Using Evolutionary Approaches and Growth Mindset to Support Motivation and Lower Cognitive Load in Academic Learning.

  • Sarah Coertjens

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


In evolutionary educational psychology, a difference is made between primary knowledge which is since long related to survival (e.g. food, animals), and secondary knowledge which is only more recently considered culturally necessary (e.g. math, grammar). For secondary knowledge, typically learned at school, our brain is not evolutionary adapted yet, making it more difficult and less motivating to acquire. The current two by two experimental design study explored whether setting an evolutionarily appealing (primary) context in the learning material (as the within factor) and promoting a growth mindset prior to learning (as the between factor) could lower cognitive load and increase motivation and learning performance in academic learning. This randomized controlled study was based on a sample of 101 students performing a foreign vocabulary learning task within a 50 minutes online experimental session. Half of the participants received a growth mindset intervention, the other half functioned as the active control group receiving a neutral task. All participants then studied 16 word pairs with an evolutionary primary context and 16 word pairs with an evolutionary secondary context. An evolutionary primary context lowered cognitive load and increased motivation. The mindset intervention itself proved successful in increasing growth mindset belief and having a growth mindset lowered germane cognitive load. The interaction of evolutionary context and mindset influenced enjoyment: having a growth mindset softened the negative impact of secondary learning context on enjoyment. In sum, the experiment shows promising effects to further explore the evolutionary.perspective on increasing motivation in academic learning.
Date of Award17 Mar 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKate Xu (Supervisor)


  • evolutionary educational psychology
  • growth mindset
  • cognitive load
  • motivation
  • learning performance

Master's Degree

  • Master Onderwijswetenschappen

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