On Mental Health. Essay, Research Paper
ABSTRACT This project investigates the effects of skilled leisure activities on mental health by assessing the amount of “flow” experienced during enjoyable leisure activities and whether this is correlated to self-esteem as a stable measure of psychological well-being. This was done by questionnaire eliciting responses concerning the individual’s “flow” experience, their skill or experience level, their “flow” experiences in a not as enjoyable leisure activity and finally a measure of self-esteem. The initial analysis involved performing correlations (Pearson’s)on the original data. Surprisingly Self-esteem did not correlate significantly with any flow items on the enjoyable flow scale and with only ……..However some items on the enjoyable “flow” scale and the skill measure did correlate significantly. this suggests that whilst “flow may still be enjoyable other factors may mediate its effects on self-esteem or mental health in general. Possible factors being related to self-determination and feelings of personal efficacy. A tentative secondary hypothesis was that there may be different types of flow produced by different categories of activity possibly centering around an active passive dimension. This was not supported, but instead only those activities rated as creative were found to occur significantly more often in the high flow and challenge groups, but this was not so for the high competence or skill. These main effects were also found for activities rated as individual again not for the high competence group. In addition to this no interaction effects were found between flow, challenge, and competence or skill. This interesting in the light of Csikszentmihayi’s theory (1988) in that it brings to question the formulation of flow as a ratio of high challenge to high competence. The competence aspect does not appear to be as important as the challenge factor. It also appears as if the nature of the activity is more important than previously thought. A particular type of activity may be perceived as facilitating the flow experience for those not blessed with a highly autotelic personality. INTRODUCTION: The motivation behind this project was a desire to combine the fascinating area of motivational theories and their relation to mental health with particular reference to the work on ‘flow’ by Csikszentmihalyi (1988)and the effects on self-esteem this phenomena has. This area is closely related to that of leisure as it was during leisure activities that Csikszentmihalyi first isolated the experience of ‘flow’. It is apparent from the literature that all the areas so far mentioned (leisure, flow, mental health etc) are interrelated to a considerable degree. By way of introduction I shall outline some of the literature on the nature of leisure and show how features of leisure have been incorporated into various accounts of self-actualization, flow etc, and in turn, how they have been implicated in models of mental health or factors contributing to self-esteem. As Kelly (1982) points out, there are a variety of definitions of leisure ranging from the humanistic ‘freedom from necessity’ to time defined as how it is used. Yet, whichever perspective one takes, the subjective element must always be taken into account. “Leisure is not in the time or the action,but in the actor.” (p22 Kelly, 1982). Neulinger(1984) defines pure leisure as a state of mind produced by doing something for its own sake,ie the perception of freedom and involvement in intrinsically motivated activities. This arises from Bem’s(1972) attribution theory and the proposition that perception of causality will affect the phenomenological aspects of leisure. This ties in with the theory of Csikszentmihalyi (1975) in several respects. Originally concerned with motivation and the phenomenological aspects of leisure, this intriguing explanatory construct has been diversly applied. Such areas to benefit have included education, occupational psychology and management, and mental health. The characteristics of flow which make it applicable to all these areas are: “high concentration and involvement, clarity of goals and feedback, and intrinsic motivation, all made possible by a balance between perceived challenges and personal skills.” (Massimini, Csikszentmihalyi and Delle fave,1988). Csikzentmihalyi(1988) talks of optimal experiences or activities that are experienced as intensely enjoyable and fulfilling. Reducing anxiety and increasing performance in many situations from the classroom or workplace to the sports field or mountain. An essential part of this concept is the intrinsically motivated nature of the activity whatever that may be. Csikszentmihalyi talks of autotelic personalities as being a particular type of person who are motivated to seek out the activities and experiences that will provide flow for them. Attribution theory fits in here in that the individual is in control of their actions and is performing those action as an end in and of itself. As such, Csikszentmihalyi claims that although one feature of ‘flow’ is that there is a certain loss of awareness of self, the self emerges from this experience stronger contributing to self-esteem and general life satisfaction (Han,S. 1988; Wells,A. 1988). With regard to production of such optimal experiences, Csikszentmihalyi (1988)seems to concentrate on the context of the activity and the personality of the actor rather than characteristics of the activity itself. The purpose of the following study was to investigate the possble mediating effects of skilled perception on ‘flow’ and, therefore, on self-esteem as a relatively stable measure of mental health. Supplementing this will be an investigation in to the types of leisure activities that produce flow. The experimental hypotheses being: A) That individuals skilled in their chosen activity will experience higher amounts of ‘flow’ and correspondingly should have better self-esteem scores. B) That practice and/or frequency of flow producing activity would also have an effect on self-esteem. The supplemntary hypothsis being: 1) There would be different types of flow produced by different types of activity. METHOD Design: This was a questionnaire based correlational study to investigate possible effects and interaction of the variables of skill or competence and experience on ‘flow’ and self-esteem as a relatively stable measure of mental health. Subjects: In total there were forty six subjects, all of whom were either undergraduates or recent graduates of Manchester University.This pool consisting of 14 males and 32 females. Materials: In order to develop a comprehensive flow instrument, pilot studies were conducted initially to produce items corresponding to the flow experiences of under/recent graduates. Items where generated during informal interviews with a small number of subjects when asked about their typical leisure experiences.The range of activities included life-drawing and dancing to windsurfing and horse riding, with respondants producing items from absorbtion and ‘buzz’ to creativity and relaxation. These items were tested, modified and retested on small groups of subjects. A similar procedure was followed in constructing the experience scale.With informal interviews to generate a set of items and more formal pilot studies with small groups being used to test and modify the items using both statistics and comments on items by subjects. The questionnaire was compiled with one set of sixteen flow items for an enjoyable leisure activity,(Aflow) with another set of the sixteen items for another leisure activity which the subjects did not find as enjoyable as the first.(Bflow). Following this was the experience scale containing nine items and finally an eight item self-esteem scale (constructed in a similar way by a member of the academic staff).(see appendix A). A second questionnaire was constructed by taking all the leisure activities given by the original subjects as their enjoyable activity. These were then paired with each other and different subjects were asked to rate how similar each activity was to every other activity on a seven point scale.( see appendix B). A third questionnaire was designed in order to aid the analysis of the second study. Using a repetorary grid style technique,(see Fay snd Fransella,1976). A pilot study was first performed to obtain items for the grid. A small number of subjects were asked to look at groups of three activities (given in the original questionnaire)and describe a characteristic of one of the activities that made it different in some respect to the other activities. In this way a set of bipolar dimensions were produced. Another set of subjects were then asked to rate each of the activities given in the original study by more than one subject, on the dimensions produced by the pilot questionnaire in this study. Procedure: In the main study, subjects were run in small groups being asked not to confer. All subjects were then asked to complete all items to the best of their abilities and any questions would be answered at the start of the experiment.Subjects then filled in all forty nine items on the questionnaire. A time limit was not set, but subjects generally completed the questionnaire within fifteen minutes.No other interaction occurred prior to or during the running of the experiment.The pilot studies were conducted in less formal settings, though experimental procedure was followed by requesting subjects not to confer or discuss the questions and then allowing the subjects to fill in the questionnaires with no further interaction. RESULTS: To begin with simple correlation matrices were formed and total scores computed for the flow, skill, and self-esteem items.Pearson’s product moment correlations were used to see iwhich items correlated with which other items. The specific null hypothesis being that there would not be a significant correlation between Aflow and self-esteem scores. This was infact supported. A total score was computed for each set of items giving a total aflow, a total experience/skill and total self-esteem score. On the basis of these results more refined total scores were computed using only those items on each scale which correlated significantly with the total score(see appendix?). The following figure is a key to the abbreviations of flow item names AFLOW 1 ABSORBED IN THE ACTIVITY AFLOW 2 EXHILARATED AFLOW 3 GETTING A BUZZ AFLOW 4 FEELINGS OF STRENGTH AFLOW 5 FEELING GOOD AT THE ACTIVITY AFLOW 6 FORGETFUL OF TIME AFLOW 7 NO BOREDOM OR WORRIES AFLOW 8 USING ONE’S TALENTS AFLOW 9 DOING AS ONE FEELS AT THE TIME AFLOW 10 CREATIVE AFLOW 11 RELAXED AFLOW 12 SATISFACTION AFLOFREQ FREQUENCY OF FLOW EXPERIENCE AFLOCOMP PERCEIVED COMPETENCE AFLOCHAL PERCEIVED CHALLENGE figure 1a. Those items which correlated with total flow are as follows: TOTAL FLOW TOTAL EXPERIENCE Absorbed ** Exhilarated ** Getting a Buzz ** ** Feeling strong ** ** Forgetful of time ** No Boredom ** Motivation to learn ** ** problem-solving ** ** Specific knowledge ** ** General adaption ** Specific adaption. ** ** figure 1b. During this stage it was discovered that none of the self-esteem scores correlated significantly with either the flow or the experience/ skill measures. Only self-esteem 6 correlated significantly with Bflowfreq, the frequency with which subjects experienced flow in their not as enjoyable leisure activity.There was also a negative relationship between self-esteem 6 and bflow1 ( at the 0.02 level)and a negative relationship between self-esteem 1 and bflofreq (at the 0.002 level). (see appendix ?) A multidimensional scaling exercise was then performed on the data from the enjoyable flow scale in order to illustrate how the flow items were perceived to be related by subjects (figure?) To test the second hypothesis multidimensional scaling was also performed on the activity data derived originally from the first questionnaire and from subsequent specific questionnaires asking for similarity ratings.(see appendixb). Subjects were asked for similarity rating on a seven point scale. These were converted using Kruskal’s s-stress formula.In order aid the analysis of the dimensions which appeared in the multidimensional scaling exercise, subjects were asked to describe a distinguishing feature of one activity which could be used to single it out when in a group of three. Below is a table that contains the dimensions generated by subjects in a pilot study on which the activities given in the first study were rated by another set of subjects. An activity was only taken as being characterised by one pole of each of the four dimensions if it was rated as such by subjects significantly more often ( at the 0.01 level)than its polar counterpart. active passive energetic sedantry creative not creative team individual. walk ** n/s n/s ** ** swim ** ** ** ** run ** ** ** n/s n/s basketball ** ** n/s n/s ** t.v ** ** ** n/s n/s listen music n/s n/s n/s n/s n/s n/s n/s n/s instrument ** n/s n/s ** ** read n/s ** n/s n/s ** dance ** ** n/s n/s n/s n/s draw n/s n/s ** ** ** figure 2a. Subjects were then ranked by their total flow score and by a refined measure of this that only included those flow items that correlated at the 0.01 level with the original total flow score. A median split was performed on this data to seperate the groups into high and low flow categories. The types of activties rated on the above dimensions, were then compared between the groups using chi square tests. Only those activities rated as creative and those rated as individual were present in the high flow group significantly more often than in the low flow group.(at the 0.1 level of significance. Similarly, subjects were ranked by their scores on the challenge and skill flow items. No particular type of activity was found to occur significantly more frequently for subjects with higher competence ratings. Again, only creative activities and individual ones were found to occur more frequently in subjects with high perceived challenge scores (significant at the 0.01 and 0.1 levels respectively). Using the data gathered on the novice/expert scale subjects were again divided by a median split when ranked. In this case only creative activities were found to occur more frequently in the high experience group( at the .05 level) than in the novice group.This position was reversed for energetic activites which occurred more frequently in the novice group (significant at the 0.02 level)(see figures2b and 2c.) dimension chi sq totflow df signif. level chi sq totflow1 df signif. level. active 0.11 1 n/s 0.37 1 n/s passive ——– ——- ——– ——- ——– ——– energetic 2.17 1 n/s 2.17 1 n/s sedantry 0.14 1 n/s 0.11 1 n/s creative 2.98 1 0.1 2.98 1 0.1 not creative 0.1 1 n/s 0.42 1 n/s team ——– ——– ——- ——– ——- ——– individ 3.18 1 0.1 0.81 1 n/s figure 2b chi sq chall df signif chi sq novexp df signif active 0.1 1 n/s 0.11 1 n/s passive ——– ——– ——– ——– ——– ——- energetic 0.09 1 n/s 5.58 1 0.02 sedantry 0.12 1 n/s ——- ——– ——– creative 7.21 1 0.01 5.25 1 0.05 not creative ——– ——– ——– 0.84 1 n/s team ——- ——- ——– ——– ——- ——– individ 3.26 1 0.1 5.66 1 0.02 figure 2c.As a direct test of Csikszentmihalyi’s hypothesis chi squared was again used to look for interactions between the variables across all activities. No significant interactions were found (see appendix ?) DISCUSSION: SUMMARY OF RESULTS. The original hypothesis was not supported in that no significant relationship was found between high or frequent flow experiences in leisure activities and self-esteem. However, there was a slightly positive relationship between the scores on the flow frequency item pertaining to the not as enjoyable activity provide by subjects in the way of a contrast to the other flow activity(this is consistant with Allison and Duncan, 1988; and Lefevre, 1988).Surprisingly self-esteem did not correlate significantly with any other items on either the flow or the experience/skill measures. This lead on into an investigation of the types of activities which produced the flow phenomenon. Using multidimensional scaling and a reportry grid style technique the activities given in the original study were rated on four dimensions: active/passive; energetic/sedantry; creative/not creative; team/individual. It was found that only those activities rated as creative and/or individual had a higher incidence of flow. Similarly with challenge and competence, creative activities were found more often in the high challenge condition together with activities rated as individual. No significant results were found using the competence item of the flow questionnaire, but the specific experience/skill measure yielded results similar to the challenge measure with the addition of energetic activities occurring more often in the novice or lower experience group. These results are interesting in the light of Csikszentmihalyi’s theory as no interaction effects were evident between perceived challenges and percieved competence or skill, yet almost all the subjects agreed that they experienced the feelings characteristic of flow. To recap on what these features are Csikszentmihalyi (1975) sets them out as being 1) A merging of action and awareness 2)Centred or focused attention 3)transcendance of individuality 4)A sense of control 5) unambiguous goal and feedback. 6)Autotelic / intrinsically rewarding an end in and of itself. The results from this study could indicate several things. As the work of Allison and Duncan (1988) showed there was a tendancy for professional women to find their most satisfying flow experiences in the work setting. This was confirmed by Lefevre(1988) in her study of managers and engineers as opposed to clerical and assembly line staff. This particular sample of managers rated themselves significantly higher on motivation, concentration and creativity whilst working than did the other groups. Yet they rated themselves lowest on creativity during their leisure time. Lefevre (1988) contends that “…flow enhances activation, concentration and creativity…”(p318). The results from this study seem to show a similar trend to that of Allison and Duncan (1988)in that the lack of any relation to leisure flow scores and self-esteem could be accounted for by the opportunities avaliable in the University environment. An added feature of this sample which may be an influencing factor could be their higher than average (alleged)intelligence or at least IQ. Neulinger and Raps (1972) studied the leisure activities of Mensa members. Their results indicated that the higher IQ group took part in more individual activities and had higher autonomy needs than the norm group who took part in more affiliative activities. Those investigators suggested that the more intelligent group had greater inner resources and intrinsic motivation to structure their own free time. Neulinger (1984) takes leisure to be a state of mind for which percieved feedom and intrinsic motivation are necessary. Deci and Ryan (1985) also place much of their emphasis regarding human actions and flow on intrinsic motivation and self-determination. They see this as in contrast to Izard (1977) and Csikszentmihalyi (1975) who take motivation to be more contingent on interest/excitement and enjoyment respectively. Yet this does correspond to Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of an autotelic personality and the importance of autonomy. Here we encounter Bem’s attribution theory once more. In the so called ‘overjustification hypothesis’ derived from Bem’s theory we see that extrinsic rewards or evaluation have the effect of lowering intrinsic motivation and feelings of self-determination (see Ingham,1986; Amabile,1979). The effects of extrinsic rewards and self-determination are relevant to this study in sofar as positive feedback was found to enhance intrinsic motivation for an activity (Deci and Ryan, 1985) and intrinsic motivation is an integral part of the flow experience. Although leisure does provide opportunities for companionship as well perceptions of control, freedom, competence and intrinsic motivation, all of which are important for a stable belief in self-determination (Coleman and Iso-Ahola,1993);The contention here is that the subjects in this study may well have been deriving more satisfying flow from activities outside the leisure sphere. The University setting does provide a lot of opportunity for autonomous action and as such has to have a certain degree of intrinsic motivation behind it in order for the work to be accomplished. From a Marxist stand point modern society and production in particular afford less identification with the end product and much less autonomy reducing intrinsic motivation ( the rare exceptions being the autotelic lifestyle of the Occitan culture in northern Italy, Delle Fave and Massimini,1988).Deci and Ryan thus propose that people “seek leisure activities that they believe will allow self-determination and creative expression within the context of social interaction.” (1985, p313). The second part of the present study lends credence to this statement in that the only leisure activities that were present in the high flow group were those that had been independantly rated as creative. The present study does not hold with previous work in that the other activities present in the high flow group were those rated as individual, thus not supporting the importance of the social context. Though as noted before this may be due to lower affliative needs found in those with higher IQ’s (Neulinger and Raps, 1972). Another shared aspect of both Csikszentmihalyi (1975) and Deci and Ryan’s model (1985) is the emphasis placed on perceived competence and the skill to challenge ratio. Deci and Ryan’s “cognitive evaluation theory suggests that intrinsic motivation will be related to felt competency at an optimally challenging activity.” Again only those activities rated as individual and/or creative were found to occur significantly more often in the high competence group. In addition to this no interaction was found between perceived skill /experience, challenge and flow.this brings into question the importance of perceived competence and the idea that any activity can produce the flow experience provided challenges are high and met be adequate skills. the activities given by the original resopondants were rated along dimensions produced by totally independant subjects not privvy to the original questionnaire or any subsequent information. This suggests that there may be a type of activity that facilitates the flow experience rather than simply being a vehicle for it. The prevalance of creativity as a feature of the activity rather than a product of it is interesting. Winnicott (1967)places great importance on play as creative expression ” it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.” Many sports, games and pastimes can be seen as institutionalized and structured play ( There is some literature which suggests sex and status differences in choice of games by adults based on parenting behaviour and cultural emphasis on achievement or affiliation,Sutton-Smith et al,1963). In Winnicott’s idea that creativtiy can be seen as a “colouring of the whole attitude to external reality.” we see reflections again of Csikszentmihalyi’s autotelic or self-motivating personality. perhaps few individual’s have this capacity to the extent that they can be creative or have flow experiences regardless of the activity. It could be that there are particular types of activities that are perceived as facilitating the flow experience when the degree of intrinsic motivation is insufficient to produce flow on its own. A further possiblity is that there were other mediating factors contributing to the experience of the activities.Deci and Ryan (1985) note that “Events such as rewards, deadlines, and surveillance that pressure people toward specific outcomes have a controlling significance and were found to undermine intrinsic motivation.” Ryan (1977)found that American college students on sports scholarships were more extrinsically motivated and reported less enjoyment of their sport thatn those not under such pressure. It would be interesting to see if the subjects in the present study had such mediating influences as competition or rewards of some description. If self-esteem becomes attatched to winning intrinsic motivtion and enjoyment decline (Deci et al,1981).Deaux (1977) found that competition was slightly more aversive to females than males who have a more instrumental attitude towards it. As the sample was predominantly female (69.6%) this may account for the lack of interaction effects and the lack of any correlation with self-esteem. Amabile (1982)found that creativity was undermined by competition, but that those who were intrinsically motivated were shown to be more creative (Amabile, 1979). The results of this study imply that although flow does appear to be a universal phenomenon it is not necessarily enjoyable nor does it necessarily enhance self-esteem.There is scope for the mediating effects of external pressures such as competition in leisure activities or non-leisure activities which provide the opportunity for autonomous creative and challenging activity. It would be interesting to investigate the avenue of personality by using Shostrom’s Personal Orientations Inventory (1966) to obtain a measure of intrinsic motivation or self-actualisation. The original studies (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975)were carried out on seemingly quite exceptional subjects. Whilst most subjects reported experiencing flow to a greater or lesser degree they would be unlikely to be equally intrinsically motivated. The dimensions on which the activities were rated suggest the possiblity of certain types of activity which may facilitate the flow experience for those who do not have highly autotelic personalities. This data does also serve to highlight the importance of the creative aspects of flow and to question the emphasis placed on perceived competence. It may be the case that such activities as playing a musical instrument and drawing are flow inducing but just very hard to be good at. Indeed White (1959)suggests that striving for competence or for feelings of efficacy could be a strong motivating factor in itself. So actual percieved competence may be relative to an internalized ideal or standard. approx 4,000 words.