Lecture # 6
Why we watch TV and why it's so difficult to stop
• Theory of FLOW by Csziksentmihalyi
• His article is the most readable of all the articles assigned and describes his theory
◦ Now college students don't watch as much TV anymore
▪ 1) College time is a time to get out there and do new and different things
▪ 2) The has been a technological shift and now people are wasting their time on different
• To understand Csziksentmihalyi’s concept of flow and how he uses experience sampling
methods to measure it
• To understand the experiences that underlies TV-watching
• To understand what might be suitable goals if someone who feels they watch too much TV
What is flow?
Film: Nova Scotia Winter Surfers
• Why are these guys doing this?
• This is what made csikszentmihalyi interested in motivation, and this is what made him start
asking questions about optimal human experience and about flow and everyday life
• It seems to take a lot of time, physically uncomfortable probably (surfing in February), probably
expensive, and not getting paid to do it...not competing to win an award or anything, and Csik
was interested in why people would do this potentially even dangerous activity without any
extrinsic incentive to do it
• Initially interested in rock climbers and those who sail around ocean alone in sail boat, people
doing extreme things that seemed hard to explain
• He began by doing interviews, then suveys, and eventually developed a methodology to assess
• His huntch was that the reason people are doing these things, there must be something very
special that happens when they are involved in these activities and it must be quite different
from the rest of their lives.
◦ He also guessed that rehardless of what we do to have this experience, it's probably very
similar for all of us.
▪ We do different things and the term he came up is FLOW
Definition of flow and description of its components:
Asense of effortless action felt in moments that stand out as the best in our lives
(metaphor of flow no matter what the activity was, feeling like you were carried away by current or
• Structures his life around activity he loves the most (accountant in film), gets his work to let
him do it • Finds that about 85% of people will tell you once they hear this definition and given some
examples, will say yeah I have an activity where I experience flow (almost always leisure
activity, and one you are most passionate about)
• Methods: began with interviews of people like these guys/extreme difficult activity goers for
which there was no reward, then began with surveys, and later on developed methodology that
was uniquely suited to capturing flow experiences and why they're special and it involved
sampling peoples experiences across the day and comparing how our subjective experience
changes depending on activities were involved in.
• He interviewed chess players, poets. So cognitive activities can provide this special experience
• Could identify 6 key components that are associated with activities that provide this optimal
experience of a flow through interviewing, giving more of a sense of what it involves and when
it may happen:
• Clarity of goals: many sports and many games are well designed to provide flow because with
sports and games you know what the long term goal of the game is and from moment to
moment you know what youre working toward
• Immediate feedback: flow activities are designed so you get immediate feedback, they are rich
in feedback so you know whether youre making progress toward ultimate goal of activity and
second by second if you're mastering task or not... Csziksentmihalyi would say that unfortunate
thing about our lives is that we don’t always get immediate feedback (as college students 3
week into your semester you may have no idea how you're doing, you only get it after a couple
more weeks after mid terms, so in a position of not getting much feedback of how you’re
doing), this interferes with receiving experiences of flow
◦ These 2 characteristics were also the first 2 important characteristics in baumeister's model
of self control. So there is some overlap. Csziksentmihalyi theory is the ultimate goal theory
in a way.
• Challenges and skills are matched: important with how he operationalizes flow in research
program, most likely to experience flow when there's a match between challenges and skill level
(most likely to be in flow state when challenge is high and skill is high), ex: with film, why are
they surfing in winter...in January/February the waves are apparently the best there so in terms
of finding challenge to develop skills further it is the best time
◦ If high challenge and no skill you will feel anxious
◦ If high skill and no challenge you will be bored.
▪ The 3 emotions Csziksentmihalyi is interested in are boredom, anxiety, and flow.
• He says that unfortunately we spend most of our lives bored and anxious instead of
spending most of our lives in flow.
• Absorbed in the task: To see if you're flowing or not flowing, absorbed in task and in moment.
Csziksentmihalyi does studies where he samples peoples experiences throughout the days and
one thing he says is that often our most unpleasant experiences is when we are self-conscious
(thinking about how i said something stupid or declared love for someone when it was
inappropriate)...and we do this fairly frequently during day, and we feel worse about ourselves
and experiences.Wonderful thing about engaging challenging flow activity is that self
consciousness disappears.Activity is engrossing enough to not think about it
◦ most of us are splitting our attention; naturally we do this and try to do more than 1 or 2
tasks, and with flow activity it is so absorbing/engaging and demanding that you cant do
that (requires almost all of our information processing capacities) • Sense of personal control: People have incredible sense of personal control, these surfing guys
seeming like a shaky uncertain thing actually have sense of control and mastery as they're riding
the waves, same with rockclimbers. Csziksentmihalyi has quotes of rock climbers who say they
have more a sense of personal control when they are on the face of a cliff 2000 feet above
ground than they do while engaging in regular routine activities. With activities they love the
most and have skills that is where they feel the most personal control
• Altered sense of time: it can go in either direction. Most often experience time being shortened
during flow activity and you think only half hour has passed but its really 2-3 hours! Time can
be lengthened, if you're an elite athlete sprinter or ice skating, you can have an experience of
doing a routine that takes 12 seconds but it feels much longer, experience slows down.
▪ In high school was playing basketball game, made a pass, scored at buzzer, they won.
▪ Whenever he thinks about it, times slows down, it seemed like it lasted much longer.
When Csziksentmihalyi does the research he doesn't measure it in such a complex diverse way. He
really focuses in on skill and challenge.
Csziksentmihalyi most famous article “the paradox of work and leisure”, he notes that almost all of us
wish we had more leisure and less work. It's very natural to orient toward leisure because we think that
is when we have choice and we can do fun and interesting thing. At work there is more control placed
• He notes that no one actually stopped and examined how workers feel when they are at work
versus when they are at home and doing their leisure activities.
Daily Experience Sampling
• wonderful concept of flow, sounds like an engaging thing
• next wanted to find out not just about these surfers/rock climbers/solo ocean sailers, wanted to
see reg people in everyday lives where/when they were experiencing flow
• began with question of whether people experience flow more during leisure or work
• assumption is that leisure is when we’ll have optimal experience and select what we want to do
and find something that suits us where as work requires us to things
• did study where he compared moment to moment experiences at work vs during our leisure, and
to do this study he decided he doesn't trust retrospective reports or college students; so instead
he gets at phenomenology of everyday life experiences and develops EXPERIENCE
◦ when you participate in study you have a beeper and you are beeped 8 times during day in
every 2 hour block there's a random beep, and asked to stop what you're doing and complete
a brief survey about what activity you're engaged in, who you're with, how challenging it is,
how much are you concentrating, positive or negative emotions etc
▪ The first 2 questions they ask are: 1) how challenging is the task you are doing right
now 2) how much skill do you feel.
• These are the 2 items he will use to code whether you are in flow or not.
• When skill and challeneg are high, this is how operationalizes flow.
◦ he recruited 100 adults all working in Chicago area, 5 diff companies, diff positions...range
◦ he asked people to carry beeper for week and complete these brief surveys about emotional
and cognitive experiences
◦ The Paradox of Work and Leisure: Results
• Would suggest its amazing how much you can learn about yourself by doing this
• For all diff variables you’d have about 60 time points, plotted variations in person’s level of
happiness as she goes through the week...ex: secretary has wide variations, unstable in emotions
during this week, but if you look at it and see what shes doing when shes happy vs sad, you see
if shes with other people shes generally happier than when shes alone (except when shes with
her husband or thinking about him or about to see him, her happiness goes way down)
• Csziksentmihalyi most interested in this study and most of his work=how often were more in a
flow-like state and if it varies at work and leisure
• In this study, if an individual rated high in skill and high in challenge for an activity that was
coded as flow-like activity for an individual
• Amount of time people were in flow, compared work vs leisure...found surprising that people
were much more likely to report flow experiences AT WORK (on average, 54% of the time
people were at work they were reporting high challenge and high skill which was coded as
flow; where as during leisure time only 17% did people actually report high challenge and high
• This operational definition of flow you can question if it gets to larger concept...so besides
looking at high skill high challenge he also looked at other things people were likely to report-
when challenge and skill were high people were also reporting feeling active and alert, and
more pleasant emotions, positive affect and concentration.
• Results very surprising, counter what most of us think for what we think happens to us during
day and seemed to suggest people weren’t experiencing flow during leisure.
▪ The paradox is that all of us want more leisure time but if you think of ultimate
experience in terms of flow, the place where you ar emore likely to get that is at work.
• He looked at the 2 work groups (ex: managers versus secretary) he found these results were true
for both of those groups. But he also found that managers reported more frequent flow at work
than did the blue collar workers. The managers work probably allowed more challenge.
Slide # 8
The activities that are most likely to produce flow are sports and hobbies.
• If sports and hobbies are most likely to produce flow then howcome leisure did not score higher
in flow activities in this study?
◦ We don't spend a lot of our leisure time doing sports and hobbies.
• So next thing he looked at was what are people doing during leisure, and he found out that 50%
of adults leisure time was spent watching TV. In terms of how much at home-leisure time its
◦ AverageAmerican adult watches 3-4 hours of TV
◦ He can look activity by activity and see how likely you are to experience flow, and TV
watching is LOWEST producer of flow
◦ He wou