Economic models of investment in human capital sometimes refer to neuroscience as a means to support their underlying assumptions regarding human development. These assumptions have a crucial influence on the policy implications the models generate. We review the extent to which the neuroscience of development can be used to support a "learning begets learning" principle of human capital accumulation. We conclude that, although early neural development can be considered as foundational, it cannot be considered as a unitary phenomenon that proceeds in continuous fashion. Furthermore, the concept of the sensitive period, which is often used associated with the principle, suggests benefits of investment depend upon an individual's circumstances and developmental history, and particularly whether this can be classified as normal. A more recent model of investment has involved two different types of abilities, with outcomes demonstrating the value of including more sophisticated assumptions about human development. We conclude that, while current discussions of policy would benefit from a more careful interpretation of existing models, the potential for future work combining modern neuroscientific understanding with economic theory is considerable. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Bibliographical noteSupplement 1. Special Issue on Neuroscience & Education.
- Sensitive periods