Understanding Team Flow: Brain Regions and Their Role

Research showing brain regions activated during team flow

Ever found yourself so engrossed in an activity that time seems to fly? Perhaps during a focused, goal-oriented task? This is the essence of ‘Flow’.

Read more: Understanding Team Flow: Brain Regions and Their Role

Famously coined in the 70s and 80s by the American-Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, this term describes someone feeling challenged, engaged, accountable, or highly intrigued. But how does this relate to sports teams? Dive into this article to uncover groundbreaking research into ‘team flow’ and its distinctiveness from individual flow.

The Phenomenon of Flow

Flow isn’t exclusive to individuals. From students deeply engrossed in their studies to athletes in a game, the state of flow is universal. Teams, be it in sports, music, or professional settings, also experience this phenomenon. It’s like they’re “in the zone”, harmoniously pushing past their performance limits.

Pioneering Research into Team Flow

Under the leadership of Mohammad Shehata from Toyohashi University of Technology, and in collaboration with experts from the California Institute of Technology and Tohoku University, a study was conducted to decipher the brain regions sensitive to team flow versus individual flow. According to these researchers, this study marks the world’s first objective attempt to comprehend the nature of ‘flow’.

Experimental Setup and Findings

Shehata and his team initiated a novel approach: recreating the flow state in a lab setting. They invited ten teams for a music game, each consisting of two players, monitoring their brain activities through an EEG headset. In some trials, a partition prevented teammates from seeing each other, enabling individual flow but restricting team flow. By manipulating music in certain trials, they could prevent flow while still fostering teamwork. Participants then assessed their flow level post-game. Remarkably, the researchers established an objective neural method to gauge the intensity of the team flow experience. By comparing brain activity under varying conditions, they identified distinctive team flow brainwaves: elevated beta and gamma waves in the middle temporal cortex, linked to information processing. Furthermore, teammates displayed more synchronized brain activity during team flow compared to non-team flow states.

Implications and the Road Ahead

Such pioneering research sets the stage for devising effective team-building strategies across diverse domains, be it business, music, or sports. The subsequent challenge is its practical application, with collaborations already underway with government and industry institutions. The golden question remains: how can coaches harness specific strategies to induce team flow?


While we eagerly await these results, watch this compelling video featuring Marc Lammers, the former coach of the Women’s Hockey team, discussing his success in guiding his team to Olympic gold by leveraging the power of ‘Flow’: Video link.


Team flow is a unique brain state associated with enhanced information integration and inter-brain synchronyMohammad Shehata, Miao Cheng, Angus Leung, Naotsugu Tsuchiya, Daw-An Wu, Chia-huei Tseng, Shigeki Nakauchi, Shinsuke ShimojoeNeuro 4 October 2021, ENEURO.0133-21.2021; DOI: 10.1523/ENEURO.0133-21.2021

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