Motivation Reading #6: The Measurement of Flow in Everyday Life
- If the experience meets certain criteria and the action is rewarding in itself, we are likely to
keep going and say that we want to do whatever we are doing. This is the class of
behaviors we call intrinsically motivated.
-Some intrinsically motivated actions are rewarding because they involve sensations that
our nervous system has been programmed to seek out. Pleasure includes positive responses
to food, se, relaxation, and the stimulation of certain chemical substances.
-The other category of intrinsically motivated behavior includes emergent rewards. These
are positive sensations arising from thee experience of holistic involvement that follows
upon concentration and skilled performance. This kind of reward we call enjoyment.
-Pleasure and enjoyment are not mutually exclusive, and they can be present in
consciousness at the same time.
- If the experience is not rewarding we stop the activity or else we go on because we have to
do it, in which case the behavior is said to be extrinsically motivated.
Flow and Emergent Motivation
In all the various groups studied (rock climbers, chess players, athletes and artists), the
respondents reported a very similar subjective experience that they enjoyed so much that they
were willing to go to great lengths to experience it again. This we called the flow experience.
What people do to enter the flow state varies by culture, gender, age, class and personal
inclination, but the structure of the experience appears to be remarkably similar.
Flow is a subjective state that people report when they are completely involved in something to
the point of forgetting time, fatigue, and everything else but the activity itself. The depth of
involvement is something we find enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding.
What makes the optimal experience of flow possible?
1) A deeply involving flow experience usually happens when there are clear goals a person
tries to reach, and when we get immediate and unambiguous feedback as to how well we
2) Another condition that makes flow experiences possible is balance between opportunities
for action in a given situation and ones ability to act. When challenges and skills are
relatively high and well matched, all ones attention needs to be focused on the task at
Characteristic Dimensions of the Flow Experience
When people enjoy what they are doing, they typically report most of the following:
Clear goals: it is clear what should be done
Immediate feedback: one knows how well one is doing
Challenges=skills: the opportunities for action are relatively high, and they are met by ones
perceived ability to act.
Action and awareness merge: one-pointedness of mind
Concentration at the task at hand: irrelevant stimuli disappear from consciousness, worries and
concerns are temporarily eliminated.
Control: a sense of personal control
Loss of self-consciousness: transcendence of ego boundaries, a sense of growth and being part of
some greater entity
Sense of time altered: time usually seems to pass fasterExperience becomes autotelic: if several of the previous conditions are present, what one does
becomes autotelic, or worth doing for its own sake.
3) Another element of the flow experience: the merging of action and awareness. One
becomes so concentrated and involved that the usual dualism between actor and action
disappears; one feels as if on automatic pilot, doing what needs to be done without
4) People report forgetting their troubles because the intensity of the experience precludes
ruminating on the past or the future.
5) This further leads to a loss of self-consciousness, so that we no longer worry about how we
look, or whether others like us; in fact, people often mention a feeling of self-transcendence.
6) A distortion of the sense of time is often reported, so that hours seem to pass by in minutes.
7) When most of the previous dimensions are present in consciousness, the activity tends to
become autotelicworth doing for its own sake.
Why is the Flow Experience Rewarding?
One popular explanation of why people prefer to experience flow in different activities has been
that the enjoyment derived from apparently self-rewarding activities really occurs because they
are a disguised release for repressed desires.
Another explanation holds that those who engage in dangerous sports like hang gliding or rock
climbing have peculiar personality traits that drive them to seek sensation.
Another explanation of why some individuals are drawn to rock climbing and others to chess is
provided by the concept of interest. A person is predisposed to become involved in an activity
either because of previous positive feelings associated with it or because value has been
attributed to itboth of these constituting individual interest; or the person may be predisposed
by situational interest, if the activit