Interest in the neurocognitive and psychosocial outcomes in children who are born small for gestational age (SGA) has increased since the recent approval of growth hormone (GH) therapy in this indication. The objective of GH treatment in SGA children is to provide a symptomatic treatment for growth retardation. From a patient perspective, the ultimate goals of GH therapy are the reduction in the present or future risk of neurocognitive, psychological, social or occupational impairment, not the accompanying improvements in growth velocity and final height per se. Therefore, from a scientific perspective, neurocognitive and psychosocial endpoints become relevant domains of assessment to determine the final treatment benefit experienced by the patient born SGA. This article reviews recent available studies on developmental risks in SGA, and then transforms the empirical findings into an integrated conceptual framework on the sources and mediators of neurocognitive and psychosocial outcomes in intrauterine growth retardation and SGA. This framework depicts two distinct therapeutic pathways by which GH therapy may improve neurocognitive and behavioural outcomes. The first (‘traditional’) pathway is the prevention of exposure to short-stature-related stressors via an improvement in growth velocity and final height. The second pathway refers to potential metabolic, and thus neurotropic and psychotropic, effects of GH binding at receptors in the central nervous system, thus changing neuronal activity. To date, the existence and potential mechanisms of such physiologically and not psychologically mediated effects of GH on neurocognitive functioning in SGA patients remain hypothetical.