My son is intently enjoying his one-hour of afternoon screen time when I interrupt him with a question. Without taking his eyes off the screen or stopping the rapid-fire movement of his thumb and index finger on the controller, he answers in an even tone, “basketball practice starts at 5, but I wanna be there by 4:50.” I marvel at his concentration on the game and simultaneous ability to respond with clarity, and then it hits me: this is what he means when he says with a smile, “I’m in the flow, Mom!”
According to just-published research in the Journal of Communication, “flow” refers to the neurological phenomenon of being deeply engaged in a challenging activity such that distractions are barely disturbing and focus is maintained without frustration. Flow happens when task difficulty and personal skill intersect. As it turns out, the ability to achieve flow is unique for every individual, activity and skill dependent, and is a coveted neurological process! Scientists explain that flow is a result of highly efficient modular network organization in the brain, where only the necessary networked interactions are at play, without wasted energy or superfluous concentration.
So what does all that neuro-jargon mean for you and me? It means there is value in those complex video games our kids are playing after all! While screen time still needs to be monitored and limited, the intricacies of media gaming have the potential to provide a valuable neurological workout. Game on!
Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy
Check out the original research:
Journal of Communication, https://doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqab044