Vol 10, Issue 1, February 2023

In the Zone: Towards a Comparative Study of Flow State in Primates


Clark, F. E. (2023). In the zone: Towards a comparative study of flow state in primates. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 10(1), 62-88. https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


Flow is an altered state of feeling ‘in the zone’ when fully absorbed in a challenge and is associated with positive affective state (feelings). Despite almost five decades of research, Flow has not yet been recognized in non- human animals, despite repeated suggestions from animal researchers it could exist. Recent advancements in behavioral and neurophysiological indicators of experience in humans and animals make it more possible than ever to detect Flow in other species. In this article, I propose a framework for comparative Flow research on humans and great apes. I conserve the original nine-component definition of human Flow developed by Csikszentmihalyi and its three conditional components, but re-structure the six experiential components into three dimensions: Focus, Motivation, and Affect. I evaluate the evidence for each dimension and component in great apes, and how current human Flow methods may translate to great apes. If Flow state exists beyond our species, this has major implications. It would provide insight into the evolution of internally derived happiness and ignite more comparative research in the field of positive psychology. Second, knowledge of Flow or a Flow-like state in other species would inform the design of more effective enrichment and therefore promote higher captive animal welfare. I hope to spark new discussions among human positive psychologists, comparative psychologists, and animal cognition and welfare scientists, so that we may begin to conceptualize and recognize non-human Flow.


Animal cognition, Challenge, Great ape, Happiness, Intrinsic motivation, Task