Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at the NIH Intramural Research Festival

Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at the NIH Intramural Research Festival

Some may be surprised to learn that there is a small but thriving cadre of behavioral and social sciences researchers in the NIH intramural program.  At this year’s NIH Intramural Research Festival, held September 13-15, 2017, a social and behavioral sciences category poster session included 17 presentations by intramural researchers across a range of NIH Institutes and Centers.

Examples of these presentations included:

  • Salem and colleagues (CIT) presented on compact and integrated automatic video systems and novel analysis algorithms to characterize continuously the behavior of mice in commonly used systems. This work provides a robust method for measuring a variety of behaviors and activities of studies involving mice.
  • Terry and colleagues (NIA) reported on a study of the mechanisms by which catastrophizing modulates pain. Comparing those receiving a brief catastrophizing reduction intervention to controls, they found that although temporal summation of spinal nociception was reduced, it was not mediated by catastrophizing. Although reductions in catastrophizing reduce pain perception, catastrophizing modulates pain at the supraspinal, not spinal level.
  • Gowin and colleagues (NIAAA) compared light, moderate, and heavy drinkers who self-administered alcohol in a controlled laboratory procedure to study how craving affects drinking behavior. They found that craving after alcohol priming was a significant predictor of binge drinking, supporting the hypothesis that craving predicts subsequent risky drinking behavior.
  • Cui and colleagues (NICHD) investigated the functional connectivity for recognizing familiar faces in infants age 3 to 6 months. Photographs of mothers versus strangers matched on basic facial features were presented and brain connectivity was measured. Findings indicated that network coherence in the infant brain differentiates between familiar and unfamiliar faces, but that differentiation develops between 3 and 6 months of age, providing insight into the early development of face processing.
  • Swetlitz and colleagues (NIMH) examined group differences in information-seeking behavior in a sample of healthy youth and youth with a variety of psychiatric diagnoses. Via data from a forced-choice reward task, they found that children with high levels of self-reported anxiety and irritability displayed greater levels of information-seeking behavior on high-conflict trials with more decision-making opportunities, but that these children do not select the high information/high reward options as much as children in other diagnostic groups. These findings suggest that differences in information seeking and decision-making tasks may serve to differentiate childhood psychiatric disorders.
  • Choi (NIMHD) examined the characteristics associated with the smokers who take advantage of cigarette price promotions using data from the 2013-2014 National Adult Tobacco Survey who reported purchasing cigarettes in the past 30 days. Use of coupons, rebates, and other special pricing promotions were used by 20% of US smokers, disproportionately by those who were younger and less educated.

These examples from the recent NIH Intramural Research Festival indicate that there is a breadth of behavioral and social sciences research being conducted by the NIH intramural research community.  Like extramural research, OBSSR considers one of its roles to coordinate intramural behavioral and social sciences as well.  We have made some initial intramural efforts through our continuing support for the Bench to Bedside program which also addresses our basic to applied translation scientific priority.  The upcoming Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival (Dec. 8) will highlight research from an intramural investigator, not only extramural research highlights.  We believe there is an important and ongoing need to assist intramural behavioral and social scientists with coordinating their research with each other, with their biomedical intramural colleagues, and with the larger extramural community.