|dc.description.abstract||The work reported in this dissertation includes a series of studies that have the broad goal of understanding and encapsulating the experience of flow. In this chapter (Chapter 1), I have laid out the theoretical and empirical rationales for understanding flow as the experience of deep, effortless concentration. The foregoing literature review also clearly suggests that a new subjective report measure of flow is needed, one that focuses on the concept of deep, effortless concentration.
Chapter 2 is dedicated to developing a new way to capture and assess the experience of flow. In Study 2.1, we develop and present two new instruments for assessing individual differences in the experience of flow at the trait level, in accordance with the re-conceptualization of flow we have outlined in the present chapter. These scales allow for the assessment of the core experience of flow—deep, effortless concentration—in both internal contexts, such as thinking, remembering and imagining (Deep, Effortless Concentration – Internal; DECI), and external contexts such as playing sports or instruments (Deep, Effortless Concentration – External; DECE). These scales were highly correlated, indicating that individuals prone to experiencing flow in external contexts are also prone to experience flow in internal contexts. Nonetheless, when we examined the factor structure of these scales, a measurement model construing internal and external flow as related but separate constructs was found to fit the data significantly better than a model where they were construed as a single construct. In addition, we examined the item characteristics of our new measures and found them to have good psychometric properties and high internal consistency reliability.
Next, we conduct a preliminary investigation on the relation between flow (assessed via DECI/DECE) and various forms of everyday inattention. While the flow literature has often suggested there is a relation between flow and attentional ability (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2002), sometimes implying that those who are more likely to experience flow also have greater attentional control, little work has examined this relation empirically. In addition, we examine the relation between our new measures and an index of ‘global flow’ (i.e. the Swedish Flow Proneness Questionnaire; SFPQ) as well as the Tellegen Absorption Scale (TAS), an index of absorption. Among other things, we found that flow was negatively related to inattention, indicating that people who experience flow more frequently tend to experience relatively less inattention in everyday contexts.
In Chapter 3, we explore how flow—when defined as deep, effortless concentration—relates to other variables of theoretical interest. In Study 3.1 we examine the relation between flow and well-being. Flow is theorized to have a positive relation with well-being, and this has been demonstrated empirically in studies employing global flow measures (e.g. Tse et al., 2020). However, in light of the issues with the global flow conceptualization, it could be that the relation does not pertain to the specific experience of DEC, but rather one of the other extraneous facets included in a global flow score.
Also in Chapter 3, we investigate the consistency of flow experience, both by replicating our earlier findings in large samples to establish their consistency, and by investigating the trait stability of flow proneness as assessed using the DECI and DECE. In Study 3.2, we again investigate the relation between flow and inattention, as well as the relation between flow and well-being. In addition, we extend our earlier findings by examining the relation between flow and inattention using regression analyses. In particular, we investigate whether multiple measures of everyday inattention predict the experience of flow when used as simultaneous predictors. In Study 3.3, we examine the trait consistency or stability of flow proneness by examining the test-retest correlations of the DECI/DECE over several different time intervals ranging from 2 to 26 months.
In Chapter 4, we extend the work presented in prior chapters by exploring how the experience of flow relates to behavioural indices of sustained attention. In particular, in Study 4.1 we employed the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART; Robertson, Manly, Andrade, Baddeley & Yiend, 1997) to assess sustained attention ability. Sustained attention during the SART is typically assessed by commission errors, which are incorrect responses to infrequent critical targets; generally, better attention performance is characterized by fewer commission errors. Flow was indexed at the state level using DEC thought-probes, and at the trait level via questionnaires (i.e. DECI and DECE). Prior studies have linked reports of attention (i.e. indexed via everyday inattention measures) to both SART performance (Cheyne et al., 2006; Carriere, Cheyne & Smilek, 2008; Smilek, Carriere & Cheyne, 2010) and, in separate cases, to reports of deep, effortless concentration (see Chapter 2, Study 1). Given these two separate sets of findings, in addition to other studies which have documented a relation between flow and subjective reports of attention (Cermakova et al., 2010; Moore, 2013), it seems reasonable to expect that DEC measures might also be related to SART performance. In addition, we explored an interesting related question: Does the relation between flow and sustained attention changed over time? To assess this question, we examined whether the correlation between flow and commission errors differed when comparing the relation in the first and second half of the experiment.
A third goal of Study 4.1 was to examine the relation between DEC and the autotelic personality. The autotelic personality is a constellation of several attributes, including curiosity, persistence, the tendency to enjoy challenges, and high attentional control, and is thought to facilitate the experience of flow. While previous results provide some support for the claim that the autotelic personality facilitates flow (see Tse et al., 2018;), the studies examining the relation between the autotelic personality and flow have been limited by the use of global flow metrics. To test this claim more precisely, we examined the relation between the autotelic personality and measures of DEC at both the trait and state levels.
Finally, Study 4.1 addressed a fourth issue; whether trait measures of DEC predict the experience of state flow. We addressed this issue by examining the correlation between the DECI/DECE, which were collected in the mass testing survey prior to (and separated from) the experimental session, and state DEC measures collected during the SART. Our expectation was that those who experience DEC more frequently in their everyday lives would tend to experience more DEC during the SART as well.
Having established a means of measuring flow (i.e. via DEC) and having documented the relation between flow and sustained attention with multiple methods, we turned our attention to the question of how flow might be facilitated. In Chapter 5, we explored a possible strategy for facilitating flow experience—mindfulness. Mindfulness shares some similarities with flow; both concepts can be defined by deep focus on the present moment, and have positive associations with well-being. Across three studies, we investigated the relation between mindfulness and flow (i.e. deep, effortless concentration; DEC) using both correlational and experimental methods. In Study 5.1, we explore the relation between mindfulness and flow at the level of individual differences. Previous investigations of the relation between mindfulness and flow at the level of individual differences have produced somewhat mixed results; some studies have yielded positive relations between mindfulness and flow (Moore, 2013; Thienot et al., 2014), while others have yielded negative relations (Sheldon et al., 2014). To address this, we employ two measures of mindfulness and, critically, we assess the frequency of flow experience using more precise and specific measures of deep, effortless concentration (DEC) in two large samples (N > 1600). In Studies 5.2 and 5.3, we build on the results of Levinson et al (2014) and examine whether a brief mindfulness induction can facilitate the experience of deep effortless concentration. Across these two studies we vary the nature of the breath-counting instructions and the nature of the active control groups to assess the possible roles of task instructions, and the use of the term ‘mindfulness’ when introducing the breath-counting task. Furthermore, we examine whether breath-counting leads to improved performance on a game-like cognitive task. We also investigate whether trait mindfulness and/or trait flow predict the experience of state DEC during the experimental task and, lastly, whether the experience of state DEC is related to task performance.||en