Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior

Living Edition
| Editors: Jennifer Vonk, Todd Shackelford

Cognitive Flow

Living reference work entry

Later version available View entry history

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-47829-6_1587-1


Definitions of Flow

Flow is a predominantly cognitive state of deep concentration and task absorption that makes a person feel one with the activity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1975/2000) identified flow in the early 1970s by interviewing surgeons, rock climbers, composers, dancers, chess players, and athletes and asking them to report their experience when they engaged in the most challenging phases of their preferred endeavors. The interviews produced rich textual descriptions that shared six main themes: (1) focused concentration on the present activity, with centering of attention on a narrow stimulus field (e.g., “When I start, I really do shut out the world”), (2) merging of action and awareness (e.g., “I am so involved in what I am doing… I don’t see myself as separate from what I am doing”), (3) loss of self-consciousness (e.g., “I am less aware of myself and my problems”), (4) sense of controlover one’s own actions (e.g., “I feel immensely strong”),...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Ceja, L., & Navarro, J. (2012). “Suddenly I get into the zone”: Examining discontinuities and nonlinear changes in flow experiences at work. Human Relations, 65, 1101–1127.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726712447116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975/2000). Beyond boredom and anxiety: Experiencing flow in work and play (1st/2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  3. Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Csikszentmihalyi, I. S. (1988). Optimal experience: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.  https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511621956.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dietrich, A. (2004). Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the experience of flow. Consciousness and Cognition, 13(4), 746–761.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Engeser, S. (2012). Advances in flow research. New York: Springer.  https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-2359-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fullagar, C. J., & Delle Fave, A. (2017). Flow at work: Measurement and implications. New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  7. Jackson, S. A., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999). Flow in sports: The keys to optimal experiences and performances. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.Google Scholar
  8. Jackson, S. A., & Eklund, R. C. (2002). Assessing flow in physical activity: The Flow State Scale-2 and Dispositional Flow Scale-2. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 24(2), 133–150.  https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.24.2.133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Moneta, G. B., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). The effect of perceived challenges and skills on the quality of subjective experience. Journal of Personality, 64(2), 275–310.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1996.tb00512.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Mosing, M. A., Magnusson, P. K. E., Pedersen, N. L., Nakamura, J., Madison, G., & Ullén, F. (2012). Heritability of proneness for psychological flow experiences. Personality and Individual Differences, 53(5), 699–704.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2012.05.035.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Swann, C., Keegan, R. J., Piggott, D., & Crust, L. (2012). A systematic review of the experience, occurrence, and controllability of flow states in elite sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13(6), 807–819.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2012.05.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Wilson, E. E., & Moneta, G. B. (2016). The flow metacognitions questionnaire (FMQ): A two-factor model of flow metacognitions. Personality and Individual Differences, 90, 225–230.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2015.11.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of BusinessNational College of IrelandDublinIreland

Section editors and affiliations

  • Sarah Dunphy-Lelii
    • 1
  1. 1.Bard CollegeAnnandale-On-HudsonUSA