Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Validation of the Flow Theory in an On-Site Whitewater Kayaking Setting

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Validation of the Flow Theory in an On-Site Whitewater Kayaking Setting

Article excerpt


To explore the immediate states of mind of participants in intrinsic and challenging activities, Csikszentmihalyi (1975) proposed the concept of flow, which was originally defined as a psychological state that occurs when an individual perceives a balance of challenge and skill. The original theory of flow postulates that the overall positivity of the subjective experience, as represented by flow indicators such as positive affect, arousal, concentration, involvement, intrinsic motivation, and others, is a function of this balance. During the theory's conceptual development, intrinsically motivating outdoor adventure activities (i.e., rock climbing) were emphasized as having the potential for many of the "deepest" flow experiences. Despite this emphasis, further theoretical development of the flow model has neglected to include a quantitative methodology suitable to outdoor adventure settings.

Partially because of methodological difficulties in sampling adventure recreators, empirical studies concerning the flow construct have emphasized daily activities (i.e., work, school, organized sports). Several daily activity studies have questioned models and methods of operationalizing the flow construct because their results indicate that the flow model only accounts for a small degree of the variance in predicting indicators (Elks, Voelkl, Morris, 1994; Moneta & Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). These indicators represent the positivity of subjective states according to the theoretical elements discussed by Csikszentmihalyi (1975, 1990). Thus, attempts to validate the theory in the daily setting have not been convincing. The purpose of this paper is to validate the flow theory in an on-site adventure setting.

The Four Channel Model and Differences in Subjective Experience

The original model of flow assumed that a state of flow occurred with the literal challenge-skill match while nonflow occurred during an absence of this match. This model was tested in the daily setting using the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) which requires that subjects fill out a brief questionnaire when randomly beeped (generally '7 per day) throughout a one week period (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1987). ESM studies within a daily setting failed to confirm that the literal match of challenge-skill (flow/nonflow) could significantly predict indicators (Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 1988).

A reformulated model, the four channel model, was developed to improve the original model and attempt to validate the theory based on the following assumptions: ( 1 ) flow occurs when perceived challenge and skill are above an individual's personal average, (2) anxiety occurs when an individual's average perceived challenge is greater than skill, (3) boredom occurs when an individual's average perceived skill exceeds challenge, and (4) apathy occurs when both the perceived challenge and skill are below the personal average. Consistent with theoretical expectations, repeated evaluations of the four channel model in daily settings have revealed that subjective experiences are significantly more positive in the flow channel than the remaining three channels (Massimini & Carli, 1986). Despite these positive findings among daily studies, a lack of validation remains concerning the prediction of differences between channels in on-site adventure settings.

More recently, several validation studies have focused on the construct validity of flow and the variance explained in daily experience by the reformulated model. The four channel model assumes that flow is categorized with higher levels of challenge than the original model. Despite this differentiation, the results of daily studies often remain less supportive of the four channel model than would be theoretically expected. For example, in a study of retired adults, Mannell, Zuzanek, & Larson ( 1988) found that the highest levels of intrinsically rewarding flow were related to extrinsically motivating daily activities (i. …

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