Flow Symposium 2019

at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics

Date:June 4 – 5, 2019

Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics,
Grüneburgweg 14, 60322, Frankfurt am Main, Germany


“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity […].” – this quote by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2001), one of the pioneers of Positive Psychology, illustrates how a person can find pleasure in an activity and become completely engaged with it. In artistic contexts – whether it is creating, performing, or receiving art – enjoyment of the activity in its own right plays a central role. By studying artists, who show a high degree of dedication to their craft regardless of external rewards, Csikszentmihalyi discovered a specific state of mind associated with such intrinsic enjoyment: Flow.


Nowadays Flow is not only a popular term people use in their everyday language to refer to the feeling of “being in the zone” while doing something. It is also the object of an ever-evolving research field, sparking scientific interest amongst scholars from a wide range of disciplines such as psychologists, neuroscientists, and health scientists. In this symposium we will bring together experts in Flow research, to present and discuss recent advances and future directions of the field. The symposium’s main focus is on Flow in the context of art, music, and creativity, but also on psychophysiological and neurophysiological indicators of Flow, as well as on motivational and interindividual factors contributing to this experience. We are looking forward to two interesting days of scientific presentations and debate!



Attendance is free; guest attendees are kindly asked to informally pre-register via mail to birte.thissen@ae.mpg.de


Birte Thissen and Michael Wagner

List of speakers (in alphabetical order)

Arnold Bakker (Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands)
Alice Chirico (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart Milan/Brescia, Italy)
Genevieve Cseh (Buckinghamshire New University, England)
Kelsey Finnley (Claremont Graduate University, USA)
László Harmat (Linnaeus University Växjö, Sweden)
David Harris (University of Exeter, England)
Johannes Keller (University of Ulm, Germany)
Örjan de Manzano (Karolinska Institute Stockholm, Sweden)
Corinna Peifer (Ruhr University Bochum, Germany)
Birte Thissen (Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics Frankfurt, Germany)
Fredrik Ullén (Karolinska Institute Stockholm, Sweden)
Martin Ulrich (University of Ulm, Germany)
Regina Vollmeyer (Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany)
Michael Wagner (University of Ulm, Germany)
René Weber (University of California Santa Barbara, USA)


Conference schedule

Day 1: Tuesday, June 4

09:50 – 10:10Welcome Reception
10:10 – 11:30

Session 1: Flow and Motivation

Is it Possible to Measure Flow during Writing a Criminal Story? Regina Vollmeyer

Creating Flow at Work through Job Crafting and Playful Work Design Arnold Bakker

13:00 – 15:00

Session 2: Flow and Psychophysiology

On the Physiology of Flow Experiences Corinna Peifer

Optimal Reading Experiences: Flow and its Psychophysiological Indicators in Fiction Readers Birte Thissen

A Cardiovascular Analysis of the Flow Experience Michael Wagner

15:15 – 17:15

Session 3: Flow and Creativity

Flow Experience, Creativity, and Synchronized Interactions during Group-based Problem-solving Tasks László Harmat

The Thrills and Anxieties of Uncertainty: Paradoxes and Motivators of Flow in Visual Creativity Genevieve Cseh

Flow Proneness predicts Individual Differences in Creative Achievement even among Professional Musicians Örjan de Manzano

18:00 – 19:30

Public Keynote: Flow and Personality

The Flow Nexus: Individual Variation in Flow Proneness and its Correlates Fredrik Ullén

Day 2: Wednesday, June 5

09:30 – 10:50

Session 4: Flow and Art

From Individual Flow to Group Flow in Music: Taking Stock Alice Chirico

The Aesthetic Experience as Flow: Relationships with Well-Being Kelsey Finnley

11:00 – 12:00Poster Session
13:00 – 15:00

Session 5: Flow and Neurophysiology

The Synchronization Theory of Flow: Neuropsychological Evidence and the Theory’s Future in the Field of Neuroaesthetics René Weber

The Neural Signature of Flow Martin Ulrich

Is Flow really Effortless? Examining the Role of Executive Attention in ‘the Zone’ David Harris

15:00 – 16:00

Open Discussion

Johannes Keller

16:00 – 16:15Farewell
17:00 – 18:00Voluntary Guided Tour of the Sagmeister & Walsh: Beauty
Exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts

Travel Information 


The institute is located in the Westend Carree building at Grüneburgweg 14. The closest subway station, “Grüneburgweg”, can be reached by taking the U1, U2, U3, or U4. From Frankfurt Main Station, please first take the U4 or U5 to “Willy-Brandt-Platz” and from there change into one of these lines (not in the direction of “Südbahnhof”, but in the respective other direction).

To get to the institute from Frankfurt Main Airport, please take the S8 or S9 in the direction of “Hanau”, get off at “Hauptwache”, and change into the U1, U2, U3, or U4 (again, any other direction than “Südbahnhof”).

By car, coming from the motorway A 5, take the A 66 in direction "F-Miquelallee / F-Stadtmitte" at Autobahnkreuz (interchange) Nordwestkreuz Frankfurt, continue on Miquellallee / B 8, turn right into "Eschersheimer Landstraße", and then turn right again into “Grüneburgweg”. Have a safe journey!


Fredrik Ullén, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

Being in Flow refers to the enjoyable experience of complete engagement with an activity. Fredrik Ullén, internationally renowned as both a concert pianist and a neuroscientist, will present scientific insights into what characterizes people who frequently experience Flow...


Being in Flow refers to the enjoyable experience of complete engagement with an activity. Children engrossed in playing, artists wholeheartedly devoted to their craft, athletes fully focused on their sports, and workers finding pleasure in fluently doing their job, are just a few examples of Flow. Fredrik Ullén, internationally renowned as both a concert pianist and a neuroscientist, will present scientific insights into what characterizes people who frequently experience Flow:


There are large individual differences in how frequently people have Flow experiences. This variation is likely to depend on situational variables, i.e. environmental opportunities to engage in Flow promoting activities, as well as trait differences in the proneness to experience flow.

Flow Proneness and its association with other variables have been the focus of several large-scale studies in recent years. This research shows that Flow Proneness is correlated with major personality dimensions, motivation, and emotional competence. Associations with cognitive ability, in contrast, are weak or nil.

Furthermore, Flow Proneness is associated with long-term engagement and creative achievement within a specific field. Finally, Flow Proneness correlates with several measures of psychological health, including lower levels of depressive symptoms at work and emotional exhaustion.

Here, I will summarize this literature and discuss possible underpinnings of the observed associations, with reference to results from twin modelling, as well as physiological and neuroimaging studies of Flow. In conclusion, I will suggest that Flow may be a critical ingredient in a psychologically sustainable engagement, where high commitment, creativity, and achievement go together with psychological wellbeing.

Keywords: Flow; Individual Differences; Personality; Creativity; Wellbeing

Please register here for the event.


Fredrik Ullén

is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet Stockholm (Sweden). His research focuses on the neuropsychology of expertise and creativity, i.e. the various brain mechanisms that allow us to perform at a very high level within a specific field, and the roles of gene-environment interplay for the acquisition of such expertise.


Most of this work uses music as a model domain, and the neuroscience of music as such is another major research interest of Prof. Ullén. Methodologically, his team combines neuroimaging with experimental psychology, and behavior genetic analyses. In addition to his career as a scientist, Prof. Ullén is internationally active as a concert pianist. He has performed as a soloist in leading festivals and concert venues in Europe, Canada, and the US and is represented on more than 20 CD records, many of which have received outstanding critics and awards from the international press. Professor Ullén is a fellow of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music (2007) and Academia Europaea (2017).