Institute of Art Design + Technology
Dún Laoghaire

Olivia Wynne 

BSc [Hons] Applied Psychology

Hi there, my name is Olivia and I have recently completed my undergraduate degree in Applied Psychology. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and I especially enjoyed my final year thesis project which investigated flow interventions and subjective performance in the context of adventure recreation. I am excited to start the Masters in Psychological Science at UCD in September 2023. I hope to pursue a career in counselling or clinical psychology and hopefully secure a place on a Doctorate program! Please feel free to contact me through email or LinkedIn if you have any thoughts or questions about my project!

Project Description

Flow state is a concept originally discovered by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi while he conducted interviews with hundreds of people to investigate how they felt while they engaged in activities that they enjoyed doing. Csikszentmihalyi found that people entered a ‘flow state’ where they were completely focused on the task and driven by intrinsic motivation. Csikszentmihalyi developed a theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow.

There are many benefits associated with flow state such as improved mood, increased cognitive functioning and more positive subjective experiences. Experiencing flow state during physical activity brings unique benefits such as increased performance, increased training motivation and more positive subjective experiences while exercising. In turn, fostering flow during physical activity may be useful for health promoters.

Consequently, this project aimed to create and deliver two types of flow interventions and compare how they impacted flow state and subjective performance compared to a control group.

Project Objectives

The aim of this project was to investigate whether a multifaceted flow intervention consisting of mindfulness, self-talk training and an imagery exercise had an impact on participants flow state and subjective performance during a rock climbing activity. An ‘education-only’ flow intervention was also investigated to assess whether simply learning about flow state could help participants enter a flow state. Rock climbing was chosen for this project as more research was needed on flow state in the context of adventure recreation.

This project employed an experimental, mixed methods deign. A qualitative aspect, using Braun and Clarke’s reflexive thematic analysis was included to investigate the underlying mechanisms of flow, in order to gain a deeper understanding of flow so that more effective flow interventions can be designed. Thematic analysis was also used to analyse participants comments on their subjective experiences of flow state, their subjective performance and their experience of the interventions. Furthermore, this project also investigated the flow-performance relationship as well as the underlying mechanisms of this relationship.

This project aimed to add to the literature of flow state in the context of adventure recreation and build on the knowledge of the most effective flow interventions, so that more individuals can have more optimal experiences through experiencing flow.

Project Outcomes

Quantitative analysis showed that there was a significant difference in participants’ flow scores based on their group type. The multifaceted intervention was most effective in eliciting flow, followed by the education-only intervention. There was also a significant increase in all participants’ flow scores after rock climbing. Participants’ subjective performance increased after climbing, with participants in the multifaceted intervention group scoring highest, followed by the education-only intervention group. There was a strong, linear, positive relationship between subjective performance and flow scores. This indicates that when participants experienced higher levels of flow, they also experienced higher levels of subjective performance.

Qualitative analysis showed that the underlying mechanisms of flow, such as antecedents, characteristics, outcomes and inhibitors of flow, were similar to previous finding. The thematic analysis also revealed that participants in the multifaceted intervention group may have had more skills to deal with setbacks while climbing, such as frustration, which enabled them to enter and maintain a flow state.

These findings suggest that a multifaceted flow intervention, consisting of mindfulness, self-talk training and imagery may be useful for eliciting flow in the context of adventure recreation. Education-only interventions may also be useful for eliciting flow, albeit to a lesser extent. Self-talk training, mindfulness and imagery training may equip individuals with the skills and mindset needed to enter and maintain a flow state. These findings also indicate that there is a strong, positive relationship between flow and subjective performance. Increased subjective performance may empower individuals and foster feelings of accomplishment and intrinsic reward.

Thesis Title

Multifaceted and Education-Only Flow Interventions: The Effect on Subjective Performance and Flow State in Rock Climbing