On the physiology of flow: Bridging flow theory with the biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat

Daan Scheepers, Johannes Keller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We examined the relation between psychological flow and cardiovascular markers of challenge. According to flow theory and the biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat (BPS-CT) optimal motivational states (flow, challenge) arise during activities where task demands meet personal resources. Participants (N = 154) played Tetris in either an underload, fit, or overload condition. Cardiovascular responses were measured during the task and a flow state scale was completed afterwards. Unexpectedly, it was in the underload condition where cardiovascular responses developed in the direction of challenge. Moreover, it was under this condition where relative challenge related positively to both task performance and self-reported flow. Similar results were found for cardiovascular markers of task engagement. In line with the BPS-CT, when only selecting clearly task-engaged participants a tendency towards challenge was found in the fit condition. We discuss why flow and challenge might have co-occurred in the underload condition, as well as the further theoretical and methodological implications of the study. We conclude that at least under some circumstances flow and challenge relate to each other but that future research should examine this relation further.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-128
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Cardiovascular
  • Challenge and threat
  • Engagement
  • Flow
  • Motivation


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