Psychologists find mathematical formula for success - study

A formula discovered by Yale researchers nails down what gets people in the "flow" and on their way to success while studying, working or playing sports

 Running tour showcasing American Jewry. (photo credit: HANNAH TAYEB)
Running tour showcasing American Jewry.
(photo credit: HANNAH TAYEB)

Feeling "in the flow" while studying, working or playing sports may be subconscious, but it is not random, new findings have revealed. 

What is this elusive flow?

Researchers at Yale University have developed a mathematical theory of flow, and claim that it is possible to enhance immersion and engagement in just about any task by manipulating a few crucial elements. 

The formula, which was published Tuesday in a study in the journal Nature Communications, states that "the computational theory of flow computes the mutual information between desired end states and means of attaining them, a quantity expressed as I(M;E)."

Old Campus at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, November 28, 2012 (credit: REUTERS)Old Campus at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, November 28, 2012 (credit: REUTERS)

The researchers provided exercise as an example, which is accompanied by the desired end state (losing five pounds, for example). 

People also have a means of attaining their end state, perhaps by jogging. Whether they jog and how often and far is the means and is informative of whether they will achieve their end state.

“Our theory says that the more informative a means is, the more flow someone will experience while performing it,” according to Yale psychologist David Melnikoff. “The formula is a way of mathematically quantifying exactly how informative a particular means happens to be.”

The authors also noted that their formula is used by artificial intelligence programmers – because AI experts are basically trying to build machines that behave like people in flow states.