Friday, February 23, 2024

Using caffeine to induce flow states

I pass on this link to an article in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews (open access) and show the Highlights and Abstract of the article below.  One of the coauthors, Steven Kotler, who is executive director at the "Flow Research Collective" was mentioned in my previous 2019 Mind Blog post "A Schism in Flow-land? Flow Genome Project vs. Flow Research Collective."  It was the last in a series of critical posts that started in 2017. While I agree from my personal experience that caffeine (as well other common stimulants) can induce more immersion in and focus on a task, I find find the text, which has a bloated unselective bibliography, to be mind-numbing gibble-gabble, just as were the writing efforts I was reviewing in 2017-2019,  However,  the authors do offer a recitation that some will find useful of "psychological and biological effects of caffeine that, conceptually, enhance flow" - whatever that means.


-Caffeine promotes motivation (‘wanting’) and lowers effort aversion, thus facilitating flow.
-Caffeine boosts flow by increasing parasympathetic high frequency heart rate variability.
-Striatal endocannabinoid modulation by caffeine improves stress tolerance and flow.
-Chronic caffeine alters network activity, resulting in greater alertness and flow.
-Caffeine re-wires the dopamine reward system in ADHD for better attention and flow.


Flow is an intrinsically rewarding state characterised by positive affect and total task absorption. Because cognitive and physical performance are optimal in flow, chemical means to facilitate this state are appealing. Caffeine, a non-selective adenosine receptor antagonist, has been emphasized as a potential flow-inducer. Thus, we review the psychological and biological effects of caffeine that, conceptually, enhance flow. Caffeine may facilitate flow through various effects, including: i) upregulation of dopamine D1/D2 receptor affinity in reward-associated brain areas, leading to greater energetic arousal and ‘wanting’; ii) protection of dopaminergic neurons; iii) increases in norepinephrine release and alertness, which offset sleep-deprivation and hypoarousal; iv) heightening of parasympathetic high frequency heart rate variability, resulting in improved cortical stress appraisal, v) modification of striatal endocannabinoid-CB1 receptor-signalling, leading to enhanced stress tolerance; and vi) changes in brain network activity in favour of executive function and flow. We also discuss the application of caffeine to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and caveats. We hope to inspire studies assessing the use of caffeine to induce flow.

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