Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Management Studies

Yerkes-Dodson Law for Flow: A Study on the Role of Competition and Difficulty in the Achievement of Flow

Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Management Studies

Yerkes-Dodson Law for Flow: A Study on the Role of Competition and Difficulty in the Achievement of Flow

Article excerpt

Originally proposed by the positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1975), flow can be described as the state of complete absorption in an activity to the point that nothing else matters. Csikszentmihalyi (1975) initially studied flow in various leisure and athletic activities including rock climbing, dance, chess and basketball, activities that contained inherent rewards for individuals. Over the years, the concept of flow has been extended to contexts of work (Csikszentmihalyi & LeFevre, 1989) and learning (Craig, Graesser, Sullins & Gholson, 2004) and has been connected to improvements in creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996), positive affect (Trevino & Webster, 1992), and life satisfaction (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Further there has been a flood of research on the expression of flow in World Wide Web and digital gaming environments, implying that the consideration of flow in their development can vastly improve their appeal (e.g., Choi & Kim, 2004; Novak, Hoffman & Yung, 2000; Schneider, Lang, Shin, & Bradley, 2004; Skadberg & Kimmel, 2004). Such studies have left no doubt that flow has important consequences in a vast number of life domains. However, despite its importance, the definition and constituents of flow remain ambiguous, and have been debated over since their initial conception.

Csíkszentmihály (1975) first defined flow as "the holistic sensation that people feel when they act with total involvement." He believed it to be the mental state wherein an activity becomes autotelic, or worth doing for its own sake, rather than a means towards the achievement of some other larger goal. According to him, this only occurs in situations where individuals perform activities right at the edge of their abilities; that is the point when the challenge provided by the activity and the individual's skill to counter this challenge are balanced so that they are able to just control the situation (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975). This four-channel model of flow, while is intuitively appealing, has been opposed by other researchers on the grounds that it does not provide a clear operational definition of the concept. Csikszentmihalyi's model does not indicate how the "balance" between challenge and skill can be measured or what it really means. Further problems arise in the assessment of skills and challenge when studying flow in the context of day-to-day mundane activities, such as browsing the Web, directly asking participants about their challenges and skills does not provide fruitful results (Chen, Wigand, & Nilan,1999). Hence, over the years, researchers have employed different operational definitions of flow in their research studies, without much agreement between such definitions. For instance, while Ellis, Voelkl and Morris (1994) define flow as the existence of positive affect accompanied with high levels of arousal, intrinsic motivation, and perceived freedom, Trevino and Webster (1992) accept it to be a combination of control, attention, curiosity, and intrinsic interest.

For the present study, we borrowed from Ghani, Supnick, and Rooney's (1991) model of flow, which proposes two key characteristics concentration or engagement in the activity and enjoyment attained from the activity. A number of previous studies have highlighted the importance of these two characteristics as determinants of human behavior (e.g., Ghani & Deshpande,1994; Lyng 1990) and several previous researchers have defined flow in relation to these factors (e.g., Ghani & Deshpande, 1994; Jackson & Marsh, 1996; Privette & Bundrick, 1987). Further, the Ghani, Supnick and Rooney (1991) model also suggests that control over the task is an additional salient precursor to the flow state, a view that was also held by Csikszentmihalyi (1975). Hence, in this paper we measure flow as the combination of three factors engagement in the task, enjoyment from the task, and control of the task. To measure flow as a function of these factors, the questionnaire created by Ghani, Supnick and Rooney (1991) was used, a detailed description of which can be found in the next section. …

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