Conserving threatened carnivore species increasingly depends on the capacity of local people to cohabit with those species. To examine such capacity we developed a novel psychological framework for conservation in regions of the world where there are human–carnivore conflicts, and used the Endangered tiger Panthera tigris to explore the utility of this framework. Specifically, we tested three hypotheses in Chitwan National Park, Nepal, where increasing human–tiger conflicts potentially jeopardize long-term coexistence. We administered a survey to 499 individuals living < 2 km from the Park and in nearby multiple-use forest, to record preferred future tiger population size and factors that may influence preferences, including past interactions with tigers (e.g. livestock predation) and beliefs and perceptions about tigers. Over 17% of respondents reported that a tiger had attacked their livestock or threatened them directly. Results from a structural equation model indicated that respondents who preferred fewer tigers in the future were less likely to associate tigers with beneficial attributes, more likely to associate tigers with undesirable attributes, and more likely to believe that government officials poorly manage tiger-related risks and that people are vulnerable to risks from tigers. Our framework can help address current and future conservation challenges because it (1) integrates an expansive and generalized set of psychological concepts, (2) enables the identification of conservation interventions that foster coexistence between people and carnivores, and (3) is suitable for broad application.