally measured solely by subjective methods (Jackson and Eklund, 2002, 44 2004) without attempts to relate it empirically to behavioral measures. ...
Article
Full-text available
Flow during exercise has been theorized and studied solely through subjective-retrospective methods as a “scull bound” construct. Recent advances of the radical embodied perspectives on conscious mind and cognition pose challenges to such understanding, particularly because flow during exercise is associated with properties of performer’s movement behaviour. In this paper we use the concept of informed awareness to reconceptualize flow experience as a property of the performer-environment coupling, and study it during a slackline walking task. To empirically check the possible relatedness of the behavior-experience complementary pair, two measures were considered. The experiential realm was quantified by the flow short scale and the behavioural realm by the Hurst (H) exponent obtained through accelerometry time series of the legs and the center of body mass (CoM). In order to obtain a coarse-grained insight about the degree of co-varying within the perception-action flow of performers, we conducted correlational and multiple regression analyses. Measures of behavioural variables (H exponents of the dominant, subdominat leg and the CoM, were treated as explanatory, and the flow scale and its subscale (fluency of movements and absorption) scores as response variables containing summarized information about perceptual experiences of performers. In order to check for possible mediating or confounding effects of training parameters on the action-perception variables’ covariance, we included two additional variables which measured the degree of engagement of participants with the task. Results revealed that the temporal structure of fluctuations of the dominant leg, as measured by the Hurst exponent, was a strong mediator of effects of training variables and the subdominant leg fluctuations, on the flow scale and the subscale scores. The magnitude of Hurst exponents of both legs was informative about the degree of stability within the performer-environment system. The degree of critical slowing down, as measured by Hurst exponents, consistently co-varied with the flow scale and subscales. The experience of flow during the slackline walking task was dominantly saturated by the perceived fluency of movements and less so by the absorption experience. The stable co-variance of perception-action variables signified the embodied nature of the flow experience.
Article
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The purpose of this study was to explore the flow dynamics during incremental velocity running performed until voluntary exhaustion. Twenty runners performed an incremental-velocity test (The Université of Montréal Track Test; UMTT) while self-reporting their “in flow” and “not in flow” experienced states. Task endurance was divided into five-time windows and flow state was plotted for each participant to determine the velocity-flow relations. Friedman ANOVA and Wilcoxon matched-pairs test were performed to follow the flow dynamic throughout the time windows. A meta-stable flow experience dynamic was revealed during the incremental running velocity test and an abrupt decrease of the “in flow” experience upon approaching voluntary exhaustion was evident. Self-monitoring flow experience dynamics can complement the physiological measures for monitoring exercise tolerance.
Article
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Cerebral localization is determined by the separation of incompatible mechanisms.-Lashley7 Clinical and experimental evidence suggests that the left hemisphere of the brain is specialized for speech activity and the right hemisphere is specialized for many nonlinguistic functions. Jackson1 related the hemispheric linguistic differences t o differences in cognitive activity, suggesting that the left hemisphere is specialized for analytical organization, while the right hemisphere is adapted for " direct associations " among stimuli and responses. Modern researchers have substantially generalized this differentiation to encompass a wide range of behaviors in normal subjects. Experimental2 and clinical3 investigators of hemispheric asymmetry generally agree on the fundamental nature of the processing differences between the two sides of the brain: the left hemisphere is specialized for propositional, analytic, and serial processing of incoming information, while the right hemisphere is more adapted for the perception of appositional, holistic, and synthetic relations. This asymmetry raises the question of whether there are essential differences in the way in which the two hemispheres organize behavior and process information. Several theories attribute hemispheric differences to a structural differentiation of some kind. Asymmetries might be due to differences intrinsic to each hemisphere: e. g., in the neurospatial organization of functions4 or the existence of modality-specific differences in capacity,S or to some fundamental differences in the way the elementary neu-rological interactions occur. The structural difference might exist because of forces extrinsic to the brain, e. g., a muscular predisposition for handedness, asymmetries in sensory organs, or socially trained asymmetries in such observable traits as handed-ness and eyedness. Each of these views supposes that there is some physical or social structure that specifically and directly causes functional asymmetry to occur; that is, these proposals are all extremely strong in that they make concrete claims about the nature of the phenomenon. Yet the apparent precision of each claim is of little use t o us, since we d o not know the relevant facts that would critically prove or disprove any of them. I shall argue that unless we have evidence conclusively proving any of the more specific claims, we should view cerebral dominance as the result of certain general properties of the mind and of the relationship between the structures of the mind and the anatomy of the brain. The basic view underlying this proposal is that the mind is composed of a number of partially independent faculties, each of which has certain 25 1
Article
Full-text available
Cerebral localization is determined by the separation of incompatible mechanisms.-Lashley7 Clinical and experimental evidence suggests that the left hemisphere of the brain is specialized for speech activity and the right hemisphere is specialized for many nonlinguistic functions. Jackson1 related the hemispheric linguistic differences t o differences in cognitive activity, suggesting that the left hemisphere is specialized for analytical organization, while the right hemisphere is adapted for " direct associations " among stimuli and responses. Modern researchers have substantially generalized this differentiation to encompass a wide range of behaviors in normal subjects. Experimental2 and clinical3 investigators of hemispheric asymmetry generally agree on the fundamental nature of the processing differences between the two sides of the brain: the left hemisphere is specialized for propositional, analytic, and serial processing of incoming information, while the right hemisphere is more adapted for the perception of appositional, holistic, and synthetic relations. This asymmetry raises the question of whether there are essential differences in the way in which the two hemispheres organize behavior and process information. Several theories attribute hemispheric differences to a structural differentiation of some kind. Asymmetries might be due to differences intrinsic to each hemisphere: e. g., in the neurospatial organization of functions4 or the existence of modality-specific differences in capacity,S or to some fundamental differences in the way the elementary neu-rological interactions occur. The structural difference might exist because of forces extrinsic to the brain, e. g., a muscular predisposition for handedness, asymmetries in sensory organs, or socially trained asymmetries in such observable traits as handed-ness and eyedness. Each of these views supposes that there is some physical or social structure that specifically and directly causes functional asymmetry to occur; that is, these proposals are all extremely strong in that they make concrete claims about the nature of the phenomenon. Yet the apparent precision of each claim is of little use t o us, since we d o not know the relevant facts that would critically prove or disprove any of them. I shall argue that unless we have evidence conclusively proving any of the more specific claims, we should view cerebral dominance as the result of certain general properties of the mind and of the relationship between the structures of the mind and the anatomy of the brain. The basic view underlying this proposal is that the mind is composed of a number of partially independent faculties, each of which has certain 25 1
Chapter
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Sport offers rich opportunities to experience flow by posing both mental and physical challenges. Studies specifically investigating flow in sport were first published in 1992. Since then a body of empirical research has emerged in this area, which this chapter aims to review in terms of: (i) the methods commonly used to study flow in sport (i.e., interviews, questionnaires, and the Experience Sampling Method); and (ii) key research themes (i.e., the experience, occurrence, controllability and correlates of flow in sport). In turn, current issues within this field are examined, and recommendations are made for future research, including the need to build towards a causal explanation of flow, and potential refinement in understanding how athletes experience these optimal states.
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MARKOFF, RICHARD A., PAUL RYAN, and TED YOUNG. Endorphins and mood changes in long-distance running. Med. Sci. Sports Exercise, Vol. 1-4, No. 1, pp. 11-15, 1982. Acute and chronic positive mood changes have been said to occur with running and jogging. It has been suggested that endogenous substances with opioid activity (endorphins) may serve as modulators of mood. The authors report experiments in which mood changes associated with long-distance running were measured by pre- and post-run difference-scores on a mood adjective checklist, the Profile of Mood States (POMS). Following this, the narcotic antagonist, naloxone, was given subcutaneously in double-blind fashion. The dose was 0.8 mg. The POMS was again presented 15 min later, and post-run/post-injection difference scores were obtained. No naloxone effect was found. The failure of naloxone to reverse the running-associated mood shift indicates that endorphins are not involved. The authors discuss the possible physiologic role of endorphins in light of these and other findings. (C)1982The American College of Sports Medicine
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Several studies have shown differences between marathon and ultramarathon runners with respect to the motives for participation. In this study we compared the motives for participation of a sample of adventure ultramarathon, ultramarathon and marathon runners. The adventure ultramarathon group consisted of participants of the Marathon des Sables (MdS), a desert marathon comprising 6 stages with a total length of 230 km. Subjects had to verbally state the reasons for participation in the respective races. These motives were categorized into the scales of the MOMS (Motivation of Marathoners Scales) or one of four additional reasons. The results revealed significant differences between the three groups of runners indicating less importance of the reason COMPETITION but higher importance of the motives NATURE and LIFE MEANING for MdS participants compared to marathon runners.