How Does a Growth Mindset Affect Cognitive Load and Learning Performance?

  • P. Koorn

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    The merit of promoting a growth mindset in order to improve students’ academic performance has been proclaimed by many researchers and practitioners in the educational context. The social-cognitive model of achievement motivation postulates that learners with a growth mindset perceive their intelligence as malleable, making them motivated to learn and demonstrate intrinsic academic achievement strivings. However, empirical support for mindset interventions remains inconsistent, which may be due to the fact that learning process-related variables such as cognitive load are not yet considered and incorporated. It is possible that motivational factors may facilitate learning by investing cognitive effort in meaningful learning processes. The current study aimed to expand the existing body of research on mindset in that it examined the effect of a growth mindset on learners’ motivation, perceived cognitive load and subsequent performance. In this double blind, lab-controlled ‘between-subjects’ design experiment, a total of 138 10th grade students in higher secondary education were recruited from two comparable comprehensive public high schools in the Netherlands through the electronic learning environment of the schools, and an oral invitation by the experimenter. The participants were randomly assigned to either the experimental condition (n = 69) or the active control condition (n = 69). During the experiment, all participants answered questions regarding their level of prior knowledge on the Doppler effect, which was the subject of the multimedia reading task during the learning phase. Next, participants in the growth mindset condition read about brain functions and malleability of intelligence, then wrote a short letter to a student who struggles with learning a difficult subject. Participants in the control condition only read about brain functions, then wrote a summary of the reading. The experimental phase was followed by questionnaires on mindset, achievement goal orientations, and situational interest. Then, all participants performed the multimedia reading task to learn about the Doppler effect, and rated their perceived cognitive load. Finally, they performed comprehension and transfer tests. The key variables were measured by the Implicit Beliefs of Intelligence Scale (Dweck, 2000), the Achievement Goal Questionnaire-Revised (Elliot & Murayama, 2008), the Situational Interest Scale (Linnenbrink-Garcia et al., 2010), and the Cognitive Load Index (Leppink, Paas, Van der Vleuten, Van Gog & Van Merriënboer, 2013). Additionally, learning performance was measured by scoring four open-ended questions on comprehension and transfer. The experimental group reported a significantly higher growth mindset than the control group, indicating a successful experimental manipulation. Furthermore, the growth mindset group reported significantly higher mastery goal orientation, situational interest related to feeling, and lower perceived intrinsic and extraneous cognitive load. They also scored significantly higher on learning performance. The current research confirms that inducing a growth mindset prior to learning, leads to a stronger mastery-goal orientation, more feeling related situational interest, and lower perception of cognitive load, ultimately resulting in a positive impact on learning performance. Additional research is required to further examine how to incorporate motivational and cognitive process aspects identified in the present research, in order to maximize the effect of a growth mindset on learning performance.
    Date of Award11 Nov 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKate Xu (Supervisor)


    • growth mindset
    • implicit beliefs of intelligence
    • incremental belief
    • academic achievement
    • achievement goals
    • situational interest
    • cognitive load theory
    • learning performance
    • comprehension, transfer

    Master's Degree

    • Master Onderwijswetenschappen

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