The synchronization theory of flow consequences of a limited capacity for attention and consciousness

Amber Westcott-Baker, René Weber

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Flow has been extensively studied both in relationship to consciousness and as a theory of video-game enjoyment, but scientific studies of the phenomenon often fail to generate expected results due to the difficulty of operationalizing descriptions of its qualitative characteristics. This chapter provides background for and presents the synchronization theory of flow (sync theory) as a means of defining flow as a biological phenomenon, along with potential for measuring flow in real-time without relying upon self-report. Rooted in neuroscience and systems theory, sync theory makes falsifiable predictions about the nature and mechanism of flow. Importantly, this mechanism rests on the principle that humans (and other organisms with minds and brains) are information-processing systems with a limited capacity, especially with regard to attentional and conscious processing. The limited capacity for conscious processing has implications for the origin of flow in general, as well as the origin of media enjoyment and video-game play in particular. We developed sync theory as scholars adhering to the neurophysiological perspective of communication (Weber, Sherry, and Mathiak, 2008). This perspective requires that theories with true explanatory status must (a) predict probabilistic relationships between communication constructs, (b) uncover a physical mechanism for the psychological and social phenomena, and (c) provide a historical/evolutionary account how the phenomenon came to exist. These three requirements correspond to three questions: What? How?, and Why? This chapter addresses the what, how, and why of attention/consciousness and of flow, with emphasis on the characteristics and outcomes of a limited information-processing capacity, and then connects these concepts with media enjoyment and video-game play.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVideo Game Play and Consciousness
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9781620811139
StatePublished - Mar 2012


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