Conation (from the Latin conatus) is any natural tendency, impulse, striving, or directed effort.[1] The conative is one of three parts of the mind, along with the affective and cognitive.[2] 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",[3] but there are 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".[4]

Abraham Maslow, the creator of "Maslow's hierarchy of needs", discussed the idea of conation in his widely cited work "A Theory of Human Motivation". In his work, he states that cognition is itself conative. That is, that the desire to know comes from an act of will, that effectively therefore conation is prepotent to cognition. "We must guard ourselves against the too easy tendency to separate [the desire to know] from the basic needs we have discussed above, i.e., to make a sharp dichotomy between 'cognitive' and 'conative' needs. The desire to know and to understand are themselves conative, i.e., have a striving character, and are as much personality needs as the 'basic needs' we have already discussed".[5]


  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. 
  2. ^ Hilgard, Ernest R. (April 1980). "The trilogy of mind: Cognition, affection, and conation". Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. 16 (2): 107-117. doi:10.1002/1520-6696(198004)16:2<107::aid-jhbs2300160202>;2-y. 
  3. ^ Schur, N. (1990). 1000 most obscure words. New York: Ballantine Books.
  4. ^ Corsini, R.J. (1984). Encyclopedia of psychology (4 volume set). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.
  5. ^ Maslow, A.H. (1943). " Psychological Review 50 (4) 370-96 - A theory of human motivation".

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:[permanent dead link]
  • Bagozzi, R (1992). "The self-regulation of attitudes, intentions, and behavior". Social Psychology Quarterly. 55 (2): 178-204. doi:10.2307/2786945. 
  • 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. doi:10.2307/2011509. 
  • Brand, C. (2005). William McDougall (1871-1938): Heterodox and angry with psychologists by nature, nurture and circumstance. Retrieved October 20, 2005 from[permanent dead link]
  • 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.
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  • 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. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.41.11.1241. 
  • 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. doi:10.1177/001872678403701006. 
  • 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. doi:10.1017/s0140525x00045180. 
  • 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
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  • Gerdes, K. (2006). Conation: The missing link in the strengths perspective.
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  • Hershberger, W.A. (1988). "Psychology as conative science". American Psychologist. 43 (10): 823-824. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.43.10.823. 
  • Hilgard, E.R. (1980). "The Trilogy of the mind: Cognition, affection, and conation". Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences. 16: 107-117. doi:10.1002/1520-6696(198004)16:2<107::aid-jhbs2300160202>;2-y. 
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External links

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