Exploring optimal experiences: a reversal theory perspective of flow and occupational science

Jonathan Wright, S. Wright, Gaynor Sadlo, Graham Stew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article introduces reversal theory in relation to flow theory and occupational science. The reasons why reversal theory might be compatible with research into the flow process are explored. Reversal theory itself is described and the methods by which people are thought to move between domains and metamotivational states are explained. The variety of research underpinning reversal theory is examined and an explanation for the limited research in optimal experiences from a reversal theory perspective is offered.It is argued that flow and reversal theory have similarities, but they differ in how they propose people enter and leave optimal states and in the number and types of optimal state that are thought to be part of human experience. Reversal theory’s emphasis on the dynamic nature of people’s emotions and motivations, combined with the suggestion that there are eight different types of optimal state, appear compatible with findings from previous occupation focused research that explored the flow process. For occupational science, reversal theory provides an alternative theoretical explanation as to why people perform occupations and provides further insight into the complexities of researching occupation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Occupational Science
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2012

Bibliographical note

© 2012 The Journal of Occupational Science Incorporated


  • Flow
  • Optimal experience
  • Occupation
  • Meaning
  • Reversal theory


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