Researchers recently found that musicians who are less anxious tend to experience more states of flow while playing music and those who experienced more flow scored higher on emotional intelligence. Their study has been published in PLOS One.
Flow is described as a state of optimal experience that is associated with high levels of performance, increased attention, and feelings of happiness. Musicians often experience states of flow, especially musicians involved in improvisation. However, musicians also tend to experience anxiety more often, and anxiety is negatively correlated with flow.
There is a positive relationship between emotional intelligence and length of musical training; however, it is unknown whether a relationship between anxiety and emotional intelligence among musicians impacts musicians’ proneness to flow. Personality traits such as stable emotion and positive affect have been linked to experiencing states of flow. Other personality characteristics, such as agreeableness and extraversion and their relationship to flow are less known.
Researchers Amy Rakei, Jasmine Tan, and Joydeep Bhattacharya were interested in investigating the relationship between trait anxiety and flow among musicians. Raker and colleagues were also interested in investigating proneness to experiencing flow based on emotional intelligence and in relation to anxiety.
For their study, the researchers recruited 664 participants who identified as contemporary musicians. (Classical musicians were not included in this study.) Participants indicated how long they had been practicing music and were measured on musical sophistication via the Goldsmiths Musical Sophistication Index. Participants also indicated what instruments they play, what age they started playing, and responded to questionnaire items regarding flow proneness, trait anxiety, emotional intelligence, musical sophistication, personality traits, control, grit, and mindset.
Results from this study show that anxiety was negatively correlated with states of flow, meaning musicians who were more anxious experienced fewer states of flow. Trait anxiety was negatively correlated with loss of self-consciousness and sense of control (personality traits). Aside from the transformation of time aspect, all other flow dimensions were significantly positively correlated with emotional intelligence.
Rakei and colleagues also found that flow was experienced more often by musicians who had more musical training, were more conscientious, open to experience, and emotionally stable.The researchers found slight associations between extraversion and agreeableness and no relationship between flow and mindset.
Regarding proneness to flow, Rakei and colleagues found that musicians with high trait anxiety were not very prone to flow. Furthermore, musicians with low emotional intelligence were less prone to experience flow regardless of their level of anxiety.
The researchers suggest that their findings show that flow states are less likely among musicians who are more anxious. Perhaps anxious musicians struggle with heightened self-awareness and an insufficient sense of self control that prevents them from entering states of flow. Rakei and colleagues also note that their findings suggest that musicians tend to experience higher levels of anxiety compared to the general population.
This heightened anxiety among musicians may be due, in part, to the competitiveness of the music field and the pressure to self-produce and release music. Rakei and colleagues clarify that that findings do not infer causation and that experimental intervention research is needed to better explain the relationship between anxiety and proneness to flow. They suggest that proneness to flow in daily life is positively correlated with musical flow because music can be therapeutic and relieve stress and anxiety.