Reversal theory and flow : toward an integrated framework of optimal experiences in adventure activities
Houge, Susan P.
Although adventurous pursuits are gaining popularity, many leading theoretical paradigms within the adventure literature (e.g., the Adventure Experience Paradigm) lack predictive power and depth. Flow Theory (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975) and Reversal Theory (RT; Apter, 1982) are two general psychological models which describe the structure of motivation and offer theoretical bases from which to understand optimal experiences, such as flow, and nonoptimal experiences, such as fear and anxiety, in adventure activities. Despite theoretical similarities, previous research has not empirically evaluated adventure-based flow experiences within a Reversal Theory framework. Therefore, this project evaluated relationships amongst flow and RT constructs in the short and long-term, as well as potential links to a positive learning spiral. A sequence of two studies based on sequential exploratory design evaluated flow and RT constructs in adventurous experiences. Study one consisted of six qualitative, retrospective interviews with four male and two female expert adventure activity instructors with a mean age of 37 years. Study two employed a prospective, mixed-method design in which: (a) ten novice riversurfers (mean age= 23 yrs, 8 males, 2 females) completed quantitative measures of RT states (i.e., T/PSI, O'Connell & Calhoun, 2001), flow states (i.e., SFSS, Martin & Jackson, 2008) and challenge/skill perceptions during a three day course; and (b) five of these ten participants (mean age= 25 yrs, 3 males, 2 females) completed daily qualitative interviews facilitated by footage from head-mounted video cameras worn throughout the course. Data was analysed using a concurrent nested design. Expert participants reported a range of flow experiences throughout their careers; enjoyment sources, flow intensity and flow complexity, appeared to vary over time. Experts' most intense flow episodes were reported in learning situations with heightened perceived challenges. Novice participants also reported a range of flow experiences and metamotivational reversals. Contrary to previous theoretical literature, the concept of telic flow was supported, along with concepts of paratelic flow and the positive learning spiral. Telic and paratelic flow states appeared qualitatively distinct based on the felt intensity of key dimensions, as well as psychosocial and environmental influences. Dynamic recalibration of challenges and skills, and dynamic tensions amongst RT dimensions, appeared to facilitate distinct flow states and the learning process in a multi-phasic manner. A dynamic tensions model of flow within a RT framework was supported, which accounted for: (a) the multi-phasic nature of various flow states, (b) a positive learning spiral of development, and (c) increases in flow complexity over time. Findings highlighted the need for refinement of Flow Theory and Reversal Theory in adventure contexts. This project provided a starting point from which to (a) identify qualitative differences amongst flow states based on RT constructs; (b) investigate the multi-phasic nature of these flow states in the short and long-term; and (c) identify links amongst flow, RT and a positive learning spiral of skill development.
Advisor: Hodge, Ken
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis