Cognitive Capital

I was intrigued by the Association for Psychological Science (APS) session on cognitive capital, primarily because of the title.  I had not encountered this concept very often in the past, yet the concept would seem to hold much promise.  The papers presented at the session defined factors leading into what they called cognitive capital and then showed a high positive correlation between cognitive capital and the the economic success of  different nations.  Although interesting, I really was not interested that much in the papers themselves.  First of all, even if they have regressions equation indicating the contributions different variables make to cognitive capital and economic success, and no matter how big the data are, they are still correlational studies and do not prove causation.  And some of the variables were political in my view, such as private ownership.  Private ownership might indeed be a factor in a country’s success, but I don’t regard it as being a measure of cognitive capital.  It might help the exploitation of cognitive capital, but I regard the concept to be too important to be muddied up by questionable factors.

When I did a search for “cognitive capital”  I discovered a variety of enterprises capitalizing on the name, but I found no entry in the Wikipedia.  To me, this indicates that the concept deserves serious attention from serious researchers.  The concept has enormous intuitive appeal.  So much work and productivity is dependent upon thinking, and that is cognition.  Brains do provide the neurological substrate for cognition, but it is effective cognition that leads to success, and the failure to recognize good ideas, that is, the cognitive failure to recognize cognitive success.

One of the best examples I can think of regarding the importance of cognitive capital is Korea.  Korea was a rural country that was colonized by Japan in the early 20th century.  The Japanese exploited Korea until they were defeated in World War 2.  Unfortunately, the United States permitted the country to be divided in half with the result of the northern half becoming a ruthless communist dictatorship, and the southern half being a struggling capitalistic state.  However, the Koreans put a great deal of importance and had a high literacy rate.  They had cognitive capital to develop and exploit, which they did.  The result is one of the most advanced countries with respect to technology.  And it is important to realize that it is only half a country.  North Korea is one of the poorest and most oppressive countries on earth.  One that suppresses rather than fosters cognitive capital.  Unfortunately, the limited fostering of cognitive capital that they have done has lead to nuclear weapons and computer hackers.

So I think a good question is how can cognitive capital be fostered.  Free higher education is one means.  Perhaps the best investment the United States ever made in cognitive capital was the GI Bill after World War 2 that provided the means for millions of veterans to pursue higher education.  I believe that much of the subsequent success of the United States was the result of the GI Bill.  So why is higher education so expensive in the United States? Research should be targeted at initially reducing and ultimately eliminating these costs and examine the benefits that stem from this investment in cognitive capital.  Similar experimental studies should be done so that causation can be established in lieu of correlational studies.  In elections I want to see politicians saying that they will invest in cognitive capital.  And citizens should demand public investments in cognitive capital.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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