Network neuroscience reveals distinct neuromarkers of flow during media use

Richard Huskey, Shelby Wilcox, René Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Flow is characterized by a high level of intrinsic reward that results from a balance between task difficulty and individual ability. The Synchronization Theory of Flow offers an explanation for the neural basis of this process. It predicts an energetically-optimized, brain-network organization between cognitive control and reward regions when task difficulty and individual ability are balanced. While initial results provide support for structural predictions, the many-to-many connectivity and energetic optimality hypotheses remain untested. Our study addresses this gap. Subjects played a video game while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. We experimentally manipulated task difficulty and individual ability. Using graph theoretical analyses, we show that the balanced-difficulty condition (compared to low- or high-difficulty) was associated with the highest average network degree in the fronto-parietal control network (implicated in cognitive control) and had the lowest global efficiency value, indicating low metabolic cost, and thereby testing Synchronization Theory’s core predictions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)872-895
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Communication
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the University of California Santa Barbara George D. McCune Dissertation Fellowship (to R. H.), University of California Santa Barbara Brain Imaging Center, the University of California Santa Barbara Academic Senate (grant AS-8-588817-19941-7 to R. W.), and the Institute for Social, Behavioral and Economic Research (grant ISBG-SS17WR-8-447631-19941 to R. W.).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of International Communication Association. All rights reserved.


  • Communication science
  • Flow theory
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Graph theory
  • Media neuroscience
  • Open science
  • Synchronization theory


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