Publications & Resources

Individual Differences in Conation: Selected Constructs and Measures

Oct 1997

Richard E. Snow and Douglas N. Jackson III

In recent years, a plethora of psychological constructs and their associated measures have been proposed for attention in instructional research and evaluation. These constructs are attempts to capture, in one way or another, aspects of human learning and performance relevant to instruction that go beyond conventional constructs of cognitive ability. Some are old concepts in psychology that have not received much attention in contemporary work. Some are quite new, with relatively little foundation in prior research. Some represent the inventions of educational practitioners. Many are designed to identify potentially important individual differences among students that influence learning in instructional situations. Many also can be used to assess outcomes from such learning. Among the most interesting and potentially useful of these constructs are those reflecting motivational and volitional aspects of human behavior; we call these “conative” constructs. There are of course also important “cognitive” constructs and “affective” constructs, both old and new. The distinction between cognition, conation, and affection is convenient and historically well-founded in psychology, though it should be regarded as a matter of emphasis rather than a true partition; all human behavior, especially including instructional learning and achievement, involves some mixture of all three aspects (Hilgard, 1980). But the conative side of school learning has been largely ignored in instructional assessment until very recently (Snow, 1980; Snow & Farr, 1987). The purpose of this chapter is to review briefly some of the constructs and measures that seem most promising as useful for future research and evaluation in instructional psychology. We include examples of innovative assessment methods where possible. We also discuss questions and criticisms relating to construct validation in hopes of promoting more programmatic research in this direction.

Snow, R. E., & Jackson, D. N. III. (1997). Individual differences in conation: Selected constructs and measures (CSE Report 447). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).