When one enters a flow state, they experience a condition in which the focused thinking part of the brain turns static for a portion of time. This reduces the dominance of the focused part, allowing the other parts to function greater with more efficiency. Dr. Arne Dietrich, a professor at the American University of Beirut, came up with the term transient hypofrontality, which means that activities like meditation and exercise indulge the brain in a redistribution process known as downregulation. She states that the number of receptors for a neurotransmitter is decreased, typically in response to an increase in neurotransmitter release. She further states that this indulgence in the flow state makes one’s brain focus in the direction of making complex decisions, which brings the prefrontal cortex into a static state, thereafter bringing an alteration in the consciousness.
The Science of Flow
Flow is a mental state which makes one engrossed in a particular activity by diverting their attention towards it. It helps to discover one’s peak abilities in challenging circumstances that engage their fullest capacities. This push to perform at the limits of our ability makes one feel alive and engaged, bringing about enjoyment, pleasure, and happiness. It brings about a pattern of neurochemical changes heightening our senses and increasing our cognitive and motor skills. This initiates one to fight against pressures and thus reach conclusions of those problems. It not only creates pathways for cooling down the mental states but also engages in learning activities. Therefore, it plays an important role in attention focusing, energizing, learning superpowers, creativity, and enjoyment.
The Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex is the part of the brain which permits one to self-regulate and is responsible for one’s executive functioning. It helps one to think rationally and plan logically, acting as the parental advisor of the brain. It plays a very important role in decision making and avoiding any wrong long-term mistakes while questioning oneself about their behaviour. However, its con is that it hinders the process of quick reactions and instead focuses on overanalyzing, causes self-criticism, and can lead one to overthink and worry. This overthinking leads to a loss of the pure sense of flow. Here the transient hypofrontality can come into play, inducing the flow state of the brain. It focuses on deactivating the front of one’s brain, so the level of higher functioning in the brain decreases, allowing the brain to flow.
The Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex needs to be shut off during this process, diverting the brain to bring other parts into play which one should use without censorship or micromanagement. The result will be quick reactions and uninterrupted productivity. The decrease in the dominance of the Prefrontal Cortex increases the dominance of the other parts, igniting the expanded levels of human potential. One example is losing control in keeping track of time, leading to the past, present, and future melding into one. The brain waves will change, converting from regular beta waves to alpha-theta waves. In this process, the gamma waves occur, binding ideas from all areas of the brain, connecting memories and experiences, and bringing new stimuli into creative action, thus a flow in the making to control the person’s emotional status. The transient hypofrontality has its main focus towards engaging in activities like meditation and exercise. During this process, there is extensive neural activation that runs motor patterns, assimilates the sensory inputs, and coordinates autonomic regulation, resulting in a concomitant transient decrease of neural activity in brain structures, specifically the prefrontal cortex, which are not pertinent to performing the activity. An exercise-induced state of frontal hypofunction can provide a crystal clear account of the influence of the activity on one’s emotion and cognition.
A theoretical basis of transient hypofrontality is yet to be established through constant reviews, supportive evidence, and relevant data. Although different behavioral methods are used to achieve different states, it is observed that all altered states share a common neural mechanism of a transient decrease in prefrontal cortex activity. Furthermore, it is hypothesized that different induction methods target specific prefrontal circuits, removing their computation from the conscious experience. This results in the uniqueness of the altered states. In the mere future, the hypothesis may stimulate research and will encourage researchers from different backgrounds to address testable hypotheses derived from it.
Pratiksha Baliga, Youth Medical Journal 2022
1]F.Hays, K. (2017). The Transient Hypofrontality Edge. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-edge-peak-performance-psychology/201703/the-transient-hypofrontality-edge.
2]Dietrich, A. (2006, November 1). Transient hypofrontality as a mechanism for the psychological effects of exercise. Psychiatry Research. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165178106000199.