What is Flow (Psychology)?


In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterised by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.

Named by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in 1975, the concept has been widely referred to across a variety of fields (and is particularly well recognised in occupational therapy), though the concept has been claimed to have existed for thousands of years under other names.

The flow state shares many characteristics with hyperfocus. However, hyperfocus is not always described in a positive light. Some examples include spending “too much” time playing video games or becoming pleasurably absorbed by one aspect of an assignment or task to the detriment of the overall assignment. In some cases, hyperfocus can “capture” a person, perhaps causing them to appear unfocused or to start several projects, but complete few. Hyperfocus is often mentioned “in the context of autism, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – conditions that have consequences on attentional abilities.”


Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow:

  • Intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
  • Merging of action and awareness.
  • A loss of reflective self-consciousness.
  • A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity.
  • A distortion of temporal experience, as one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
  • Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience.

Those aspects can appear independently of each other, but only in combination do they constitute a so-called flow experience. Additionally, psychology writer Kendra Cherry has mentioned three other components that Csíkszentmihályi lists as being a part of the flow experience:

  • Immediate feedback.
  • Feeling the potential to succeed.
  • Feeling so engrossed in the experience, that other needs become negligible.

Just as with the conditions listed above, these conditions can be independent of one another.


Flow is so named because, during Csíkszentmihályi’s 1975 interviews, several people described their “flow” experiences using the metaphor of a water current carrying them along: “‘It was like floating,’ ‘I was carried on by the flow.'”

Brief History

Mihaly Csikszentmihályi and others began researching flow after Csikszentmihályi became fascinated by artists who would essentially get lost in their work. Artists, especially painters, got so immersed in their work that they would disregard their need for food, water and even sleep. The theory of flow came about when Csikszentmihályi tried to understand the phenomenon experienced by these artists. Flow research became prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, with Csikszentmihályi and his colleagues in Italy still at the forefront. Researchers interested in optimal experiences and emphasizing positive experiences, especially in places such as schools and the business world, also began studying the theory of flow at this time.

The cognitive science of flow has been studied under the rubric of effortless attention.


In any given moment, there is a great deal of information made available to each individual. Psychologists have found that one’s mind can attend to only a certain amount of information at a time. According to Csikszentmihályi’s 2004 TED talk, that number is about “110 bits of information per second.” That may seem like a lot of information, but simple daily tasks take quite a lot of information. Just decoding speech takes about 40-60 bits of information per second, which is why when having a conversation, one cannot focus as much attention on other things.

For the most part (except for basic bodily feelings like hunger and pain, which are innate), people are able to decide what they want to focus their attention on. However, when one is in the flow state, they are completely engrossed with the one task at hand and, without making the conscious decision to do so, lose awareness of all other things: time, people, distractions, and even basic bodily needs. According to Csikszentmihályi, this event occurs because all of the attention of the person in the flow state is on the task at hand; there is no more attention to be allocated.

The flow state has been described by Csikszentmihályi as the “optimal experience” in that one gets to a level of high gratification from the experience. Achieving this experience is considered to be personal and “depends on the ability” of the individual. One’s capacity and desire to overcome challenges in order to achieve their ultimate goals leads not only to the optimal experience but also to a sense of life satisfaction overall.


There are three common ways to measure flow experiences: the flow questionnaire (FQ), the experience sampling method (ESM), and the “standardised scales of the componential approach.”

Flow Questionnaire

The FQ requires individuals to identify definitions of flow and situations in which they believe that they have experienced flow, followed by a section that asks them to evaluate their personal experiences in these flow-inducing situations. The FQ identifies flow as multiple constructs, therefore allowing the results to be used to estimate differences in the likelihood of experiencing flow across a variety of factors. Another strength of the FQ is that it does not assume that everyone’s flow experiences are the same. Because of this, the FQ is the ideal measure for estimating the prevalence of flow. However, the FQ has some weaknesses that more recent methods have set out to address. The FQ does not allow for a measurement of the intensity of flow during specific activities. This method also does not measure the influence of the ratio of challenge to skill on the flow state.

Experience Sampling Method

The ESM requires individuals to fill out the experience sampling form (ESF) at eight randomly chosen time intervals throughout the day. The purpose of this is to understand subjective experiences by estimating the time intervals that individuals spend in specific states during everyday life. The ESF is made up of 13 categorical items and 29 scaled items. The purpose of the categorical items is to determine the context and motivational aspects of the current actions (these items include: time, location, companionship/desire for companionship, activity being performed, reason for performing activity). Because these questions are open-ended, the answers need to be coded by researchers. This needs to be done carefully so as to avoid any biases in the statistical analysis. The scaled items are intended to measure the levels of a variety of subjective feelings that the individual may be experiencing. The ESM is more complex than the FQ and contributes to the understanding of how flow plays out in a variety of situations, however the possible biases make it a risky choice.

Standardised Scales

Some researchers are not satisfied with the methods mentioned above and have set out to create their own scales. The scales developed by Jackson and Eklund are the most commonly used in research, mainly because they are still consistent with Csíkszentmihályi’s definition of flow and consider flow as being both a state and a trait. Jackson and Eklund created two scales that have been proven to be psychometrically valid and reliable:

  • The flow state scale-2 (which measures flow as a state); and
  • The dispositional flow scale-2 (designed to measure flow as either a general trait or domain-specific trait).

The statistical analysis of the individual results from these scales gives a much more complete understanding of flow than the ESM and the FQ.


The flow state can be entered while performing any activity, although it is more likely to occur when the task or activity is wholeheartedly engaged for intrinsic purposes. Passive activities such as taking a bath or even watching TV, usually do not elicit a flow experience because active engagement is prerequisite to entering the flow state. While the activities that induce flow vary and may perhaps be multifaceted, Csikszentmihályi asserts that the experience of flow is similar whatever the activity.

Flow theory postulates that three conditions must be met to achieve flow:

  • The activity must have clear goals and progress. This establishes structure and direction.
  • The task must provide clear and immediate feedback. This helps to negotiate any changing demands and allows adjusting performance to maintain the flow state.
  • Good balance is required between the perceived challenges of the task and one’s perceived skills. Confidence in the ability to complete the task is required.

It has been argued that the antecedent factors of flow are interrelated, and as such, a perceived balance between challenges and skills requires that the goals are clear, and feedback is effective. Thus, the coordination of perceived demands and task skills can be identified as the central precondition of flow experience.

In 1987, Massimini, Csíkszentmihályi and Carli published the eight-channel model of flow. Antonella Delle Fave, who worked with Fausto Massimini at the University of Milan, calls this graph the Experience Fluctuation Model. The model depicts the channels of experience that result from different levels of perceived challenges and perceived skills. The graph illustrates another aspect of flow: it is more likely to occur when the activity is a higher-than-average challenge (above the centre point) and the individual has above-average skills (to the right of the centre point). The centre of the graph where the sectors meet represents the average level of challenge and skill across all individual daily activities. The further from the centre an experience is, the greater the intensity of that state of being, whether it is flow or anxiety or boredom or relaxation.

Several problems of the model have been discussed in literature. One is that it does not ensure the perceived balance between challenges and skills which is said to be the central precondition of flow experience. Individuals with a low average level of skills and a high average level of challenges (or the converse) do not necessarily experience a match between skills and challenges when both are above their individual average. Another study found that low challenge situations which were surpassed by skill were associated with enjoyment, relaxation, and happiness, which, they claim, is contrary to flow theory.

Schaffer (2013) proposed seven flow conditions:

  • Knowing what to do.
  • Knowing how to do it.
  • Knowing how well one is doing.
  • Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved).
  • High perceived challenges.
  • High perceived skills.
  • Freedom from distractions.

Schaffer published a flow condition questionnaire (FCQ), to measure each of these seven flow conditions for any given task or activity.

Challenges to Maintaining Flow

Some of the challenges to staying in flow include states of apathy, boredom, and anxiety. The state of apathy is characterized by easy challenges and low skill level requirements, resulting in a general lack of interest in the activity. Boredom is a slightly different state that occurs when challenges are few, but one’s skill level exceeds those challenges causing one to seek higher challenges. A state of anxiety occurs when challenges are high enough to exceed perceived skill level, causing distress and uneasiness. These states in general prevent achieving the balance necessary for flow. Csíkszentmihályi has said, “If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.”

The Autotelic Personality

Csíkszentmihályi hypothesized that people with certain personality traits may be better able to achieve flow than the average person. These traits include curiosity, persistence, low egotism, and a high propensity to perform activities for intrinsic reasons. People with most of these personality traits are said to have an autotelic personality. The term “autotelic” derives from two Greek words, auto, meaning self, and telos meaning goal. Being autotelic means having a self-contained activity, without the expectation of future benefit, but simply to be experienced.

There is scant research on the autotelic personality, but results of the few studies that have been conducted suggest that indeed some people are more likely to experience flow than others. One researcher (Abuhamdeh, 2000) found that people with an autotelic personality have a greater preference for “high-action-opportunity, high-skills situations that stimulate them and encourage growth” compared to those without an autotelic personality. It is in such high-challenge, high-skills situations that people are most likely to experience flow.

Experimental evidence shows that a balance between individual skills, and demands of the task (compared to boredom and overload) only elicits the flow experience in individuals having an internal locus of control or a habitual action orientation. Several correlational studies found need for achievement to be a personal characteristic that fosters flow experiences.

Autotelic Personality also has been shown in studies to correlate and show overlapping of flow in personal life and the Big Five Personality Traits of Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience. More particularly the traits of agreeableness and extraversion. Study of Autotelic Personality is difficult as most studies are performed through self-evaluation as observation of an Autotelic Personality is difficult to observe.


Group flow (or team flow) is notably different from independent flow as it is inherently mutual. Group flow is attainable when the performance unit is a group, such as a team or musical group. When groups cooperate to agree on goals and patterns, social flow, commonly known as group cohesion, is much more likely to occur. If a group still has not entered flow, a team-level challenge may stimulate the group to harmonise.


Applications Suggested by Csíkszentmihályi versus Other Practitioners

Only Csíkszentmihályi seems to have published suggestions for extrinsic applications of the flow concept, such as design methods for playgrounds to elicit the flow experience. Other practitioners of Csíkszentmihályi’s flow concept focus on intrinsic applications, such as spirituality, performance improvement, or self-help. His work has also informed the measurement of donor momentum by The New Science of Philanthropy.


In education, the concept of overlearning plays a role in a student’s ability to achieve flow. Csíkszentmihályi states that overlearning enables the mind to concentrate on visualising the desired performance as a singular, integrated action instead of a set of actions. Challenging assignments that (slightly) stretch one’s skills lead to flow.

In the 1950s British cybernetician Gordon Pask designed an adaptive teaching machine called SAKI, an early example of “e-learning”. The machine is discussed in some detail in Stafford Beer’s book “Cybernetics and Management”. In the patent application for SAKI (1956), Pask’s comments (some of which are included below) indicate an awareness of the pedagogical importance of balancing student competence with didactic challenge, which is quite consistent with flow theory:

If the operator is receiving data at too slow a rate, he is likely to become bored and attend to other irrelevant data.

If the data given indicates too precisely what responses the operator is required to make, the skill becomes too easy to perform and the operator again tends to become bored.

If the data given is too complicated or is given at too great a rate, the operator is unable to deal with it. He is then liable to become discouraged and lose interest in performing or learning the skill.

Ideally, for an operator to perform a skill efficiently, the data presented to him should always be of sufficient complexity to maintain his interest and maintain a competitive situation, but not so complex as to discourage the operator. Similarly these conditions should obtain at each stage of a learning process if it is to be efficient. A tutor teaching one pupil seeks to maintain just these conditions.

Around 2000, it came to the attention of Csíkszentmihályi that the principles and practices of the Montessori Method of education seemed to purposefully set up continuous flow opportunities and experiences for students. Csíkszentmihályi and psychologist Kevin Rathunde embarked on a multi-year study of student experiences in Montessori settings and traditional educational settings. The research supported observations that students achieved flow experiences more frequently in Montessori settings.


Musicians, especially improvisational soloists, may experience a state of flow while playing their instrument. Research has shown that performers in a flow state have a heightened quality of performance as opposed to when they are not in a flow state. In a study performed with professional classical pianists who played piano pieces several times to induce a flow state, a significant relationship was found between the flow state of the pianist and the pianist’s heart rate, blood pressure, and major facial muscles. As the pianist entered the flow state, heart rate and blood pressure decreased, and the major facial muscles relaxed. This study further emphasized that flow is a state of effortless attention. In spite of the effortless attention and overall relaxation of the body, the performance of the pianist during the flow state improved.

Groups of drummers go through a state of flow when they sense a collective energy that drives the beat, something they refer to as getting into the groove or entrainment. Likewise, drummers and bass guitarists often describe a state of flow when they are feeling the downbeat together as being in the pocket. Researchers have measured flow through subscales; challenge-skill balance, merging of action and awareness, clear goals, unambiguous feedback, total concentration, sense of control, loss of self-consciousness, transformation of time and autotelic experience.


The concept of being in the zone during an athletic performance fit within Csíkszentmihályi’s description of the flow experience, and theories and applications of being in the zone and its relationship with an athletic competitive advantage are topics studied in the field of sport psychology.

Timothy Gallwey’s influential works on the “inner game” of sports such as golf and tennis described the mental coaching and attitudes required to “get in the zone” and fully internalise mastery of the sport.

Roy Palmer suggests that “being in the zone” may also influence movement patterns as better integration of the conscious and subconscious reflex functions improves coordination. Many athletes describe the effortless nature of their performance while achieving personal bests.

In many martial arts, the term Budō is used to describe psychological flow. Mixed martial arts champion and Karate master Lyoto Machida uses meditation techniques before fights to attain mushin, a concept that, by his description, is in all respects equal to flow.

The Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, during qualifying for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix, explained:

“I was already on pole, […] and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel.”

Former 500 GP rider Wayne Gardner talking about his victory at the 1990 Australian Grand Prix on The Unrideables 2 documentary said: “During these last five laps I had this sort of above body experience where actually raised up above and I could see myself racing. It was kind of a remote control and it’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever had in my life. […]” After the race Mick [Doohan] and in fact Wayne Rainey said: “How the hell did you do that?” and I said: “I have no idea.”

Religion and Spirituality

In yogic traditions such as Raja Yoga, reference is made to a state of flow in the practice of Samyama, a psychological absorption in the object of meditation.

Games and Gaming

Flow in games and gaming has been linked to the laws of learning as a part of the explanation for why learning-games (the use of games to introduce material, improve understanding, or increase retention) have the potential to be effective. In particular, flow is intrinsically motivating, which is a part of the law of readiness. The condition of feedback, required for flow, is associated with the feedback aspects of the law of exercise. This is exhibited in well designed games, in particular, where players perform at the edge of their competency as they are guided by clear goals and feedback. The positive emotions associated with flow are associated with the law of effect. The intense experiences of being in a state of flow are directly associated with the law of intensity. Thus, the experience of gaming can be so engaging and motivating as it meets many of the laws of learning, which are inextricably connected to creating flow.

In games often much can be achieved thematically through an imbalance between challenge level and skill level. Horror games often keep challenges significantly above the player’s level of competency in order to foster a continual feeling of anxiety. Conversely, so called “relaxation games” keep the level of challenges significantly below the player’s competency level, in order to achieve an opposite effect. The video game Flow was designed as part of Jenova Chen’s master’s thesis for exploring the design decisions that allow players to achieve the flow state, by adjusting the difficulty dynamically during play.

It improves performance; calling the phenomenon “TV trance,” a 1981 BYTE article discussed how “the best seem to enter a trance where they play but don’t pay attention to the details of the game.” The primary goal of games is to create entertainment through intrinsic motivation, which is related to flow; that is, without intrinsic motivation it is virtually impossible to establish flow. Through the balance of skill and challenge, the player’s brain is aroused, with attention engaged and motivation high. Thus, the use of flow in games helps foster an enjoyable experience, which in turn increases motivation and draws players to continue playing. As such, game designers strive to integrate flow principles into their projects. Overall, the experience of play is fluid and is intrinsically psychologically rewarding independent of scores or in-game successes in the flow state.

Design of Intrinsically Motivated Computer Systems

A simplified modification to flow has been combined with the technology acceptance model (TAM) to help guide the design of and explain the adoption of intrinsically motivated computer systems. This model, the hedonic-motivation system adoption model (HMSAM) is modelled to improve the understanding of hedonic-motivation systems (HMS) adoption. HMS are systems used primarily to fulfil users’ intrinsic motivations, such for online gaming, virtual worlds, online shopping, learning/education, online dating, digital music repositories, social networking, online pornography, gamified systems, and for general gamification. Instead of a minor, TAM extension, HMSAM is an HMS-specific system acceptance model based on an alternative theoretical perspective, which is in turn grounded in flow-based concept of cognitive absorption (CA). The HMSAM further builds on van der Heijden’s (2004) model of hedonic system adoption by including CA as a key mediator of perceived ease of use (PEOU) and of behavioural intentions to use (BIU) hedonic-motivation systems. Typically, models simplistically represent “intrinsic motivations” by mere perceived enjoyed. Instead, HMSAM uses the more complex, rich construct of CA, which includes joy, control, curiosity, focused immersion, and temporal dissociation. CA is construct that is grounded in the seminal flow literature, yet CA has traditionally been used as a static construct, as if all five of its subconstructs occur at the same time – in direct contradiction to the flow literature. Thus, part of HMSAM’s contribution is to return CA closer to its flow roots by re-ordering these CA subconstructs into more natural process-variance order as predicted by flow. Empirical data collection along with mediation tests further support this modelling approach.

Professions and Work

Developers of computer software reference getting into a flow state as “wired in”, or sometimes as The Zone, hack mode, or operating on software time when developing in an undistracted state. Stock market operators often use the term “in the pipe” to describe the psychological state of flow when trading during high volume days and market corrections. Professional poker players use the term “playing the A-game” when referring to the state of highest concentration and strategical awareness, while pool players often call the state being in “dead stroke”.

In the Workplace

Conditions of flow, defined as a state in which challenges and skills are equally matched, play an extremely important role in the workplace. Because flow is associated with achievement, its development may have specific implications for increased workplace satisfaction and achievement. Flow researchers, such as Csikszentmihályi, believe that certain interventions may be performed to enhance and increase flow in the workplace, through which people would gain ‘intrinsic rewards that encourage persistence” and provide benefits. In his consultation work, Csikszentmihályi emphasizes finding activities and environments that are conducive to flow, and then identifying and developing personal characteristics to increase experiences of flow. Applying these methods in the workplace can improve morale by fostering a sense of greater happiness and accomplishment, which may be correlated with increased performance. In his review of Mihály Csikszentmihályi’s book “Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning,” Coert Visser introduces the ideas presented by Csikszentmihályi, including “good work” in which one “enjoys doing your best while at the same time contributing to something beyond yourself.” He then provides tools by which managers and employees can create an atmosphere that encourages good work. Some consultants suggest that the experience sampling form (EMS) method be used for individuals and teams in the workplace in order to identify how time is currently being spent, and where focus should be redirected to in order to maximise flow experiences.

In order to achieve flow, Csikszentmihályi lays out the following three conditions:

  • Goals are clear.
  • Feedback is immediate.
  • A balance exists between opportunity and capacity.

Csikszentmihályi argues that with increased experiences of flow, people experience “growth towards complexity”. People flourish as their achievements grow and with that comes development of increasing “emotional, cognitive, and social complexity.” Creating a workplace atmosphere that allows for flow and growth, Csikszentmihályi argues, can increase the happiness and achievement of employees. An increasingly popular way of promoting greater flow in the workplace is using the “serious play” facilitation methods. Some commercial organisations have used the concept of flow in building corporate branding and identity, for example, The Floow Limited, which created its company brand from the concept.


There are, however, barriers to achieving flow in the workplace. In his chapter “Why Flow Doesn’t Happen on the Job,” Csikszentmihályi argues the first reason that flow does not occur is that the goals of one’s job are not clear. He explains that while some tasks at work may fit into a larger, organization plan, the individual worker may not see where their individual task fits it. Second, limited feedback about one’s work can reduce motivation and leaves the employee unaware of whether or not they did a good job. When there is little communication of feedback, an employee may not be assigned tasks that challenge them or seem important, which could potentially prevent an opportunity for flow.

In the study “Predicting flow at work: Investigating the activities and job characteristics that predict flow states at work”, Karina Nielsen and Bryan Cleal used a 9-item flow scale to examine predictors of flow at two levels: activity level (such as brainstorming, problem solving, and evaluation) and at a more stable level (such as role clarity, influence, and cognitive demands). They found that activities such as planning, problem solving, and evaluation predicted transient flow states, but that more stable job characteristics were not found to predict flow at work. This study can help us identify which task at work can be cultivated and emphasized in order to help employees experience flow on the job. In her article in Positive Psychology News Daily, Kathryn Britton examines the importance of experiencing flow in the workplace beyond the individual benefits it creates. She writes:

“Flow isn’t just valuable to individuals; it also contributes to organizational goals. For example, frequent experiences of flow at work lead to higher productivity, innovation, and employee development (Csikszentmihályi, 1991, 2004). So finding ways to increase the frequency of flow experiences can be one way for people to work together to increase the effectiveness of their workplaces.”


Positive Experiences

Books by Csikszentmihályi suggest that enhancing the time spent in flow makes our lives more happy and successful. Flow experiences are predicted to lead to positive affect as well as to better performance. For example, delinquent behaviour was reduced in adolescents after two years of enhancing flow through activities.

People who have experienced flow, describe the following feelings:

  1. Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated.
  2. A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
  3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
  4. Knowing that the activity is doable – that our skills are adequate to the task.
  5. A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
  6. Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by the minute.
  7. Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

However, further empirical evidence is required to substantiate these preliminary indications, as flow researchers continue to explore the problem of how to directly investigate causal consequences of flow experiences using modern scientific instrumentation to observe the neuro-physiological correlates of the flow state.

Positive Affect and Life Satisfaction

Flow is an innately positive experience; it is known to “produce intense feelings of enjoyment”. An experience that is so enjoyable should lead to positive affect and happiness in the long run. Also, Csikszentmihályi stated that happiness is derived from personal development and growth – and flow situations permit the experience of personal development.

Several studies found that flow experiences and positive affect go hand in hand, and that challenges and skills above the individual’s average foster positive affect. However, the causal processes underlying those relationships remain unclear at present.

Performance and Learning

Flow experiences imply a growth principle. When one is in a flow state, they are working to master the activity at hand. To maintain that flow state, one must seek increasingly greater challenges. Attempting these new, difficult challenges stretches one’s skills. One emerges from such a flow experience with a bit of personal growth and great “feelings of competence and efficacy”. By increasing time spent in flow, intrinsic motivation and self-directed learning also increases.

Flow has a documented correlation with high performance in the fields of artistic and scientific creativity, teaching, learning, and sports.

Flow has been linked to persistence and achievement in activities while also helping to lower anxiety during various activities and raise self-esteem.

However, evidence regarding better performance in flow situations is mixed. For sure, the association between the two is a reciprocal one. That is, flow experiences may foster better performance but, on the other hand, good performance makes flow experiences more likely. Results of a longitudinal study in the academic context indicate that the causal effect of flow on performance is only of small magnitude and the strong relationship between the two is driven by an effect of performance on flow. In the long run, flow experiences in a specific activity may lead to higher performance in that activity as flow is positively correlated with a higher subsequent motivation to perform and to perform well.


Csikszentmihályi writes about the dangers of flow himself:

…enjoyable activities that produce flow have a potentially negative effect: while they are capable of improving the quality of existence by creating order in the mind, they can become addictive, at which point the self becomes captive of a certain kind of order, and is then unwilling to cope with the ambiguities of life.

Further, he writes:

The flow experience, like everything else, is not “good” in an absolute sense. It is good only in that it has the potential to make life more rich, intense, and meaningful; it is good because it increases the strengths and complexity of the self. But whether the consequence of any particular instance of flow is good in a larger sense needs to be discussed and evaluated in terms of more inclusive social criteria.

Keller and Landhäußer (2012, p.56) advocate for a flow intensity model because many models of flow have trouble predicting the intensity of flow experiences that can occur under various circumstances where skill and task demands fit together to produce flow.

Cowley et al. found that because self-reported flow happens after-the-fact, it does not really capture the aspect of flow that happens in the moment. Furthermore, that aspect of flow is prone to change, so the self-reported experience of flow cannot be trusted as much.

Cameron et al. found that there is not a lot of information on group flow, and this may be hindering development in managerial and theoretical contributions.

Future Directions

Cameron et al. proposed a research program that focuses on how group flow is different from individual flow, and how group flow affects group performance. These ideas will address some of the issues in group flow research such as poor data collection and interpretation.

Sridhar & Lyngdoh suggested that research should investigate how mobility affects the ethical performance of sales professionals. Furthermore, there should be longitudinal studies done in various fields to understand the ethical implications of flow in sales.

From their study, Chen et al. found that there needs to be more research done on how competition affects game-based learning.

Linden et al. suggest that a neuroscientific model of flow would lead to new research questions that would guide future discoveries, experiments, and less obvious questions.

Thissen et al. propose that more research is recommended in 2020 to understand how traffic affects fiction reading for all types of readers.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology) >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What is Mentalisation?


In psychology, mentalisation is the ability to understand the mental state – of oneself or others – that underlies overt behaviour.

Mentalisation can be seen as a form of imaginative mental activity that lets us perceive and interpret human behaviour in terms of intentional mental states (e.g. needs, desires, feelings, beliefs, goals, purposes, and reasons). It is sometimes described as “understanding misunderstanding.” Another term that David Wallin (a Swedish artist) has used for mentalisation is “Thinking about thinking”. Mentalisation can occur either automatically or consciously. Mentalisation ability, or mentalising, is weakened by intense emotion.


While the broader concept of theory of mind has been explored at least since Descartes, the specific term ‘mentalisation’ emerged in psychoanalytic literature in the late 1960s, and became empirically tested in 1983 when Heinz Wimmer and Josef Perner ran the first experiment to investigate when children can understand false belief, inspired by Daniel Dennett’s interpretation of a Punch and Judy scene.

The field diversified in the early 1990s when Simon Baron-Cohen and Uta Frith, building on the Wimmer and Perner study, and others merged it with research on the psychological and biological mechanisms underlying autism and schizophrenia. Concomitantly, Peter Fonagy and colleagues applied it to developmental psychopathology in the context of attachment relationships gone awry. More recently, several child mental health researchers such as Arietta Slade, John Grienenberger, Alicia Lieberman, Daniel Schechter, and Susan Coates have applied mentalisation both to research on parenting and to clinical interventions with parents, infants, and young children.


Mentalisation has implications for attachment theory and self-development. According to Peter Fonagy, individuals with disorganised attachment style (e.g. due to physical, psychological, or sexual abuse) can have greater difficulty developing the ability to mentalise. Attachment history partially determines the strength of mentalising capacity of individuals. Securely-attached individuals tend to have had a primary caregiver that has more complex and sophisticated mentalising abilities. As a consequence, these children possess more robust capacities to represent the states of their own and other people’s minds. Early childhood exposure to mentalisation can protect the individual from psychosocial adversity. This early childhood exposure to genuine parental mentalisation fosters development of mentalising capabilities in the child themselves. There is also suggestion that genuine parental mentalisation is beneficial to child learning; when a child feels they are being viewed as an intentional agent, they feel contingently responded to, which promotes epistemic trust and triggers learning in the form of natural pedagogy – this increases the quality of learning in the child. This theory needs further empirical support.


Mentalisation or better mentalising, has a number of different facets which can be measured with various methods. A prominent method of assessment of Parental Mentalisation is the Parental Development Interview (PDI), a 45-question semi-structured interview, investigating parents’ representations of their children, themselves as parents, and their relationships with their children. An efficient self-report measure of Parental Mentalisation is the Parental Reflective Functioning Questionnaire (PRFQ) created by Patrick Luyten and colleagues. The PRFQ is a brief, multidimensional assessment of parental reflective functioning (mentalisation), aimed to be easy to administer to parents in a wide range of socioeconomic populations. The PRFQ is recommended for use as a screening tool for studies with large populations and does not aim to replace more comprehensive measures, such as the PDI or observer-based measures.

Fourfold Dimensions

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Handbook of Mentalising in Mental Health Practice, mentalisation takes place along a series of four parameters or dimensions: Automatic/Controlled, Self/Other, Inner/Outer, and Cognitive/Affective.

Each dimension can be exercised in either a balanced or unbalanced way, while effective mentalisation also requires a balanced perspective across all four dimensions.

  • Automatic/Controlled. Automatic (or implicit) mentalising is a fast-processing unreflective process, calling for little conscious effort or input; whereas controlled mentalisation (explicit) is slow, effortful, and demanding of full awareness. In a balanced personality, shifts from automatic to controlled smoothly occur when misunderstandings arise in a conversation or social setting, to put things right. Inability to shift from automatic mentalisation can lead to a simplistic, one-sided view of the world, especially when emotions run high; while conversely inability to leave controlled mentalisation leaves one trapped in a ‘heavy’, endlessly ruminative thought-mode.
  • Self/Other involves the ability to mentalise about one’s own state of mind, as well as about that of another. Lack of balance means an overemphasis on either self or other.
  • Inner/Outer: Here problems can arise from an over-emphasis on external conditions, and a neglect of one’s own feelings and experience.
  • Cognitive/Affective are in balance when both dimensions are engaged, as opposed to either an excessive certainty about one’s own one-sided ideas, or an overwhelming of thought by floods of emotion.

What is Ataraxia?


Ataraxia (Greek: ἀταραξία, from alpha privative (“a-“, negation) and tarachē “disturbance, trouble”; hence, “unperturbedness”, generally translated as “imperturbability”, “equanimity”, or “tranquility”) is a Greek term first used in Ancient Greek philosophy by Pyrrho and subsequently Epicurus and the Stoics for a lucid state of robust equanimity characterised by ongoing freedom from distress and worry.

In non-philosophical usage, the term was used to describe the ideal mental state for soldiers entering battle.

Achieving ataraxia is a common goal for Pyrrhonism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism, but the role and value of ataraxia within each philosophy varies in accordance with their philosophical theories. The mental disturbances that prevent one from achieving ataraxia vary among the philosophies, and each philosophy has a different understanding as to how to achieve ataraxia.


Ataraxia is the central aim of Pyrrhonist practice. Pyrrhonists view ataraxia as necessary for bringing about eudaimonia (happiness) for a person, representing life’s ultimate purpose. The Pyrrhonist method for achieving ataraxia is through achieving epoché (i.e. suspension of judgment) regarding all matters of dogma (i.e. non-evident belief). The Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus summarized Pyrrhonism as “a disposition to oppose phenomena and noumena to one another in any way whatever, with the result that, owing to the equipollence among the things and statements thus opposed, we are brought first to epoché and then to ataraxia… Epoché is a state of the intellect on account of which we neither deny nor affirm anything. Ataraxia is an untroubled and tranquil condition of the soul.”

Sextus gave this detailed account of ataraxia:

We always say that as regards belief (i.e., dogma) the Pyrrhonist’s goal is ataraxia, and that as regards things that are unavoidable it is having moderate pathē. For when the Pyrrhonist set out to philosophize with the aim of assessing his phantasiai – that is, of determining which are true and which are false so as to achieve ataraxia – he landed in a controversy between positions of equal strength, and, being unable to resolve it, he suspended judgment. But while he was thus suspending judgment there followed by chance the sought-after ataraxia as regards belief. For the person who believes that something is by nature good or bad is constantly upset; when he does not possess the things that seem to be good, he thinks he is being tormented by things that are by nature bad, and he chases after the things he supposes to be good; then, when he gets these, he falls into still more torments because of irrational and immoderate exultation, and, fearing any change, he does absolutely everything in order not to lose the things that seem to him good. But the person who takes no position as to what is by nature good or bad neither avoids nor pursues intensely. As a result, he achieves ataraxia. Indeed, what happened to the Pyrrhonist is just like what is told of Apelles the painter. For it is said that once upon a time, when he was painting a horse and wished to depict the horse’s froth, he failed so completely that he gave up and threw his sponge at the picture – the sponge on which he used to wipe the paints from his brush – and that in striking the picture the sponge produced the desired effect. So, too, the Pyrrhonists were hoping to achieve ataraxia by resolving the anomaly of phenomena and noumena, and, being unable to do this, they suspended judgment. But then, by chance as it were, when they were suspending judgment the ataraxia followed, as a shadow follows the body. We do not suppose, of course, that the Pyrrhonist is wholly untroubled, but we do say that he is troubled only by things unavoidable. For we agree that sometimes he is cold and thirsty and has various feelings like those. But even in such cases, whereas ordinary people are affected by two circumstances – namely by the pathē themselves and not less by its seeming that these conditions are by nature bad – the Pyrrhonist, by eliminating the additional belief that all these things are naturally bad, gets off more moderately here as well. Because of this we say that as regards belief the Pyrrhonist’s goal is ataraxia, but in regard to things unavoidable it is having moderate pathē.


Ataraxia is a key component of the Epicurean conception of the highest good. Epicureans value ataraxia highly because of how they understand pleasure. Epicureans argue that pleasure is the highest good. They break pleasure down into two categories: the physical and the mental. They consider mental, not physical, pleasures to be the greatest sort of pleasure because physical pleasures exist only in the present; whereas mental pleasures exist in the past, the present, and the future.

Epicureans further separate pleasure into what they call kinetic and katastematic pleasures. Kinetic pleasures are those pleasures which come about through action or change. Such an action could be satisfying a desire or removing a pain, as that very sort of act is pleasurable in itself. Actions that feel good, even if not done to satisfy a desire or remove a pain, such as eating good-tasting food, also fall under the category of kinetic pleasures. Mental pleasures could also be kinetic in nature. Epicurus is said to have described joy as an example of a kinetic mental pleasure.

Katastematic pleasure is pleasure which comes about from the absence of pain or distress. This sort of pleasure can be physical or mental. Physical katastematic pleasure comes in freedom from physical disturbances, such as simply being in the state of not being thirsty. Comparatively, mental katastematic pleasure comes in freedom from mental disturbance. Those who achieved freedom from physical disturbance were said to be in a state of aponia, while those who achieved freedom from mental disturbances were said to be in a state of ataraxia.

Katastematic pleasures were regarded to be better than kinetic pleasures by Epicurus, believing that one could feel no more pleasure than the removal of all pain. Indeed, he is reported to have said:

The magnitude of pleasure reaches its limit in the removal of all pain. When pleasure is present, so long as it is uninterrupted, there is no pain either of body or of mind or of both together.

Being both a mental and katastematic pleasure, ataraxia has a supreme importance in Epicurean ethics and is key to a person’s happiness. In the Epicurean view, a person experiences the highest form of happiness should they ever be both in a state of aponia and ataraxia at the time.


Unlike in Pyrrhonism and Epicureanism, in Stoicism ataraxia is not the ultimate goal of life. Instead, a life of virtue according to nature is the goal of life. However, according to the Stoics, living virtuously in accordance with nature would lead to ataraxia as a byproduct.

An important distinction to be made is the difference in Stoicism between ataraxia and the Stoic idea of apatheia. While closely related to ataraxia, the state of apatheia was the absence of unhealthy passions; a state attained by the ideal Stoic sage. This is not the same as ataraxia. Apatheia describes freedom from the disturbance of emotions, not tranquillity of the mind. However, apatheia is integral for a Stoic sage to reach the stage of ataraxia. Since the Stoic sage does not care about matters outside of himself and is not susceptible to emotion because of his state of apatheia, the Stoic sage would be unable to be disturbed by anything at all, meaning that he was in a stage of mental tranquillity and thus was in the state of ataraxia.


Buddhism, a religion based on the teachings of Siddharta Gautama in the sixth century BC, affirms that the main cause of pain due to anguish is desire (any desire, which, because it is always associated with fear and hope, makes the heart anguish). So the flight or redemption of pain lies in the extinction or nakedness of all desire or disturbing affection, as especially the desire to live.

What is Introspection Illusion?


The introspection illusion is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly think they have direct insight into the origins of their mental states, while treating others’ introspections as unreliable.

Refer to Rationalisation (Psychology).

The illusion has been examined in psychological experiments, and suggested as a basis for biases in how people compare themselves to others. These experiments have been interpreted as suggesting that, rather than offering direct access to the processes underlying mental states, introspection is a process of construction and inference, much as people indirectly infer others’ mental states from their behaviour.

When people mistake unreliable introspection for genuine self-knowledge, the result can be an illusion of superiority over other people, for example when each person thinks they are less biased and less conformist than the rest of the group. Even when experimental subjects are provided with reports of other subjects’ introspections, in as detailed a form as possible, they still rate those other introspections as unreliable while treating their own as reliable. Although the hypothesis of an introspection illusion informs some psychological research, the existing evidence is arguably inadequate to decide how reliable introspection is in normal circumstances.

In certain situations, this illusion leads people to make confident but false explanations of their own behaviour (called “causal theories”) or inaccurate predictions of their future mental states.

Correction for the bias may be possible through education about the bias and its unconscious nature.


The phrase “introspection illusion” was coined by Emily Pronin. Pronin describes the illusion as having four components:

  1. People give a strong weighting to introspective evidence when assessing themselves.
  2. They do not give such a strong weight when assessing others.
  3. People disregard their own behaviour when assessing themselves (but not others).
  4. Own introspections are more highly weighted than others. It is not just that people lack access to each other’s introspections: they regard only their own as reliable.

Unreliability of Introspection

The idea that people can be mistaken about their inner functioning is one applied by eliminative materialists. These philosophers suggest that some concepts, including “belief” or “pain” will turn out to be quite different from what is commonly expected as science advances. The faulty guesses that people make to explain their thought processes have been called “causal theories”. The causal theories provided after an action will often serve only to justify the person’s behaviour in order to relieve cognitive dissonance. That is, a person may not have noticed the true reasons for their behaviour, even when trying to explain it. The result is an explanation that mostly merely makes themselves feel better. An example might be a man who mistreats others who have a specific quality because he is embarrassed that he himself has that quality. He may not admit this to himself, instead claiming that his prejudice is because he has concluded that the specific quality is bad.

A 1977 paper by psychologists Richard Nisbett and Timothy D. Wilson challenged the directness and reliability of introspection, thereby becoming one of the most cited papers in the science of consciousness. Nisbett and Wilson reported on experiments in which subjects verbally explained why they had a particular preference, or how they arrived at a particular idea. On the basis of these studies and existing attribution research, they concluded that reports on mental processes are confabulated. They wrote that subjects had, “little or no introspective access to higher order cognitive processes”. They distinguished between mental contents (such as feelings) and mental processes, arguing that while introspection gives us access to contents, processes remain hidden.

Although some other experimental work followed from the Nisbett and Wilson paper, difficulties with testing the hypothesis of introspective access meant that research on the topic generally stagnated. A ten-year-anniversary review of the paper raised several objections, questioning the idea of “process” they had used and arguing that unambiguous tests of introspective access are hard to achieve. Updating the theory in 2002, Wilson admitted that the 1977 claims had been too far-reaching. He instead relied on the theory that the adaptive unconscious does much of the moment-to-moment work of perception and behaviour. When people are asked to report on their mental processes, they cannot access this unconscious activity. However, rather than acknowledge their lack of insight, they confabulate a plausible explanation, and “seem” to be “unaware of their unawareness”.

A study conducted by philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel and psychologist Russell T. Hurlburt was set up to measure the extent of introspective accuracy by gathering introspective reports from a single individual who was given the pseudonym “Melanie”. Melanie was given a beeper which sounded at random moments, and when it did she had to note what she was currently feeling and thinking. After analysing the reports the authors had mixed views about the results, the correct interpretation of Melanie’s claims and her introspective accuracy. Even after long discussion the two authors disagreed with each other in the closing remarks, Schwitzgebel being pessimistic and Hurlburt optimistic about the reliability of introspection.

Factors in Accuracy

Nisbett and Wilson conjectured about several factors that they found to contribute to the accuracy of introspective self-reports on cognition.[8]

  • Availability: Stimuli that are highly salient (either due to recency or being very memorable) are more likely to be recalled and considered for the cause of a response.
  • Plausibility: Whether a person finds a stimulus to be a sufficiently likely cause for an effect determines the influence it has on their reporting of the stimulus.
  • Removal in time: The greater the distance in time since the occurrence of an event, the less available and more difficult to accurately recall it is.
  • Mechanics of judgement: People do not recognise the influence that judgment factors (e.g. position effects) have on them, leading to inaccuracies in self-reporting.
  • Context: Focusing on the context of an object distracts from evaluation of that object and can lead people to falsely believe that their thoughts about the object are represented by the context.
  • Non-events: The absence of an occurrence is naturally less salient and available than an occurrence itself, leading non-events to have little influence on reports.
  • Nonverbal behaviour: While people receive a large amount of information about others via nonverbal cues, the verbal nature of relaying information and the difficulty of translating nonverbal behaviour into verbal form lead to its lower reporting frequency.
  • Discrepancy between the magnitudes of cause and effect: Because it seems natural to assume that a certain size cause will lead to a similarly-sized effect, connections between causes and effects of different magnitudes are not often drawn.

Unawareness of Error

Several hypotheses to explain people’s unawareness of their inaccuracies in introspection were provided by Nisbett and Wilson:

  • Confusion between content and process: People are usually unable to access the exact process by which they arrived at a conclusion, but can recall an intermediate step prior to the result. However, this step is still content in nature, not a process. The confusion of these discrete forms leads people to believe that they are able to understand their judgment processes. Nisbett and Wilson have been criticized for failing to provide a clear definition of the differences between mental content and mental processes.
  • Knowledge of prior idiosyncratic reactions to a stimulus: An individual’s belief that they react in an abnormal manner to a stimulus, which would be unpredictable from the standpoint of an outside observer, seems to support true introspective ability. However, these perceived covariations may actually be false, and truly abnormal covariations are rare.
  • Differences in causal theories between subcultures: The inherent differences between discrete subcultures necessitates that they have some differing causal theories for any one stimulus. Thus, an outsider would not have the same ability to discern a true cause as would an insider, again making it seem to the introspector that they have the capacity to understand the judgment process better than can another.
  • Attentional and intentional knowledge: An individual may consciously know that they were not paying attention to a certain stimulus or did not have a certain intent. Again, as insight that an outside observer does not have, this seems indicative of true introspective ability. However, the authors note that such knowledge can actually mislead the individual in the case that it is not as influential as they may think.
  • Inadequate feedback: By nature, introspection is difficult to be disconfirmed in everyday life, where there are no tests of it and others tend not to question one’s introspections. Moreover, when a person’s causal theory of reasoning is seemingly disconfirmed, it is easy for them to produce alternative reasons for why the evidence is actually not disconfirmatory at all.
  • Motivational reasons: Considering one’s own ability to understand their reasoning as being equivalent to an outsider’s is intimidating and a threat to the ego and sense of control. Thus, people do not like to entertain the idea, instead maintaining the belief that they can accurately introspect.


The claim that confabulation of justifications evolved to relieve cognitive dissonance is criticized by some evolutionary biologists for assuming the evolution of a mechanism for feeling dissonanced by a lack of justification. These evolutionary biologists argue that if causal theories had no higher predictive accuracy than prejudices that would have been in place even without causal theories, there would be no evolutionary selection for experiencing any form of discomfort from lack of causal theories. The claim that studies in the United States that appear to show a link between homophobia and homosexuality can be explained by an actual such link is criticised by many scholars. Since much homophobia in the United States is due to religious indoctrination and therefore unrelated to personal sexual preferences, they argue that the appearance of a link is due to volunteer-biased erotica research in which religious homophobes fear God’s judgment but not being recorded as “homosexual” by Earthly psychologists while most non-homophobes are misled by false dichotomies to assume that the notion that men can be sexually fluid is somehow “homophobic” and “unethical”.

Choice Blindness

Inspired by the Nisbett and Wilson paper, Petter Johansson and colleagues investigated subjects’ insight into their own preferences using a new technique. Subjects saw two photographs of people and were asked which they found more attractive. They were given a closer look at their “chosen” photograph and asked to verbally explain their choice. However, in some trials, the experimenter had slipped them the other photograph rather than the one they had chosen, using sleight of hand. A majority of subjects failed to notice that the picture they were looking at did not match the one they had chosen just seconds before. Many subjects confabulated explanations of their preference. For example, a man might say “I preferred this one because I prefer blondes” when he had in fact pointed to the dark-haired woman, but had been handed a blonde. These must have been confabulated because they explain a choice that was never made. The large proportion of subjects who were taken in by the deception contrasts with the 84% who, in post-test interviews, said that hypothetically they would have detected a switch if it had been made in front of them. The researchers coined the phrase “choice blindness” for this failure to detect a mismatch.

A follow-up experiment involved shoppers in a supermarket tasting two different kinds of jam, then verbally explaining their preferred choice while taking further spoonfuls from the “chosen” pot. However, the pots were rigged so that, when explaining their choice, the subjects were tasting the jam they had actually rejected. A similar experiment was conducted with tea. Another variation involved subjects choosing between two objects displayed on PowerPoint slides, then explaining their choice when the description of what they chose had been altered.

Research by Paul Eastwick and Eli Finkel (relationship psychologist) at Northwestern University also undermined the idea that subjects have direct introspective awareness of what attracts them to other people. These researchers examined male and female subjects’ reports of what they found attractive. Men typically reported that physical attractiveness was crucial while women identified earning potential as most important. These subjective reports did not predict their actual choices in a speed dating context, or their dating behaviour in a one-month follow-up.

Consistent with choice blindness, Henkel and Mather found that people are easily convinced by false reminders that they chose different options than they actually chose and that they show greater choice-supportive bias in memory for whichever option they believe they chose.


It is not clear, however, the extent to which these findings apply to real-life experience when we have more time to reflect or use actual faces (as opposed to gray-scale photos). As Professor Kaszniak points out: “although a priori theories are an important component of people’s causal explanations, they are not the sole influence, as originally hypothesized by Nisbett & Wilson. Actors also have privileged information access that includes some degree of introspective access to pertinent causal stimuli and thought processes, as well as better access (than observers) to stimulus-response covariation data about their own behaviour”. Other criticisms point out that people who volunteer to psychology lab studies are not representative of the general population and also are behaving in ways that do not reflect how they would behave in real life. Examples include people of many different non-open political ideologies, despite their enmity to each other, having a shared belief that it is “ethical” to give an appearance of humans justifying beliefs and “unethical” to admit that humans are open-minded in the absence of threats that inhibit critical thinking, making them fake justifications.

Attitude Change

Studies that ask participants to introspect upon their reasoning (for liking, choosing, or believing something, etc.) tend to see a subsequent decrease in correspondence between attitude and behaviour in the participants. For example, in a study by Wilson et al., participants rated their interest in puzzles that they had been given. Prior to rating, one group had been instructed to contemplate and write down their reasons for liking or disliking the puzzles, while the control group was given no such task. The amount of time participants spent playing with each puzzle was then recorded. The correlation between ratings of and time spent playing each puzzle was much smaller for the introspection group than the control group.

A subsequent study was performed to show the generalisability of these results to more “realistic” circumstances. In this study, participants were all involved in a steady romantic relationship. All were asked to rate how well-adjusted their relationship was. One group was beforehand asked to list all of the reasons behind their feelings for their partner, while the control group did not do so. Six months later, the experimenters followed up with participants to check if they were still in the same relationship. Those who had been asked to introspect showed much less attitude-behaviour consistency based upon correlations between earlier relationship ratings and whether they were still dating their partners. This shows that introspection was not predictive, but this also probably means that the introspection has changed the evolution of the relationship.

The authors theorise that these effects are due to participants changing their attitudes, when confronted with a need for justification, without changing their corresponding behaviours. The authors hypothesize that this attitude shift is the result of a combination of things: a desire to avoid feeling foolish for simply not knowing why one feels a certain way; a tendency to make justifications based upon cognitive reasons, despite the large influence of emotion; ignorance of mental biases (e.g. halo effects); and self-persuasion that the reasons one has come up with must be representative with their attitude. In effect, people attempt to supply a “good story” to explain their reasoning, which often leads to convincing themselves that they actually hold a different belief. In studies wherein participants chose an item to keep, their subsequent reports of satisfaction with the item decreased, suggesting that their attitude changes were temporary, returning to the original attitude over time.

Introspection by Focusing on Feelings

In contrast with introspection by focusing on reasoning, that which instructs one to focus on their feelings has actually been shown to increase attitude-behaviour correlations. This finding suggests that introspecting on one’s feelings is not a maladaptive process.


The theory that there are mental processes that act as justifications do not make behaviour more adaptive is criticized by some biologists who argue that the cost in nutrients for brain function selects against any brain mechanism that does not make behaviour more adapted to the environment. They argue that the cost in essential nutrients causes even more difficulty than the cost in calories, especially in social groups of many individuals needing the same scarce nutrients, which imposes substantial difficulty on feeding the group and lowers their potential size. These biologists argue that the evolution of argumentation was driven by the effectiveness of arguments on changing risk perception attitudes and life and death decisions to a more adaptive state, as “luxury functions” that did not enhance life and death survival would lose the evolutionary “tug of war” against the selection for nutritional thrift. While there have been claims of non-adaptive brain functions being selected by sexual selection, these biologists criticise any applicability to introspection illusion’s causal theories because sexually selected traits are most disabling as a fitness signal during or after puberty but human brains require the highest amount of nutrients before puberty (enhancing the nerve connections in ways that make adult brains capable of faster and more nutrient-efficient firing).

A Priori Causal Theories

In their classic paper, Nisbett and Wilson proposed that introspective confabulations result from a priori theories, of which they put forth four possible origins:

  • Explicit cultural rules (e.g., stopping at red traffic lights).
  • Implicit cultural theories, with certain schemata for likely stimulus-response relationships (e.g. an athlete only endorses a brand because he is paid to do so).
  • Individual observational experiences that lead one to form a theory of covariation (e.g. “I feel nervous. I always get nervous when I have to talk at meetings!”).
  • Similar connotation between stimulus and response.

The authors note that the use of these theories does not necessarily lead to inaccurate assumptions, but that this frequently occurs because the theories are improperly applied.

Explaining Biases

Pronin argues that over-reliance on intentions is a factor in a number of different biases. For example, by focusing on their current good intentions, people can overestimate their likelihood of behaving virtuously.

In Perceptions of Bias

The bias blind spot is an established phenomenon that people rate themselves as less susceptible to bias than their peer group. Emily Pronin and Matthew Kugler argue that this phenomenon is due to the introspection illusion. Pronin and Kugler’s interpretation is that when people decide whether someone else is biased, they use overt behaviour. On the other hand, when assessing whether or not they themselves are biased, people look inward, searching their own thoughts and feelings for biased motives. Since biases operate unconsciously, these introspections are not informative, but people wrongly treat them as reliable indication that they themselves, unlike other people, are immune to bias.

In their experiments, subjects had to make judgments about themselves and about other subjects. They displayed standard biases, for example rating themselves above the others on desirable qualities (demonstrating illusory superiority). The experimenters explained cognitive bias, and asked the subjects how it might have affected their judgement. The subjects rated themselves as less susceptible to bias than others in the experiment (confirming the bias blind spot). When they had to explain their judgments, they used different strategies for assessing their own and others’ bias.

Pronin and Kugler tried to give their subjects access to others’ introspections. To do this, they made audio recordings of subjects who had been told to say whatever came into their heads as they decided whether their answer to a previous question might have been affected by bias. Although subjects persuaded themselves they were unlikely to be biased, their introspective reports did not sway the assessments of observers.

When asked what it would mean to be biased, subjects were more likely to define bias in terms of introspected thoughts and motives when it applied to themselves, but in terms of overt behaviour when it applied to other people. When subjects were explicitly told to avoid relying on introspection, their assessments of their own bias became more realistic.

Additionally, Nisbett and Wilson found that asking participants whether biases (such as the position effect in the stocking study) had an effect on their decisions resulted in a negative response, in contradiction with the data.

In Perceptions of Conformity

Another series of studies by Pronin and colleagues examined perceptions of conformity. Subjects reported being more immune to social conformity than their peers. In effect, they saw themselves as being “alone in a crowd of sheep”. The introspection illusion appeared to contribute to this effect. When deciding whether others respond to social influence, subjects mainly looked at their behaviour, for example explaining other student’s political opinions in terms of following the group. When assessing their own conformity, subjects treat their own introspections as reliable. In their own minds, they found no motive to conform, and so decided that they had not been influenced.

In Perceptions of Control and Free Will

Psychologist Daniel Wegner has argued that an introspection illusion contributes to belief in paranormal phenomena such as psychokinesis. He observes that in everyday experience, intention (such as wanting to turn on a light) is followed by action (such as flicking a light switch) in a reliable way, but the processes connecting the two are not consciously accessible. Hence though subjects may feel that they directly introspect their own free will, the experience of control is actually inferred from relations between the thought and the action. This theory, called “apparent mental causation”, acknowledges the influence of David Hume’s view of the mind. This process for detecting when one is responsible for an action is not totally reliable, and when it goes wrong there can be an illusion of control. This could happen when an external event follows, and is congruent with, a thought in someone’s mind, without an actual causal link.

As evidence, Wegner cites a series of experiments on magical thinking in which subjects were induced to think they had influenced external events. In one experiment, subjects watched a basketball player taking a series of free throws. When they were instructed to visualise him making his shots, they felt that they had contributed to his success.

If the introspection illusion contributes to the subjective feeling of free will, then it follows that people will more readily attribute free will to themselves rather than others. This prediction has been confirmed by three of Pronin and Kugler’s experiments. When college students were asked about personal decisions in their own and their roommate’s lives, they regarded their own choices as less predictable. Staff at a restaurant described their co-workers’ lives as more determined (having fewer future possibilities) than their own lives. When weighing up the influence of different factors on behaviour, students gave desires and intentions the strongest weight for their own behaviour, but rated personality traits as most predictive of other people.

However, criticism of Wegner’s claims regarding the significance of introspection illusion for the notion of free will has been published.


Research shows that human volunteers can estimate their response times accurately, in fact knowing their “mental processes” well, but only with substantial demands made on their attention and cognitive resources (i.e. they are distracted while estimating). Such estimation is likely more than post hoc interpretation and may incorporate privileged information. Mindfulness training can also increase introspective accuracy in some instances. Nisbett and Wilson’s findings were criticized by psychologists Ericsson and Simon, among others.


A study that investigated the effect of educating people about unconscious biases on their subsequent self-ratings of susceptibility to bias showed that those who were educated did not exhibit the bias blind spot, in contrast with the control group. This finding provides hope that being informed about unconscious biases such as the introspection illusion may help people to avoid making biased judgments, or at least make them aware that they are biased. Findings from other studies on correction of the bias yielded mixed results. In a later review of the introspection illusion, Pronin suggests that the distinction is that studies that merely provide a warning of unconscious biases will not see a correction effect, whereas those that inform about the bias and emphasize its unconscious nature do yield corrections. Thus, knowledge that bias can operate during conscious awareness seems the defining factor in leading people to correct for it.

Timothy Wilson has tried to find a way out from “introspection illusion”, recounted in his book Strangers to Ourselves. He suggests that the observation of our own behaviours more than our thoughts can be one of the keys for clearer introspective knowledge.


Some 21st century critical rationalists argue that claims of correcting for introspection illusions or other cognitive biases pose a threat of immunising themselves to criticism by alleging that criticism of psychological theories that claim cognitive bias are “justifications” for cognitive bias, making it non-falsifiable by labelling of critics and also potentially totalitarian. These modern critical rationalists argue that defending a theory by claiming that it overcomes bias and alleging that critics are biased, can defend any pseudoscience from criticism; and that the claim that “criticism of A is a defence of B” is inherently incapable of being evidence-based, and that any actual “most humans” bias (if it existed) would be shared by most psychologists thus make psychological claims of biases a way of accusing unbiased criticism of being biased and marketing the biases as overcoming of bias.

What is Transportation Theory (Psychology)?


Narrative transportation theory proposes that when people lose themselves in a story, their attitudes and intentions change to reflect that story.

The mental state of narrative transportation can explain the persuasive effect of stories on people, who may experience narrative transportation when certain contextual and personal preconditions are met, as Green and Brock postulate for the transportation-imagery model. As Van Laer, de Ruyter, Visconti, and Wetzels elaborate further, narrative transportation occurs whenever the story receiver experiences a feeling of entering a world evoked by the narrative because of empathy for the story characters and imagination of the story plot.

Defining the Field

Deighton, Romer, and McQueen  anticipate the construct of narrative transportation by arguing that a story invites story receivers into the action it portrays and, as a result, makes them lose themselves in the story. Gerrig was the first to coin the notion of narrative transportation within the context of novels. Using travel as a metaphor for reading, he conceptualizes narrative transportation as a state of detachment from the world of origin that the story receiver – in his words, the traveller – experiences because of his or her engrossment in the story, a condition that Green and Brock later describe as the story receiver’s experience of being carried away by the story. Notably, the state of narrative transportation makes the world of origin partially inaccessible to the story receiver, thus marking a clear separation in terms of here/there and now/before, or narrative world/world of origin.

Relevant Features

Most research on narrative transportation follows the original definition of the construct. Scholars in the field constantly reaffirm the relevance of three features.

  1. Narrative transportation requires that people process stories – the acts of receiving and interpreting.
  2. Story receivers become transported through two main components: empathy and mental imagery. Empathy implies that story receivers try to understand the experience of a story character, that is, to know and feel the world in the same way. Thus, empathy offers an explanation for the state of detachment from the world of origin that is narrative transportation. In mental imagery, story receivers generate vivid images of the story plot, such that they feel as though they are experiencing the events themselves.
  3. When transported, story receivers lose track of reality in a physiological sense.

In accordance with these features, Van Laer et al.  define narrative transportation as the extent to which:

  • An individual empathizes with the story characters; and
  • The story plot activates their imagination,

Which leads them to experience suspended reality during story reception.

Similar Constructs

Narrative transportation is a form of experiential response to narratives and thus is similar to other constructs, such as absorption, narrative involvement, identification, optimal experience or flow, and immersion. Yet several subtle, critical differences exist. Absorption refers to a personality trait or general tendency to be immersed in life experiences; transportation is an engrossing temporary experience. Flow is a more general construct (i.e. people can experience flow in a variety of activities), whereas transportation specifically entails empathy and mental imagery, which do not occur in flow experiences. Phillips and McQuarrie demonstrate that immersion is primarily an experiential response to aesthetic and visual elements of images, whereas narrative transportation relies on a story with plot and characters, features that are not present in immersion. Identification emphasizes the involvement with story characters, while narrative transportation is concerned with the involvement with the narrative as a whole.

Narrative Persuasion

Since narrative transportation’s conceptualisation, research has demonstrated that the transported “traveller” can return changed by the journey. Subsequent studies have confirmed that a story can engross the story receiver in a transformational experience, whose effects are strong and long-lasting. The transformation that narrative transportation achieves is persuasion of the story receiver. More specifically, Van Laer et al.’s literature review reveals that narrative transportation can cause affective and cognitive responses, beliefs, and attitude and intention changes. However, the processing pattern of narrative transportation is markedly different from that in well-established models of persuasion.

A 2016 meta-analysis found significant, positive narrative persuasion (i.e. narrative-consistent) effects for attitudes, beliefs, intentions and behaviours.

Rival Models

Before 2000, dual-process models of persuasion, especially the elaboration likelihood model and heuristic-systematic model, dominated persuasion research. These models attempt to explain why people accept or reject message claims. According to these models, the determination of a claim’s acceptability can result from careful evaluation of the arguments presented or from reliance on superficial cues, such as the presence of an expert. Whether receivers scrutinise a message depends on the extent to which they are able and motivated to process it systematically. As important variables, these models include empathy, familiarity, involvement, and the number and nature of thoughts the message evokes. If these variables are mainly positive, the receiver’s attitudes and intentions tend to be more positive; if the variables are predominantly negative, the resulting attitudes and intentions are more negative. These variables also exist in narrative persuasion.

Differences between Analytical and Narrative Persuasion

Analytical persuasion and narrative persuasion differ depending on the role of involvement. In analytical persuasion, involvement depends on the extent to which the message has personally relevant consequences for a receiver’s money, time, or other resources. If these consequences are sufficiently severe, receivers evaluate the arguments carefully and generate thoughts related to the arguments. Yet, as Slater notes, even though severe consequences for stories are relatively rare, “viewers or readers of an entertainment narrative typically appear to be far more engrossed in the message.” This type of involvement, or narrative transportation, is arguably the crucial determinant of narrative persuasion.

Though the dual-process models provide a valid description of analytical persuasion, they do not encompass narrative persuasion. Analytical persuasion refers to attitudes and intentions developed from processing messages that are overtly persuasive, such as most lessons in science books, news reports, and speeches. However, narrative persuasion refers to attitudes and intentions developed from processing narrative messages that are not overtly persuasive, such as novels, movies, or video games. Addressing the strength and duration of the persuasive effects of processing stories, narrative transportation is a mental state that produces enduring persuasive effects without careful evaluation of arguments. Transported story receivers are engrossed in a story in a way that neither is inherently critical nor involves great scrutiny.

Sleeper Effect

Narrative transportation seems to be more unintentionally affective than intentionally cognitive in nature. This way of processing leads to potentially increasing and long-lasting persuasive effects. Appel and Richter use the term “Sleeper effect” to describe this paradoxical property of narrative transportation over time, which consists of a more pronounced change in attitudes and intentions and a greater certainty that these attitudes and intentions are correct.

Plausible explanations for the sleeper effect are twofold:

  1. According to post-structural research, language’s articulation in narrative format is capable not only of mirroring reality but also of constructing it. As such, stories could cause profound and durable persuasion of the transported story receiver as a result of his or her progressive internalization. When stories transport story receivers, not only do they present a narrative world but, by reframing the story receiver’s language, they also durably change the world to which the story receiver returns after the transportation experience.
  2. Research demonstrates that people analyse and retain stories differently from other information formats. For example, Deighton et al. show that analytical advertisements stimulate cognitive responses whereas narrative advertisements are more likely to stimulate affective responses.

Following this line of reasoning, Van Laer et al. define narrative persuasion as:

the effect of narrative transportation, which manifests itself in story receivers’ affective and cognitive responses, beliefs, attitudes, and intentions from being swept away by a story and transported into a narrative world that modifies their perception of their world of origin.

The conceptual distinction between analytical persuasion and narrative persuasion and the theoretical framework of sound interpretation of narrative persuasion both ground the extended transportation-imagery model (ETIM).


ETIM contains three methodological factors that moderate the overall effect of narrative transportation, as van Laer, Feiereisen, and Visconti detail. The narrative transportation effect is stronger for stories:

  • In the commercial (vs. non-commercial) domain;
  • By users (vs. professionals); and
  • Received alone (vs. with others).

What is Euthymia?


In psychiatry and psychology, euthymia is a normal, tranquil mental state or mood.

In those with bipolar disorder, euthymia is a stable mental state or mood that is neither manic nor depressive, yet distinguishable from the state of healthy people. Euthymia is also the “baseline” of other cyclical mood disorders like major depressive disorder (MDD), borderline personality disorder (BPD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). This state is the goal of psychiatric and psychological interventions.


The term euthymia is derived from the Greek words “eu”, well, and “thymo”, soul or emotion. The word “thymos” also had four additional meanings: life energy; feelings and passions; desires and inclinations; and thought or intelligence. Euthymia is also derived from a verb, “euthymeo”, that means both “I am happy, in good spirits” and “I make others happy, I reassure and encourage”. This is the basis on which the first formal definition of euthymia was built.

Democritus, who coined the philosophical concept of euthymia, said that euthymia is achieved when “one is satisfied with what is present and available, taking little heed of people who are envied and admired and observing the lives of those who suffer and yet endure”. This was later amended in the translation given by the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger in which euthymia means a state of internal calm and contentment. Seneca was also the first to link the state of euthymia to a learning process; in order to achieve it, one must be aware of psychological well-being. Seneca’s definition included a cache about detachment from current events. Later, the Greek biographer Plutarch removed this cache with his definition which focused more on learning from adverse events.

In 1958, Marie Jahoda gave a modern clinical definition of mental health in the terms of positive symptoms by outlining the criteria for mental health: “autonomy (regulation of behaviour from within), environmental mastery, satisfactory interactions with other people and the milieu, the individual’s style and degree of growth, development or self-actualization, the attitudes of an individual toward his/her own self”. In her definition she acknowledged the absence of disease as being necessary, but not enough, to constitute positive mental health, or euthymia.

Carol Ryff (1989) was the first to develop a comprehensive scale that could assess euthymia: the six-factor model of psychological well-being. The 84-item scale includes facets of self-acceptance, positive relations with others, autonomy, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and personal growth. It did not include a notion of resilience, which people in the field started working to add in the 2000s.

Parathymia, on the other hand, is related to pathological laughter (called “Witzelsucht”).

What is Associationism?


Associationism is the idea that mental processes operate by the association of one mental state with its successor states.

It holds that all mental processes are made up of discrete psychological elements and their combinations, which are believed to be made up of sensations or simple feelings. In philosophy, this idea is viewed as the outcome of empiricism and sensationism. The concept encompasses a psychological theory as well as comprehensive philosophical foundation and scientific methodology.

Brief History

Early History

The idea is first recorded in Plato and Aristotle, especially with regard to the succession of memories. Particularly, the model is traced back to the Aristotelian notion that human memory encompasses all mental phenomena. The model was discussed in detail in the philosopher’s work, Memory and Reminiscence. This view was widely embraced until the emergence of British associationism, which began with Thomas Hobbes.

Associationist School

Members of the Associationist School, including John Locke, David Hume, David Hartley, Joseph Priestley, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, Alexander Bain, and Ivan Pavlov, asserted that the principle applied to all or most mental processes.

John Locke

The phrase association of ideas was first used by John Locke. In Chapter 33 of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding entitled “Of the Association of Ideas″, he describes the ways that ideas can be connected to each other. He writes “Some of our ideas have a natural correspondence and connexion with one another”. Although he believed that some associations were natural and justified, he believed that others were illogical, causing errors in judgment. He also explains that one can associate some ideas together based on their education and culture, saying, “there is another connection of ideas wholly owing to chance or custom”. The term associationism later became more prominent in psychology and the psychologists that subscribed to the idea became known as the associationists. Locke’s view that the mind and body are two aspects of the same unified phenomenon can be traced back to Aristotle’s ideas on the subject.

David Hume

In his book Treatise on Human Nature David Hume outlines three principles for ideas to be connected to each other: resemblance, continuity in time or place, and cause or effect. He argues that the mind uses these principles, rather than reason, to traverse from idea to idea. He writes “When the mind, therefore, passes from the idea or impression of one object to the idea or belief of another, it is not determined by reason, but by certain principles, which associate together the ideas of these objects, and unite them in the imagination.” These connections are formed in the mind by observation and experience. Hume does not believe that any of these associations are “necessary’ in a sense that ideas or object are truly connected, instead he sees them as mental tools used for creating a useful mental representation of the world.

Later Members

Later members of the school developed very specific principles elaborating how associations worked and even a physiological mechanism bearing no resemblance to modern neurophysiology.


Associationism is often concerned with middle-level to higher-level mental processes such as learning. For instance, the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis are linked in one’s mind through repetition so that they become inextricably associated with one another. Among the earliest experiments that tested the applications of associationism, involve Hermann Ebbinghaus’ work. He was considered the first experimenter to apply the associationist principles systematically, and used himself as subject to study and quantify the relationship between rehearsal and recollection of material.

Some of the ideas of the Associationist School also anticipated the principles of conditioning and its use in behavioural psychology. Both classical conditioning and operant conditioning use positive and negative associations as means of conditioning.

Karatani’s Theory

Kojin Karatani, a Japanese philosopher, refers to Hannah Arendt’s remark about council communism (Soviet or Räte) that it does not emerge as a result of tradition or theory of revolutions, but “entirely spontaneously, each time as if it had never existed before”, and that such a social construct is the same as what has been called socialism, communism, anarchism, etc., but because these names are cloying and misleading, he calls it X or associationism in his book.