Using Growth Mindset and Competition to Support Motivation and Manage Cognitive Load in Academic Learning.

  • Cleo Hoetmer

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Students often experience a lack of motivation for academic learning. Earlier studies showed that a growth mindset, the belief that intelligence is malleable through effort and practice, improves learning performance, supports motivation (e.g. mastery goal orientation) and reduces perceived cognitive load. Competition too has shown to enhance learning performance and motivation (e.g. performance goal orientation). However, research also shows that competition may not always be beneficial for learning. In particular, it can increase perceived cognitive load by inducing unnecessary cognitive processing during learning.
In this randomized controlled study, it was investigated what the effect of growth mindset and competition was on learning performance, motivation (i.e., mastery and performance goal orientation) and cognitive load and if a growth mindset may counteract the negative effect of competition by helping the learner focus on the learning task and reduce the task extra processing. The joint effect of a growth mindset and competition was explored during a short vocabulary task in an experimental setting based on a two by two design: 1) promoting a growth mindset prior to learning and 2) using a competition manipulation in the learning task. A sample of 49 secondary vocational education students performed a foreign vocabulary learning task within a 45 minutes online experimental session. Part of the participants received a growth mindset manipulation, the other part, the control group, received a neutral reading and writing task. Next to the growth mindset manipulation, a competition manipulation was implemented. Part of the participants received a competition manipulation, the other part, the control group, did not.
The mindset manipulation was successful. A growth mindset had no significant effect on mastery avoidance goal orientation, but it did have a significant effect on mastery approach goal orientation. Contradictory to the expectation based on literature, a growth mindset reduced the mastery approach goal orientation. Also not expected, a growth mindset raised the perceived extraneous and intrinsic cognitive load significant, but had no significant effect on the germane perceived cognitive load. The participants in the competition condition showed a significant higher learning performance than participants in the competition control condition. A growth mindset combined with competition leads to a higher learning performance. Participants who were in the mindset condition and the competition condition showed a higher learning performance than participants who were in the mindset control condition and the competition condition.
Following the findings of this research it is not advisable for teachers to induce a growth mindset in their students, if they aim to decrease the perceived cognitive load, because it is found that a growth mindset did not decrease the perceived cognitive load and can even increase the perceived intrinsic and extraneous cognitive load. It was also found that a growth mindset can decrease the mastery approach goal orientation, which can have a negative effect on the learning process. Competition was found to have a positive effect on learning performance. This effect was even stronger when the participants had a high growth mindset. So, if teachers want to help their students to improve their learning performance by introducing a form of competition in the learning process, it is advisable to induce a growth mindset.
Date of Award3 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorCĂ©leste Meijs (Supervisor) & Kate Xu (Supervisor)


  • growth mindset
  • competition
  • learning performance
  • motivation
  • cognitive load

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