Research on neurobiological development is providing insight into the nature and mechanisms of human neural plasticity. These mechanisms appear to support two different forms of developmental learning. One form of learning could be described as externalizing, in which neural representations are highly responsive to environmental influences, as the child typically operates under a mode of hedonic approach. A second form of learning supports internalizing, in which motive control separates attention and self-regulation from the immediate influences of the context, particularly when the child faces conditions of avoidance and threat. The dorsal cortical networks of externalizing are organized around dorsal limbic (cingulate, septal, lateral hypothalamic, hippocampal, and ventral striatal) circuits. In contrast, the ventral cortical networks of internalizing are organized around ventral limbic (anterior temporal and orbital cortex, extended amygdala, dorsal striatal, and mediodorsal thalamic) circuits. These dual divisions of the limbic system in turn self-regulate their arousal levels through different brain stem and forebrain neuromodulator projection systems, with dorsal corticolimbic networks regulated strongly by locus coeruleus norepinephrine and brain stem raphe nucleus serotonin projection systems, and ventral corticolimbic networks regulated by ventral tegmental dopamine and forebrain acetylcholine projections. Because the arousal control systems appear to regulate specific properties of neural plasticity in development, an analysis of these systems explains differences between externalizing and internalizing at multiple levels of neural and psychological self-regulation. In neuroscience, the concept of critical periods has been applied to times when experience is essential for the maturation of sensory systems. In a more general neuropsychological analysis, certain periods of the child's development require successful self-regulation through the differential capacities for externalizing and internalizing.