We design a conceptual framework for linking two approaches: absorptive capacity and spatial Knowledge Spillovers (KSs). Regions produce new knowledge, but only part of it is efficiently adopted in the economy; the share of efficiently adopted technology depends on cognitive capital. Our dataset is based on a panel of European regions over the period 1999 to 2006, combining data from EUROSTAT and the European Values Study (EVS). We test the hypothesis that insufficient levels of cognitive capital hamper the capability of regions to fully exploit new knowledge. Results show that a lower regional absorptive capacity increases KS towards surrounding areas, hampering the regions' capability to decode and efficiently exploit new knowledge, both locally produced and originating from outside. © 2012 Taylor & Francis.