Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Measurement and Analysis Issues with Explanation of Variance in Daily Experience Using the Flow Model

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Measurement and Analysis Issues with Explanation of Variance in Daily Experience Using the Flow Model

Article excerpt

Csikszentmihalyi (1975) conceptualized flow as an optimal experience that stems from peoples' perceptions of challenges and skills in given situations. Situations in which challenges and skills are perceived to be equivalent are thought to facilitate the emergence of such indicators of flow as positive affect and high levels of arousal, intrinsic motivation, and perceived freedom (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975; 1982). Perhaps due its appeal as a "state of mind" perspective, this phenomenon has received considerable attention in the recreation and leisure literature. Numerous works have appeared in journals, introductory texts, discussions on perspectives of leisure, and social science journals (for example; Ellis & Witt, 1983; Francis, 1991; Haggard & Williams, 1992; Kelly, 1990; Kleiber, Larson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1986; Mannell, Zuzanek & Larson, 1988; Russell, 1986; Voelkl, 1990; Witt & Ellis, 1989). Mannell, Zuzanek and Larson (1988) examined flow, perceived freedom and intrinsic motivation to see if higher levels of flow accompanied leisure (freely chosen and intrinsically motivated) activities. Kleiber, Larson and Csikszentmihalyi (1986) studied flow associated with leisure activities of adolescents. In the therapeutic recreation literature, Voelkl (1990) examined challenge skill ratios among institutionalized older adults and Francis (1991) looked at flow with drug misusers. The Depth of Involvement in Leisure component of the Leisure Diagnostic Battery (Witt & Ellis, 1989) was developed from Csikszentmihalyi's work (each item of the scale reflects an aspect of flow). The above represent a select few examples, as a concise reference list of flow in leisure literature deserves a separate paper.

In recent years, researchers have begun to use experience sampling method (ESM) data to operationalize flow and non-flow experiences in people's daily lives (Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 1988). The ESM involves capturing participants' immediate conscious experiences via self report forms (SRFs) completed in response to electronic pages signalled at random times throughout each day.

Recent ESM studies examining flow experiences in people's daily lives have found that high levels of perceived challenge and skill facilitate significantly more positive levels of flow than perceptions of incongruity or low level challenge and skill (Carli, DelleFave, & Massimini, 1988; Csikszentmihalyi & Nakamura, 1989; Massimini & Carli, 1988; Massimini, Csikszentmihalyi, & Carli, 1987; Voelkl, 1989). Little attention, however, has been given to the percent of variance that is explained by the challenge-skill context and close examination of these studies suggests that only a small portion of the variance in the indicators of flow (i.e., affect, arousal, intrinsic motivation, perceived freedom) may be explained (Voelkl, 1990). The purposes of the present study, therefore, were as follows: (1) to review potential factors that may limit the percent of variance explained in ESM studies of the flow phenomenon, (2) propose alternative methods of analysis, and (3) compare the explanatory power of the different approaches to analysis.

BACKGROUND

In Csikszentmihalyi's (1975) original model of optimal experiences, flow was thought to occur when the actor perceived an equal match between challenge and skill, regardless of whether the context was one of high perceived challenge and skill or low perceived challenge and skill (see "original flow model" in Figure 1a).(Figure 1a omitted) Based on analysis of several thousand experience sampling reports, however, Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi (1988) refined this description of the flow model, indicating that the original model explains how flow changes with "increased complexification" (p. 262) of challenges and skills over time. This provides us a description of the experiential component of an activity as people's skill develops through repeated exposure to the activity. …

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