Flow states in adventure recreation: A systematic review and thematic synthesis

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Objectives:Flow states may explain motivation for continued participation in adventure recreation (e.g., skydiving, kayaking). This review aimed to identify what is known about flow states that occur during adventure recreation.Design:Systematic review following PRISMA guidelines.Method:A systematic search of 10 databases (e.g., SPORTdiscus, PsychINFO) yielded 93 potentially relevant articles out of 9468 screened titles and abstracts. The thematic synthesis approach was used to appraise and synthesise 20 empirical articles, which fulfilled a priori eligibility criteria.Results:The findings from this review are based on insights gathered from 1179 adventure recreation participants. Participants were rock-climbers, surfers, mountaineers, kayakers, skydivers, ski jumpers, and adventure racers. The synthesis resulted in four analytical themes: antecedents and inhibitors of flow, characteristics of flow, consequences of flow, and conceptual differences. Adventure recreation may provide opportunities to experience flow in a unique context. For example, this review found that flow experiences can be influenced through immersion in nature and a desire to control and reduce risk.Conclusions:A central finding of this review of research that spanned from 1975 to 2019 is that flow, in the context of adventure recreation, is currently more descriptive than explanatory. Furthermore, evidence for flow in adventure recreation relies extensively on correlational and qualitative designs. Recommendations for future research include making use of quasi-experimental designs and emerging technologies for measuring psychophysiological indicators of flow.HighlightsAdventure recreation is a unique context for studying flow.The experience of flow is an important motive for adventure recreation participants.Immersion in nature may facilitate flow.Flow can be broken into antecedents, characteristics, and consequences.Two optimal states may have been confounded in previous research on flow.

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