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There is more than enough evidence confirming the fact that flow is a powerful source of positive experience, and thus that it contributes to the quality of life by improving subjective states as they occur in the present. There is less evidence about the long-term effects of flow on the quality of life. It has been argued that enjoyment of high-challenge, high-skill situations makes personal growth and sociocultural evolution possible (Csikszentmihalyi 1985b; Csikszentmihalyi & Massimini 1985), but the kind of longitudinal data neccessary to test such assertions are not yet available. In the meantime, it is possible to use cross-sectional evidence to answer some related questions, namely, Do young people with high cognitive ability who use their talent show the same patterns of flow experience as similarly talented students who fail to use their talent? The answer to this question might reveal why some individuals are able to fulfill the promise of their early talents, whereas others are not.
In the same classroom, some students with the potential for exceptional performance develop their skills whereas others who are equally talented do not. A substantial body of research has explored possible causes, focusing either on traits of the individual (such as positive or negative self-esteem) or factors in the environment (such as parental education or divorce) as contributing to the differential achievement of students with equivalent cognitive endowments (Raph, Goldberg, & Passow 1966; Zilli 1971; Whitmore 1980; Dowdall & Colangelo 1982; Tannenbaum 1983).
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