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Neuropsychological mechanism of pleasure elicited by flow experience in Chinese calligraphic handwriting

Chinese calligraphic handwriting (CCH) is an ancient, expressive art of writing Chinese characters that has been deemed as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.

In Chinese tradition, CCH is both an art and a lifestyle to maintain one’s health. The flow experience induced by CCH is considered a potential path to well-being. Flow refers to the mental state in which people are completely immersed. Practices of excellent traditional cultural activities such as CCH are an important way to achieve sustained flow experience and prosperity, estradiol levels ivf success but the underlying neuropsychological mechanism has not been researched.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Li Rui from the Dr. Han Buxin Group at the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences investigated the neural interactions supporting flow in CCH. This study was published in Cerebral Cortex.

A total of 19 participants without CCH experience were instructed to watch and simultaneously follow calligraphy writing videos for imaginative writing by slightly moving their right hand in a magnetic resonance imaging scanner. After completing the task, the participants reported their subjective flow and pleasure levels. The results showed that, similar to the “focused and effortless” feeling, the brain activity in flow state exhibits a “busy and efficient” pattern.

The CCH imitation task activates a wide range of multimodal regions spanning the visual, motor, attention and affective systems. Compared to the low flow condition (cursive script), CCH novices in high flow condition (regular script) downregulated the activation amplitude of the dorsal attention system and the connectivity strength of between-network interactions, suggesting a less energy-demanding or a more efficient processing pattern in the brain.

A causal modeling analysis of brain, flow and pleasure shows that a more efficient activity in the visuomotor and attention systems brings about stronger flow experience, which in turn elicits stronger feeling of pleasure. In high flow condition, the functional connectivity of the orbitofrontal-caudate affective network is increased, and is associated with higher ratings of pleasure.

This study provides new insights into the neuropsychological mechanism of flow experience and proposes a neuropsychological mechanism for calligraphy activities to promote mental health. CCH is extensive and profound, and its richness and diversity enables individuals to achieve dynamic balance between challenges and skill levels in practice, thus contributing to continuous flow that imbues life with pleasure and leads to long-term prosperity.

In the future, the research team will explore the value and mechanism of CCH in maintaining individual well-being, and better utilizing calligraphy as a localized mental health intervention tool to improve the cognitive and emotional health of specific populations.

More information:
Yue Wang et al, An efficiently working brain characterizes higher mental flow that elicits pleasure in Chinese calligraphic handwriting, Cerebral Cortex (2023). DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhad047

Journal information:
Cerebral Cortex

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