The OBSSR mission is to stimulate behavioral and social sciences research throughout NIH; to integrate these areas of research more fully into others of the NIH health research enterprise, thereby improving our understanding, treatment, and prevention of disease; to disseminate behavioral and social sciences research findings; and to provide advice to and communicate with the NIH Director, Congress, other government agencies, the research community and the general public on matters regarding behavioral and social sciences research.
The vision of the Office is to bring together the biomedical, behavioral, and social science communities to work more collaboratively to solve complex pressing health challenges. Notable areas of research where the OBSSR has led efforts include mind-body interactions, behavior change, adherence, social and cultural dimensions of health, community-based participatory research, health literacy, health disparities, methodology and measurement, and systems science approaches to health.
By the early 1980s, it was clear that behavioral and social factors not only play a major role in health and illness, but also interact with biological factors to influence health outcomes. Progress in behavioral and social sciences research during the 1970s and 1980s increased our knowledge base and underscored the need for this area of study. The growing appreciation of the importance of behavioral and social factors in health and disease has been furthered by several discouraging population trends, including high rates of obesity, especially among children; relatively high infant mortality rates in the U.S.; rising rates of family homelessness; and persistent health disparities among segments of the population. In addition, many chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer have become much more common. Behavioral and social factors play a central role not only in the development of these diseases and others, but also in their prevention and treatment.
In response to the need for health-related behavioral and social sciences research, Congress established the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1993. The NIH already had a long history of supporting health-related behavioral and social sciences research, and the results of this work have contributed significantly to our understanding of the basic underlying mechanisms and treatment of mental and physical health and illness. Establishing an office focused specifically on the behavioral and social contributions to mental and physical well-being enables the NIH to leverage existing efforts and develop synergy across multiple Institutes, Centers, and scientific disciplines.
Former Directors of the Office
Robert Kaplan, Ph.D., 2011-2014
David Abrams, Ph.D., 2005-2008
Raynard S. Kington, M.D., Ph.D., 2000-2003
Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D., 1995-2000