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Does Flow Experience Lead to Risk? How and for Whom

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Abstract

Background: Previous research has focused on the positive consequences of flow, an intrinsically rewarding state of deep absorption. In contrast, the present research links flow to impaired risk awareness and to risky behaviour. We expected flow to enhance self-efficacy beliefs, which in turn were hypothesised to result in low risk awareness and risky behaviour in sports. In addition, we predicted that individuals' level of experience in the activity would moderate the expected effects. Methods: One study with kayakers (Study 1) and two studies with rock climbers (Studies 2 and 3) were conducted. Kayakers completed a survey while still on the river; climbers responded during and upon completion of a climb. Results: In all studies flow was related to risk awareness. Study 2 additionally showed its association with risky behaviour. Studies 2 and 3 revealed that these relationships were mediated by self-efficacy. The mediations were moderated by level of experience (Study 3). Conclusions: The results indicated that inexperienced but not experienced participants respond to self-efficacy beliefs evoked by flow with impaired risk awareness and with risky behaviour. Theoretical implications for flow and risk research as well as practical implications for risk prevention are discussed.

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