“Flow Experience” – Interview Dr. Laszlo Harmat

Dr. Zoltan Buzady, Director of the ‘Leadership & Flow Global Research’ Network, asked Dr. Laszlo Harmat, a global expert on Flow-theory, neuroscientist and currently researching at University of Uppsala and the world-famous Karolinska Institute, Sweden, about his latest work results.

Zoltan Buzady (ZB): Laszlo, our followers and Flow-Leadership community members already had the chance to read about you in one of our earlier posts. Your field of specialization within psychology is applying new insights from neuroscience research to body-and-mind practices, and you are also experienced in applying music in mental therapy but also to color everyday with more happiness. You are also in search of the ‘making of meaning’ and the ‘Flow experience’. I know that you and your colleagues are working closely together with Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi also. Now, however, I have to, congratulations to the new book: Flow Experience – Empirical Research and Applications, which you have co-edited! Tell, us how did you become an expert in this field?

Laszlo Harmat (LH): I started my carrier as a music teacher. However I always had an interest in psychology. I was very young when I first read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book about the optimal experience – what we now call the Flow experience. It was in the late 90-s and I then decided to study psychology. I had always a strong interest in humanistic psychology and positive psychology but I also read a lot about music psychology in particular. During my Ph.D. studies at Semmelweis University, Budapest, I had the chance to visit Stockholm several times in order to carry out music research at the Karolinska Institute. I worked with Fredrik Ullen, who is professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and also happens to be a professional pianist himself! His specific research interest is the Flow experience, what are the underlying mechanisms and the importance of Flow for motivation and creativity in developing some expertise. I co-authored with him an article in which we measured the physiology of Flow during piano playing (De Manzano et al. 2010). I really got engaged strongly with Flow research when I started my postdoctoral years at Karolinska in 2011, again in Fredrik Ullen´s group. He is also a co-editor of our new anthology volume, which we just published via Springer. In 2013, I become a member of the European Flow Researchers’ Network. Our mission is to develop and share a common understanding of the concept and measurement of flow based on rigorous scientific standards and to provides updates and informs the public about the development of the current research on the Flow experience.

ZB: Can you tell us more about your work and research interest?

LH: I am a researcher at the Uppsala University, Department of Psychology. After my postdoctoral years at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, I moved to another laboratory in Uppsala where I started to investigate the emotional reactions of people to musical experiences and speech. As I said, I am also a music researcher and now I am focusing on mainly music, speech and emotion research, however, and that is my specialty, I try to combine these two fields of research. I am also writing new proposals and applications to find grants developing my new ideas in connection with Flow research and to measure individual and also group Flow experiences during musical performances.

ZB: What can managers and leaders learn from your work?

LH: I think it is a very useful book for leaders. We have several chapters about Flow experience and the work related issues but also about social Flow. The authors are researchers who have developed theories which could help leaders to better understand more about how Flow can help their employees’ satisfaction, raise their achievement and creativity at work. I think Flow Experience also important to improve their employees’ well-being, however their inner motivation is the most important factor to engage with work-related tasks and to be able to do a “good work”.

ZB: Tell us about ‘Flow Experience’, the book. How did it come about?

LH: In 2013 I joined The European Flow Researchers Network, a group of like-minded yet rather diverse researchers from across Europe, all investigating Flow experience but we also have some affiliate members from other parts of the world. Our aim is to develop a common understanding of the concept and measurement of Flow which is based on rigorous scientific standards. So we decided to compile an overview on these new findings in Flow research and to provide an update to the reader about the latest development of empirical Flow research. I really enjoyed coordinating this project and I am very happy and proud about the outcome: the latest research on Flow in diverse areas of life such as sports, arts, education and Flow social context and in everyday life, as well as how Flow is linked to personality types.

ZB: The concept of Flow was invented by a Hungarian, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. You yourself are a leading international scholar in Flow-research and a Hungarian also. And – by-the-way – I (Director of the Leadership & Flow Research Network) am also Hungarian. Isn’t that curious?

LH: In fact, there are even more Hungarian research groups investigating Flow experience and the topics related to it , mostly within positive psychology. I am very proud of my country because the next global conference of European Positive Psychology Association will be held on Budapest in 2018. I am already advising to add this into your calendars!

ZB: Wow! So one might wonder which other countries are then also leading in this area of science and research?

LH: In Europe, Italy and Germany have a long tradition for Flow research. Antonella Delle Fave (University of Milano) is an old collaborator of professor Csíkszentmihályi for more than thirty years. Antonella and Marta Bassi wrote the opening chapter of our book. Stefan Engeser is one of the leading researchers in Germany, who has also books and a lot of great publications in this field. I would like to mention of course all of my colleagues in EFRN – but maybe this would become a long list…

ZB: Back to your book- What is it about and whom do your recommend it?

LH: We are developing a common international understanding of the concept and measurement of Flow and we wish to stimulate even more empirical research. We believe that these aims are important, not only for academics and students, but ultimately for common people, everywhere, whose well-being could be enhanced through experiencing Flow more often. This book represents an important step forward for the EFRN, as it shares our current knowledge regarding Flow theory and research and how we are applying what we have learnt in everyday life to promote people’s well-being.

ZB: And last but now least the obligatory but fun question in our Flow-related interviews: ‘When were you in Flow the last time’?

LH: Thanks for this question. I am also an active musician and I am leading a choir in Stockholm. I feel strong Flow experience when I work with them. Preparing this Flow anthology was a continuous Flow experience for me too – prolonged Flow so to say. I had cooperative co-editors and colleagues and we were able to find not only individual but also a team Flow experience when we worked together.

ZB: Thank you, Laszlo, for these insights – I wish you, your colleagues and our friends at EFRN all the best and Flow experiences!