Detecting Affective Flow States of Knowledge Workers Using Physiological Sensors

Abstract

Flow-like experiences at work are important for productivity and worker well-being. However, it is difficult to objectively detect when workers are experiencing flow in their work. In this paper, we investigate how to predict a worker’s focus state based on physiological signals. We conducted a lab study to collect physiological data from knowledge workers experienced different levels of flow while performing work tasks. We used the nine characteristics of flow to design tasks that would induce different focus states. A manipulation check using the Flow Short Scale verified that participants experienced three distinct flow states, one overly challenging non-flow state, and two types of flow states, balanced flow, and automatic flow. We built machine learning classifiers that can distinguish between non-flow and flow states with 0.889 average AUC and rest states from working states with 0.98 average AUC. The results show that physiological sensing can detect focused flow states of knowledge workers and can enable ways to for individuals and organizations to improve both productivity and worker satisfaction.