Control of level of challenge and its effect on task persistence: a study of Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975) concept of flow was examined in a sample of 81 four-year-olds. Intrinsic motivation to continue playing, measured by the number of attempts to toss a bean bag through a target, was observed in both a choice and an assigned condition, order counterbalanced. In the assigned condition, subjects were randomly assigned to an easy or hard level of challenge, whereas in the choice condition, subjects could control the level of difficulty of the game by varying their distance from the target. Children in the choice condition made significantly (p < .05) more attempts than did children in the assigned-hard condition, and subjects in the assigned-easy condition made significantly (p < .05) more attempts than those in the hard condition, but there was no difference between the choice and easy conditions. No effect was found due to order in which conditions were received. Significant school differences were found in the choice condition only. Findings were interpreted as supporting the hypothesis that choice of level of difficulty has a significant positive effect on intrinsic motivation to continue an activity.