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A Psychological Approach to Human Capital CAPS

Kell, Harrison; Robbins, Steven B.; Su, Rong; Brenneman, Meghan
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
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Subject/Key Words:
Human Capital, Cognitive Skills, Noncognitive Skills, Predictors, Personality Traits, Vocational Interests, Student Success, Occupational Success, Cognitive-Affective Processing System (CAPS)


The concept of human capital originated in economics over 200 years ago. The current paper takes a novel approach to human capital by interpreting it from a psychological perspective. We divide human capital into 2 domains: traditional and nontraditional. The traditional domain consists of the constructs that have been historically classified as human capital: the cognitive skills and knowledge associated with educational success and measured by high‐stakes tests. The nontraditional domain consists of constructs that have not historically been associated with human capital: personality traits, vocational interests, and psychosocial and academic‐related factors. Both traditional and nontraditional human capitals are important predictors of school and work success. Science, however, is concerned with developing explanations in addition to making accurate predictions, and we move beyond a descriptive taxonomy of human capital constructs by providing a psychological process‐based account of human capital grounded in the cognitive–affective processing system (CAPS) developed by Mischel and Shoda. To practically illustrate the power of this approach for explaining how human capital is manifested in individuals' actions, we offer a CAPS‐based model of student help‐seeking behavior—a type of behavior that is an important facilitator of positive educational outcomes.

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