Human Capital Initiative Background

In 1990, the psychological science community undertook the development of a national behavioral science research agenda to illustrate the potential of behavioral science research in addressing critical areas of concern to this country, and to identify critical research questions in those areas.

The first stage of this process began in January 1990, when more than 100 researchers representing 65 psychological science organizations and federal agencies gathered in Tucson, Arizona, for what was to be the first of several Behavioral Science Summit meetings. The number of organizations represented in later meetings has grown to nearly 100.

Convened under the auspices of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the Summit participants began by addressing this basic question: Given the array of different scientific perspectives within behavioral science-from brain research to the study of the whole person, to social and organizational research, was there enough of a common bond to warrant a joint, large-scale research effort?

Finding substantial agreement that in fact there are a number of common bonds across this diverse field, the Summit participants endorsed the development of a research agenda that would help policy makers in federal agencies set funding priorities for psychological and related sciences.

The result was the Human Capital Initiative (HCI), a framework for a sustained research effort published in 1992. It targeted six problems facing the nation, communities, and families - aging, literacy, productivity, substance abuse, health, and violence-and described these issues in terms of psychological research. The six broad areas of national concern in the original HCI were not meant to limit the specific research initiatives that might come forward. Rather they were intended to serve as starting points to stimulate research that adds to both theoretical and practical knowledge of these and other crucial issues.

The term "human capital" is familiar to many as a term that originated in economics. In the Human Capital Initiative, the term has been borrowed and broadened to reflect the view that human potential is a basic resource and that understanding the human mind and behavior is crucial to maximizing human potential. To achieve the goal of maximizing human potential, we need to know in scientific terms how people interact with their environment and each other-how we learn, remember, and express ourselves as individuals and in groups-and we need to know the factors that influence and modify these behaviors.

Using the 1992 HCI document as an umbrella structure, groups of individual investigators representing their scientific disciplines have developed a number of specific research initiatives. The recent Summit of Psychological Science Societies, held in May 1998, looked at both this first generation of HCI topics and possible directions for the next phase of the initiative. The sense of the discussion was that the HCI should proceed along two tracks: initiatives should be pursued in areas from the original HCI that have not yet been developed, but there should also be new reports where psychological science is the central focus. A coordinating committee will specify goals and evaluation criteria for the new projects, determine a conceptual framework for the reports to be generated, and articulate the basic/applied research relationship.