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“Conation”: From Plato to Today

If you’ve ever been to an E3 Academy event, you know that our brains are made up of 3 parts: the thinking part (cognitive), the feeling part (affective), and the doing part (conative). “Conation” is a fancy word that simply means “the gut instincts inside our brain.” It’s not how you think, or how you feel… it’s how you DO.

If you’ve never heard about conation, you aren’t alone. In fact, it even made the list of “The 1000 Most Obscure Words in the English Language”! But, while it’s faded from use in recent times, the concept of conation actually goes all the way back to Plato and Aristotle.

The ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle spoke of the three faculties through which we think, feel, and act, with Plato specifically separating the conative part of the mind from passive thinking and feeling. William McDougall, 20th century American psychologist, spoke of “the trilogy of the mind,” believing that every mental activity uses all three components of the brain. When a scientist sees an exciting new specimen, for example, he recognizes it (cognitive), catches it (conative), and then celebrates (affective).

For these early philosophers and psychologists, conation was central to who we are as humans; it’s a drive that we can’t simply turn off.

Yet, in today’s world where performance is measured by test scores and learning outcomes, a student’s conative skills are often overlooked. They have never been told that the unique way they naturally take action is valid and right. When a student discovers those instincts, they can unlock a whole new toolkit for success.

To read the full text of the white paper from Kolbe Corp, visit www.kolbe.com/research-and-validity and click on “Wisdom of the Ages”. Used with permission.