Well-Being as a Cognitive Load Reducing Agent: A Review of the Literature

Just a  while ago I wrote a piece on this blog about scarcity mindset and cognitive load theory. Today I discover this review by Hawthorne and Vella-Brodrick, co-authored by John Hattie about the link between well-being and cognitive load theory and just like me they kept using the distinction between extraneous, intrinsic and germane load, this is the abstract:

Cognitive Load Theory is an evolutionary based theory of learning centered upon the cognitive architecture of the brain, which outlines a series of empirically based instructional effects that ensure efficient and effective learning. While the research upon which Cognitive Load Theory is based has generally aimed at controlling the impacts of the surrounding environment, the impact of individual psycho-social factors such as a student’s level of well-being have not, as yet, been fully explored. This review was conducted using the Scopus database focusing on the Cognitive Load Theory Instructional Effects literature. The review proposes that well-being may act as a cognitive load reducing agent for students and offers evidence from the broader literature on mechanisms through which well-being reduces the cognitive load placed upon a student’s working memory. The proposed mechanisms of reducing extraneous load and increasing germane load are proposed through; the presence of positive emotions, the absence of painful emotions, high levels of academic buoyancy, and cognitive regulation.

From the conclusion:

This review has explored this overarching question from the CLT and PP literature and demonstrates that the feeling good aspect of well-being may assist student learning through

(a) positive emotions prior to a learning task increasing germane load,

(b) positive emotions during the learning task reducing the extraneous cognitive load, and

(c) the reduction in negative emotions, especially anxiety, minimizing extraneous cognitive load, and limiting the inhibition the information store principle. The functioning effectively aspect of well-being may lead to a reduction in extraneous load via cognitive regulation—rather than behavioral regulation.

But now for the big disappointment:

This review offers a synthesis of the CLT literature; however, it does not offer direct empirical support for the interaction between well-being and cognitive load.

But there is some hope, well, kind of:

While Martin and Marsh (2008) have demonstrated a moderate to strong positive relationship between cognitive load reducing instructional strategies and academic buoyancy, this offers promise for well- being being negatively associated with cognitive load. Further research into this relationship and possible interaction is required within the fields of CLT and positive psychology. Future research may provide direct empirical evidence for the cognitive and learning benefits of teaching students the skills of well-being within schools and educational institutions.

I do think there was more possible, and this review is just a starting point and I would suggest they do look further. I do hope so they’ll do…

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