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Conation is a term that stems from the Latin conatus, meaning any natural tendency, impulse, striving, or directed effort.[1] Conative is one of three parts of the mind, along with the affective and cognitive. In short, the cognitive part of the brain has to do with intelligence, the affective deals with emotions and the conative drives how one acts on those thoughts and feelings.

The term conation is no longer widely known—it is in "The 1,000 Most Obscure Words in the English Language", defined as "the area of one's active mentality that has to do with desire, volition, and striving",[2] but a closer look turns up several references to conation as the third faculty of the mind.

Conation is defined by Funk & Wagnalls Standard Comprehensive International Dictionary (1977) as "the aspect of mental process directed by change and including impulse, desire, volition and striving", and by the Living Webster Encyclopedia Dictionary of the English Language (1980) as "one of the three modes, together with cognition and affection, of mental function; a conscious effort to carry out seemingly volitional acts".The Encyclopedia of Psychology "Motivation: Philosophical Theories" says, "Some mental states seem capable of triggering action, while others—such as cognitive states—apparently have a more subordinate role [in terms of motivation] ... some behavior qualifies as motivated action, but some does not".[3]


  1. Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition, CD-ROM Version 3.00). Oxford University Press. 2002. 1. An effort, endeavour, striving. 2. transf. A force, impulse, or tendency simulating human effort; a nisus.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Schur, N. (1990). 1000 most obscure words. New York: Ballantine Books.
  3. Corsini, R.J. (1984). Encyclopedia of psychology (4 volume set). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Further reading

  • Atman, K.S. (1987). The role of conation (striving) in the distance education enterprise. The American Journal of Distance Education. State College, PA: The Pennsylvania State University, 1:1, 14–24.
  • Atman, K. On goal setting and achievement. Pitt Magazine. Retrieved March 30, 1998, from University of Pittsburgh online magazine:
  • Bagozzi, R. (1992). The self-regulation of attitudes, intentions, and behavior. Social Psychology Quarterly, 55.2, 178–204.
  • Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundation of thought and action: A social-cognitive theory. Saddle River NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Bandura, A. (1991). Self-regulation of motivation through anticipatory and self reactive mechanisms. In R.A. Dienstbier (Ed.) Perspectives on motivation, Nebraska Symposium on Motivation. Lincoln University Nebraska Press.
  • Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman
  • Beisner, Gary et al. (2006). Conation: Its historical roots and implications for future research.
  • Boodin, J.E. (1908). Energy and reality, II: The definition of Energy. The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, 5.15, 393.
  • Brand, C. (2005). William McDougall (1871–1938): Heterodox and angry with psychologists by nature, nurture and circumstance. Retrieved October 20, 2005 from
  • Brett, G.S. (1921). A history of psychology, medieval and early modern period. London George Allen an Unwin.
  • Brown, J.W. (1977). Mind, brain and consciousness: The neuropsychology of cognition. New York: Academic.
  • Cattell, R.B. (1947). The ergic theory of attitude and sentiment measurement. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 7.2, 221–223.
  • Cattell, R. (1950). Personality: A systematic theoretical and actual study. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Conway, C.G. &Howard, G.S. (1986). Can there be an empirical science of volitional action? American Psychologist, 41.11, 1242.
  • Chanin, M.N. & Schneer, J.A. (1984). A study of the relationship between the Jungian personality dimensions and conflict-handling behavior. Human Relations, 37.10, 863–879.
  • Corsini, R.J. (1984). Encyclopedia of psychology (4 volume set). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
  • Cudworth, R. (1788). Treatise of freewill. London: John Parker.
  • Damasio, A. (1985). Understanding the mind’s will. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 8.4, 589
  • Damasio, A. R. (1994). Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason and the human brain. NY: Harper Collins.
  • Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R.M. (2000). The "what" and "why" of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11.4, 229
  • Dibblee, G.B. (1929). Instinct and intuition, a study in mental duality. pp. 25–27
  • Freud, S. (1923/1960). The ego and the id. J. Riviere (Trans.), J Strachey (Ed.) New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
  • Friedell, Morris (2000) Potential for Rehabilitation in Alzheimer’s Disease Retrieved February 28, 2008 from
  • Friedrich, O. (1985, January). Seven who succeeded. Time.
  • Gerdes, K. (2006). Conation: The missing link in the strengths perspective.
  • Giles, I.M. (1999). An examination of dropout in the online, computer-conferenced classroom. Retrieved February 13, 2008 from
  • Goldberg, G. (1985). Supplementary motor area structure and function: Review and hypothesis. Behavior and Brain Sciences, 8, 567–616
  • Goldberg, G. (1987). From intent to action, evolution and function of the premotor systems of the frontal lobe. IRBN Press.
  • Hamilton, W. (1860). Lectures on metaphysics. Boston: Gould and Lincoln.
  • Heckhausen, H & Kuhl, J. (1985). From wishes to action: The dead ends and shortcuts on the long way to action. In M. Frese & J
  • Sabini (Eds.) Goal-directed behavior: Psychological theory and research on action. (pp. 134–159). Hilldale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Hershberger, W.A. (1988). Psychology as conative science. American Psychologist, 43.10, 823–824
  • Hilgard, E.R. (1980). The Trilogy of the mind: Cognition, affection, and conation. Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences, 16, 107–117.
  • Hoffman, E. (201). Psychology testing at work. How to use, interpret, and get the most out of the newest tests in personality, learning style, aptitudes, interests, and more! McGraw Hill.
  • Huitt, W. (2001). Why study educational psychology? Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved Feb. 13 2008, from
  • Huitt, W., & Cain, S. (2005). An overview of the conative domain. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved Feb. 13 2008 from
  • Humberto, N. (1970). Basic Psychoanalytic concepts on the theory of instincts.
  • Jackson, D.N. III (1998). An exploration of selective conative constructs and their relation to science learning. CSE Technical Report. 437. Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing.
  • James, W. (1890). Principals of psychology. New York: Holt.
  • Jung, C. (1923). Psychological types. New York: Harcourt Brace.
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  • Kanfer, R. (1988). Conative processes, dispositions, and behavior: Connecting the dots within and across paradigms. In R. KR.
  • Kanfer, P. Ackerman, & R. Cudeck (Eds.) Abilities, motivation & methodology: The Minnesota symposium on learning and individual differences. Hilldale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Kant, I. The critique of practical reason. (translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott).
  • Kazdin, A.E. (2000). Encyclopedia of psychology. Washington, D.C: American Psychological Association. New York: Oxford University Press
  • Kupermintz, H. (2002). Affective and conative factors as aptitude resources in high school science achievement. University of Colorado at Boulder/CRESST, pp 123–137. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  • Lazarick, D.L. et al. (1988). Practical investigations of volition. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 35.1, 16
  • Lundholm, H. (1934). Conation and our conscious life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Malone, M. (1977). Psychetypes. New York, NY: Pocket.
  • McDougall, W. (1923). An outline of psychology. London: Methuen.
  • McDougall, W. (1908, reprinted 1963). An introduction to social psychology. London: Methuen & Co Ltd.
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  • Miller, G. quoted in Zhu, J. (2003). The conative mind: Volition and action. University Waterloo: Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
  • Mueller, R.J. (1988). A study of conative capacity in normal and disturbed at-risk high school students. Doctoral Dissertation University of Pittsburgh.
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  • Plato. (1937/380 B.C) The dialogues of Plato. New York: Random House.
  • Poulsen, H. (1991). Conations: On striving, willing and wishing and their relationship with cognition, emotions and motives. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press.
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  • Snow, R.E., & Jackson D.N. (1993). Assessments of conative constructs for educational research and evaluation: A catalogue. National Center for Research on Evaluation (CRESST). CSE Technical Report, 447. Los Angeles, CA.
  • Snow, R.E., Corno, L. & Jackson, D. III. (1996). Individual differences in affective and conative functions. In D.C. Berliner & R.C. Calfee (eds.), Handbook of psychology. (pp. 243–310). New York: Macmillan.
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External links