Brain activity during the flow experience: a functional near-infrared spectroscopy study

Neurosci Lett. 2014 Jun 24;573:30-4. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2014.05.011. Epub 2014 May 13.


Flow is the holistic experience felt when an individual acts with total involvement. Although flow is likely associated with many functions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), such as attention, emotion, and reward processing, no study has directly investigated the activity of the PFC during flow. The objective of this study was to examine activity in the PFC during the flow state using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Twenty right-handed university students performed a video game task under conditions designed to induce psychological states of flow and boredom. During each task and when completing the flow state scale for occupational tasks, change in oxygenated hemoglobin (oxy-Hb) concentration in frontal brain regions was measured using fNIRS. During the flow condition, oxy-Hb concentration was significantly increased in the right and left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. Oxy-Hb concentration tended to decrease in the boredom condition. There was a significant increase in oxy-Hb concentration in the right and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, right and left frontal pole areas, and left ventrolateral PFC when participants were completing the flow state scale after performing the task in the flow condition. In conclusion, flow is associated with activity of the PFC, and may therefore be associated with functions such as cognition, emotion, maintenance of internal goals, and reward processing.

Keywords: Brain activity; Flow experience; Prefrontal cortex; Video game task; fNIRS.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Awareness*
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Oxyhemoglobins / analysis
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared
  • Young Adult


  • Oxyhemoglobins