Inverted U-Shaped Function Between Flow and Cortisol Release During Chess Play

Abstract

This study focused on the salivary cortisol level and its relation to the two components of flow (flow absorption and flow fluency) in tournament chess players exposed to one of the skill-demand-level manipulations (underload, fit, and overload). The aims of this study were to investigate how skill-demand-level manipulations affect cortisol release and how flow and cortisol release are related in the context of an engaging task. Specifically, the task involved fifty-seven tournament chess players playing chess against a software in one of the experimental groups. We assessed flow after chess playing for 25 min via questionnaire and collected saliva before chess playing (T1), right after chess playing (T2), and 10 min after T2 (T3). Our findings show that cortisol levels were affected by the skill-demand-level manipulations. At T3, participants in the overload group showed higher cortisol levels than participants in the fit and underload groups. There were no differences in cortisol release between the experimental groups at T2. In addition, we found the expected inverted U-shaped relation between cortisol release and flow absorption at T2. A moderate level of cortisol was associated with a higher level of flow absorption. In contrast, a higher level of cortisol was associated with a lower level of flow absorption. Against our expectations, flow fluency was not related to cortisol release. We discuss practical and theoretical implications of our results as well as potential for future research.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported in part by grants from the Vereinigung von Freunden und Förderern der Goethe-Universität. We would like to thank Stephan Bongard for his support during the experimental process and also to Viviana Lixfeld, Axel Landertinger and Leonard Tetzlaff for their assistance during data collection and Saskia Kistner and Gökhan Bal for their comments on this paper.

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Tozman, T., Zhang, Y.Y. & Vollmeyer, R. Inverted U-Shaped Function Between Flow and Cortisol Release During Chess Play. J Happiness Stud 18, 247–268 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-016-9726-0

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Keywords

  • Flow experience
  • Psychophysiology
  • Cortisol
  • Motivation
  • Chess play