Ask Difference

Cognitive vs. Conative — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Fiza Rafique — Updated on April 4, 2024
Cognitive processes involve thought, awareness, and knowledge acquisition, while conative aspects focus on desire, willpower, and action initiation.
Cognitive vs. Conative — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Cognitive and Conative


Key Differences

Cognitive functions encompass the mental actions or processes of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses. This includes activities such as remembering, problem-solving, and decision-making. Conative functions, in contrast, relate to the aspects of mental life involving desire, volition, and striving, including the motivation to engage in particular behaviors or actions.
While cognitive processes are concerned with the "knowing" aspect, including perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning, conative processes are more about the "doing" or the will to act, encompassing motivation, effort, and persistence. The cognitive domain deals with how we think and understand the world around us, whereas the conative domain deals with how we direct our actions towards goals.
In terms of assessment and development, cognitive abilities can be measured through IQ tests, academic performance, and other standardized tests that evaluate mental functions. Conative aspects, however, are assessed through personality tests, behavioral assessments, and observations of an individual's effort, persistence, and motivation in achieving goals.
The development of cognitive and conative functions also differs. Cognitive development is often discussed in the context of learning, education, and mental maturation, focusing on enhancing knowledge, comprehension, and problem-solving skills. Conative development, on the other hand, is concerned with fostering determination, goal-setting, and the development of personal and professional ambitions.
Despite their differences, cognitive and conative functions are interconnected, with each influencing the other. Effective problem-solving (a cognitive function) requires motivation and persistence (conative functions), while setting and pursuing goals (conative) relies on understanding and planning (cognitive).

Comparison Chart


Involves mental processes of understanding and knowing
Involves the will to act, including desires and motivations

Key Processes

Thinking, perceiving, remembering
Motivating, striving, persisting


Knowledge acquisition, understanding
Desire, willpower, action initiation


IQ tests, academic tests
Personality tests, behavioral assessments


Through education and learning
Through goal-setting and motivation enhancement

Compare with Definitions


Pertains to the mental processes involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension.
Cognitive skills, such as memory and reasoning, are crucial for academic success.


Evaluated through observations of behavior, personality tests, and measures of motivation.
The athlete's conative traits were analyzed to improve his performance under pressure.


Cognitive processes influence decision-making and problem-solving behaviors.
Cognitive biases can affect our judgment and decision-making processes.


Investigates how motivation and willpower influence action.
Conative psychology examines the factors that propel individuals toward their goals.


Understanding how information is processed, stored, and utilized.
Cognitive psychology studies how we perceive and interact with the world around us.


Conative factors drive the pursuit of goals and the persistence in the face of obstacles.
Her conative strengths were evident in her unwavering pursuit of her career goals.


Measured by standardized tests evaluating reasoning, memory, and problem-solving.
Her cognitive abilities were assessed using a variety of psychological tests.


Concerned with building motivation, resilience, and goal-oriented behavior.
Coaching programs often aim to strengthen conative aspects of performance.


Includes the enhancement of intellectual functions.
Early childhood education focuses on the cognitive development of children.


Relates to the aspects of mental life associated with desire, volition, and striving.
Her conative drive pushed her to overcome numerous challenges.


Of, characterized by, involving, or relating to cognition
"For the person experiencing cognitive decline, the slow loss of coherent speech will be compounded by a declining ability to draw conclusions" (Joanne Koenig Coste).


The aspect of mental processes or behavior directed toward action or change and including impulse, desire, volition, and striving.


Relating to the part of mental functions that deals with logic, as opposed to affective which deals with emotions.


Of or pertaining to a striving action.
The conative, as opposed to the cognitive or affective, relates to purposeful, but not necessarily ultimately rational, action.




Of or pertaining to conation.
This division of mind into the three great classes of the cognitive faculties, the feelings, . . . and the exertive or conative powers, . . . was first promulgated by Kant.


Cognate; which is to be recognized as cognate.




Knowing, or apprehending by the understanding; as, cognitive power.


Of or being or relating to or involving cognition;
Cognitive psychology
Cognitive style

Common Curiosities

What are conative processes?

Conative processes relate to an individual's desire, motivation, and volition to act or achieve goals.

How do cognitive and conative functions interact?

Cognitive and conative functions interact closely, with cognition affecting how one plans and makes decisions and conation influencing one's motivation and persistence towards those decisions.

How are conative aspects assessed?

Conative aspects are assessed through behavioral observations, personality tests, and measures of an individual's motivation and effort.

Are there educational programs that focus on conative development?

Yes, there are educational and personal development programs that focus on enhancing motivation, goal-setting abilities, and resilience.

What do cognitive processes involve?

Cognitive processes involve the mental activities related to thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering.

Can cognitive abilities influence conative functions?

Yes, cognitive abilities, like problem-solving and planning, can influence an individual's conative functions by affecting how they set and pursue goals.

How do cognitive and conative functions differ in psychology?

Cognitive functions focus on mental understanding and knowledge acquisition, while conative functions focus on the motivation and determination to act.

How do cognitive functions affect learning?

Cognitive functions affect learning by determining how efficiently an individual can process, understand, and remember new information.

Is one more important than the other in personal development?

Both cognitive and conative functions are crucial for personal development, each playing a unique role in an individual's ability to learn, grow, and achieve goals.

Can conative functions be developed?

Yes, conative functions can be developed through goal-setting, motivation enhancement, and building resilience.

Why is understanding both cognitive and conative functions important?

Understanding both is important because they together influence an individual's overall psychological functioning, including how they learn, make decisions, and pursue goals.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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