Could Combining Growth Mindset and Task Complexity Affect Motivation, Cognitive Load, and Performance? An Experimental Study.

  • Nick De Koning

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Primary school students can be difficult to motivate. This can result in low readiness to solve problems that require effort investment, which can in turn result in less effective teaching and learning outcomes. Children’s mindset of intelligence could play a role in their motivation and learning. When a learner has a fixed mindset, intelligence is perceived as something that cannot be changed. While someone who has a growth mindset sees intelligence as something malleable that can be developed. Students who have a fixed mindset are likely to stop learning when they encounter a problem, while students who have a growth mindset are likely to demonstrate perseverance and invest more mental effort.
Previous research in cognitive load theory suggests that the effectiveness of certain instructional methods can differ for tasks of varying complexity. It is assumed that the human working memory load is limited thus the complexity of the instructional materials can have an impact on the learning process. Greater complexity requires higher mental effort in the learning process. It is thus possible that differences in complexity can affect learning depending on the learner’s mindset and the corresponding view on effort. The goal of this study was to inform the role of stimulating growth mindset for primary school student learning and improve understanding of its impact on motivation, cognitive load, and performance when solving problems of varying complexity.
A randomized controlled experiment was used to test the hypotheses, based on a sample of 118 children from group 7 and 8 (aged 10 to 13) of two primary schools. The study consists of four groups representing two between factors: 1. growth mindset vs. control condition; and 2. low task complexity vs. high task complexity. After participants worked on either a growth mindset or control task, they learnt probabilities through one of two videos that contained an instructional message of either low- or high complexity.
The effects of growth mindset and complexity were investigated on attribution, achievement goal orientation, cognitive load and performance. While the growth mindset intervention did significantly improve the experienced growth mindset in the experimental conditions, no evidence was found for an effect on motivation (through attribution and achievement goals), cognitive load, and performance. These findings are comparable with some of the earlier studies on adolescents and university students. The results of the present study indicate that effect of growth mindset intervention remains inconclusive.
The complexity intervention did not have an effect on experienced cognitive load, indicating a possibility that the difference between the low and high complexity condition was not big enough to be detected from the current sample, or that self-reported measures might not be an accurate reflection of the actual cognitive load. Although the designs of the mindset materials and the task complexity closely followed theoretical guidelines and previous research, it is possible that the designs can be further improved in future research. Additionally, further research is needed into the effects of growth mindset on children of a lower socioeconomic background, as the current sample consist of mostly children from a higher socioeconomic background.
Date of Award25 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKate Xu (Supervisor)


  • Growth Mindset
  • Task Complexity
  • Cognitive Load
  • Attribution
  • Achievement Goal Orientations
  • Performance

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