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Presence and Flow: A heuristic framework to inform theory and design. Linda Greenwood Temple University ICA 2003. Presence. Presence in the “real” world constitutes a basic state of consciousness

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Presence and Flow: A heuristic framework to inform theory and design

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Presence and Flow: A heuristic framework to inform theory and design

Linda Greenwood

Temple University

ICA 2003


  • Presence in the “real” world constitutes a basic state of consciousness

  • Presence in the virtual, computer-mediated worlds is defined by Lombard and Ditton (1997) as “the illusion of non-mediation.”

  • Conceptual confusion leads to difficulty in theory development

Flow Theory

  • Flow is a construct that emerged from research into intrinsic motivation.

  • It is a psychological state in which the individual is fully engaged and involved in an activity that is intrinsically enjoyable.

  • Csikszentmihalyi, considered the “father” of flow theory, describes a flow experience as one of complete psychological and affective immersion—the “optimal experience”

The Flow Experience

  • “My mind isn’t wandering. I am not thinking of something else. I am totally involved in what I am doing.”

  • “My concentration is like breathing. I never think of it”

  • “I am so involved in what I am doing. I don’t see myself as separate from what I am doing”

Presence and Flow

  • evoke feelings of being transported into a “new reality”

  • involve interaction with the environment

  • involve states of consciousness

Presence, Flow and Immersion

  • Presence requires a minimal response to immersion

  • Flow involves a high level response to immersion

  • Flow refers to an optimal state of immersed concentration in which attention is centered, distractions are minimized

Presence, Flow, and Attention

  • Consciousness is shaped by what we attend to

  • Presence is a basic sense of being present in an environment that requires attention to aspects of the environment

  • Flow is a state of effortless concentration—a merging of action and awareness

“Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why?Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items that I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos” (Vol. 1, p. 402).  (William James as quoted in Edwards, D.C., p. 297)

A Dual Processing Framework

  • To understand how presence and flow operate in a virtual environment, a dual processing framework is needed

  • Different states of consciousness require parallel structures and cognitive processes

System Interaction

  • The experiential system encodes certain events/objects

  • When similar events are encountered, the experiential system makes a determination, based on associative emotions, whether or not further processing will occur

  • If the activated feelings associated with the event/object are pleasant, they often motivate further processing and more developed cognitive schemas

Presence, Flow and Consciousness

  • To evoke a basic state of presence in a virtual environment, sensory information activates existing pre-conscious schemas of experiences of “me-in-the-world”

  • To evoke a flow experience requires new conscious construction of schemas and a “super-presence” that requires ever-increasing complexity

Presence Conceptualized as a Flow Experience

  • Merging of the self and experience

  • A heightened sense of awareness

  • Being fully present in the moment

  • The “optimal experience”

Factors related to flow in a web-based environment

  • Merging of action and awareness

    (Engagement of both the pre-conscious experiential and conscious rational information processing systems)

  • Concentration

  • Sense of control

  • Time distortion

  • Presence

Presence, Involvement and Emotion

  • Presence is neither involvement or emotion (Slater, 2003)

  • Involvement and emotion, in some contexts are strongly related to presence (Botella, 2003)

  • Although involvement and emotion are not the same as presence, they are required determinants of state of presence

  • We cannot consciously exist in any world without a minimal level of both involvement and emotion.

  • Flow is a state of conscious awareness in which involvement and emotion are at peak levels

A flow state contributes to increased learning and to changes in attitude and behavior

(Skadberg, 2002)

Research aimed at understanding the relationship of presence and flow

  • Will facilitate the design of virtual environments conducive to learning

  • Will determine whether Flow is an extension of presence

  • Will explain which dimensions of presence are most important in a flow experience

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