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The College Brain: Why Sustainability Must Be Taught During this Critical Period


What is so special about college? Or more to the point: what is happening in the brains of 18 - 24 year olds that makes college such an important time of cognitive development?

With regard to educating business students about the relationship between commerce, society and the natural environment, this is of particular importance. Some argue that we can leave it to companies to provide the proper training on particulars and we should just stick with the fundamentals. But this ignores important insights from cognitive science.

Critical Periods: Learn It Now...or it Only Gets Harder

In cognitive science, "critical periods" are unique stages of one's life during which a particular skill or characteristic is believed to be most readily acquired. Although debated about how rigid the boundaries are around these periods of time, research has suggested that, for example, the brain most readily absorbs language when we are infants and toddlers.

Source: Hensch, 2005 (Nature Review)

Source: Hensch, 2005 (Nature Reviews Neuroscience) and image from here.

There are certain periods of time when certain learnings are of utmost importance. Miss language development in your childhood and it can be much more difficult later. Similarly, I believe college is a "critical period" for teaching business students sustainability. If we miss the opportunity, it will be more difficult later.