Conation is a term that stems from the Latin conatus, meaning any natural tendency, impulse, striving, or directed effort. 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.

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 behaviour qualifies as motivated action, but some does not”.

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”.