January 18, 2022
Director's Voice Blog
Looking Forward: NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research in 2022.
by Acting OBSSR Director Christine Hunter, Ph.D., ABPP
I am excited to write my first blog as the Acting Director for the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. We will miss Dr. Bill Riley’s leadership but the strong foundation he laid and the fantastic people that remain in the office and at NIH, will help ensure that his parting vision that “the next generation of behavioral and social science researchers will advance the field in ways I cannot even imagine” comes to fruition. I am pleased to have the opportunity to play a part in achieving this vision and keeping the research momentum going at the NIH. The new year is a good time to reflect on where we are going so I will use my first blog to briefly reflect on the past year but mostly focus on some of what we hope to achieve in 2022.
Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Spotlights
The COVID-19 pandemic has strained healthcare systems and healthcare workers. In recent publications, researchers supported by the NHLBI, American Heart Association, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation assessed the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sleep patterns of health care workers (HCW) in New York City (NYC) and the downstream effects of sleep disturbances on their mental health. During the pandemic, health care workers have been under immense stress, leading many to leave their jobs, which has left many hospitals understaffed. With fewer health care workers on the job, the remaining staff must work more and longer shifts, which can worsen stress and sleep problems. Previous research has indicated the poor sleep may also trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Education’s protective effect against midlife mental health challenges may be decreasing for Americans
Historically, Americans with more education tend to have more favorable health outcomes compared to Americans with less education. Although the education gradient still exists, recent data trends indicate that U.S. middle-aged adults, regardless of education, are reporting lower mental and physical health compared to the same-aged peers several decades ago. This begs the question: Is this education-health differential in cohorts also true in other countries during the same time period? A study sponsored by the NIA aimed to address this question.
Physician-patient communication is one of the most significant aspects of the health care process. An integral part of care is the achievement of “shared meaning” or “mutual understanding” between the physician and patient to encourage positive outcomes with diseases that require consistent regimens such as Type II diabetes. Precision medicine initiatives strive to develop tailored treatment plans for patients based on factors such as genetic makeup and lifestyle. Implementing precision medicine plans require communication between physician and patient to ensure positive outcomes. This NLM, NIDDK, and NSF funded study sought to understand physicians use of simple language versus their adaptation of written language to match the health literacy (HL) of patients and whether physicians’ tendency to use either strategy is associated with patient understanding.
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News and Events
NIH Matilda White Riley Honors Early-Stage Investigator Paper Competition Now Open [Deadline: January 31, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. ET]
The NIH OBSSR Matilda White Riley Early-Stage Investigator (ESI) Paper Competition awards recognize emerging scientists whose research reflects Dr. Matilda White Riley’s vision of research excellence in health-related behavioral and social sciences.
ESI Paper Competition Open: January 16, 2022 - January 31, 2022
Submission Deadline: January 31, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. ET
Awardees Notified: April 5, 2022
OBSSR will invite up to four ESI awardees to present the findings from their accepted paper and participate in a moderated discussion of future research possibilities during the 15th NIH Matilda White Riley Behavioral and Social Sciences Honors, to be held virtually on Friday, June 3, 2022.
Visit the NIH Matilda White Riley Paper Competition website for details regarding eligibility criteria. A review committee of NIH scientists will consider all relevant submissions to assess both the potential impact or influence of the paper on the field and how well the paper meets the eligibility criteria.
If you have any questions, please contact NIHMWRHonors@nih.gov.
For more information about past NIH Matilda White Riley Behavioral and Social Sciences Honors events, visit the OBSSR website.
Request for Information (RFI): Research Challenges and Needs in the Biobehavioral Mechanisms of Aggression
OBSSR, in partnership with NIAAA, NICHD, NIMH and NCCIH, recently released a RFI (NOT-OD-22-041) requesting information on the challenges and research gaps and opportunities that can best be addressed through a concerted and coordinated effort to enhance research on the biobehavioral contributions to aggressive behavior and its impact across the lifespan.
Specifically, respondents are asked to provide input on the following gaps and opportunities:
(1) in our fundamental understanding of biobehavioral mechanisms of aggression in humans and animals;
(2) in the development and use of methods, tools, technology, or other research resources to enable better characterization of the biological, psychological, and environmental mechanisms underlying aggressive behaviors and the biobehavioral impact of those experiencing aggression;
(3) in the identification of biomedical, behavioral, and psychosocial intervention targets for preventing and treating aggressive behavior and mitigating its impact on health and well-being;
(4) in the characterization of multimodal / multivariate approaches applicable to either primary or secondary data to understanding how other biological, behavioral and/or social/environmental factors such as alcohol and substance use or gender norms interact to influence aggression;
(5) in the considerations of ethical, legal, and social implications for research investigating the biobehavioral mechanisms of aggression, including implications for applied work in human research; and
(6) any other issues that NIH should consider that may advance research on identifying neurobiological mechanistic approaches and potential intervention targets for preventing/treating aggressive behavior and/or mitigating its impacts across the lifespan.
The comment period closes at 11:59pm ET on January 31, 2022.
All comments must be submitted through the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TLMC8BP
Apply for the 2022 Summer Institute on Randomized Behavioral Clinical Trials
The 22nd Summer Institute on Randomized Behavioral Clinical Trials will be held July 14 – 23, 2022 at the Bolger Hotel and Conference Center in Potomac, Maryland. The Institute is sponsored by OBSSR and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Applications are due by February 15, 2022.
The Summer Institute provides an intermediate/advanced course in planning, designing, and conducting high-impact randomized controlled trials of health-related behavioral interventions. It emphasizes programmatic research and prepares fellows to lead or collaborate on rigorous, high-impact behavioral trials and on systematic efforts to develop and improve health-related behavioral interventions. The Institute’s long-term goal is to build an outstanding scientific workforce that is able to plan and conduct the kinds of clinical trials that can change practice guidelines, health care policies, and third-party coverage for health-related behavioral interventions, and that can help to increase the role of evidence-based behavioral interventions in clinical and preventive services. By the end of this course, participants will be able to:
- Evaluate the evidentiary requirements of health care gatekeepers and the needs of stakeholders in health-related behavioral interventions.
- Formulate long-term goals for high-impact health-related behavioral intervention research programs.
- Use the best-fitting translational research models and intervention optimization frameworks to plan and conduct intervention research programs.
- Incorporate basic behavioral and social science findings and advanced methodologies in this research.
- Understand the role of interdisciplinary team science in high-impact behavioral intervention research.
- Produce a plan to disseminate the knowledge gained in this course.
Please send questions about the Summer Institute to Kenneth Freedland, Ph.D., Program Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Request for Information (RFI): Research Challenges and Needs in the Interaction of Sleep and Emotion Regulation to Improve Health and Well-being across Health Conditions
OBSSR, in partnership with NHLBI and NCI, recently released a RFI (NOT-OD-22-053) requesting information to gain feedback, comments, and novel ideas from members of the scientific community to help identify the needs and priorities of research on how the interaction between sleep and emotion regulation influences health and variety of disease processes. This information will be used to plan future activities and initiatives that can enhance the research in this area. Feedback on robust biomedical, behavioral, and neurophysiological mechanistic approaches to improve precise, novel targets for sleep and circadian interventions is requested.
Responses must be received by 11:59pm ET on February 28 , 2022, to be considered.
All comments must be submitted electronically using the online comment form at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XS59566. “NOT-OD-22-053”.
Application Period Open: Michigan Integrative Well-Being and Inequality (MIWI) Training Program
The MIWI Training Program is a state-of-the-art, interdisciplinary methods training program that prepares participating scholars to investigate the intersection of mental and physical health, with an emphasis on how this intersection relates to health disparities. The training encompasses conceptual frameworks, study designs, data collection needs, and analytic approaches necessary to conduct this innovative research. The program includes an intensive 3-day summer institute in Ann Arbor, MI, followed by ongoing collaboration with a mentorship team. The MIWI Institute will be held from June 12-15, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
This program is funded by the National Institutes of Health through OBSSR and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). It is the only NIH-funded program focused on building the methodological expertise needed to address the intersection of mental and physical health. This program will support efforts to increase cross-pollination in interdisciplinary scientific teams, and foster an integrative approach to clinical care and health services programming that can better meet the needs of persons with comorbid mental and physical health conditions.
The application deadline is March 1, 2022.
If you have any questions about the application process, please email email@example.com.
SBE COVID Population Data Science Awards
The NIH Social, Behavioral, and Economic (SBE) Health Impacts of COVID-19 Initiative, under the leadership of OBSSR, NIMH, NIMHD, NIA, and NINR, has funded supplement and intervention programs since its inception. The Initiative is currently setting up a Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research on COVID-19 Consortium consisting of a Coordinating Center and accompanying U01 projects.
The Social, Behavioral, and Economic Research on COVID-19 Consortium Coordinating Center (SBECCC) is spearheaded by the Dr. Margaret Levenstein at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan. The SBECCC will foster innovation, collaboration, and synergies across researchers funded through the Social, Behavioral and Economic Research on COVID-19 Consortium (U01) program and other relevant NIH-funded studies by supporting networking activities intended to advance research in the field.
Thus far, eight cooperative agreements have been awarded as part of the consortium.
Event Recording: 2021 NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival
NIH OBSSR held its sixth NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival on November 18-19, 2021. The festival highlighted exciting research results, emerging areas, and innovations in health related behavioral and social sciences research (BSSR). This NIH-wide event enables efficient leveraging of NIH resources and expertise. The NIH BSSR Coordinating Committee members contribute diverse and comprehensive perspectives on the NIH BSSR portfolio, thus facilitating the selection of an outstanding array of research results that are highlighted at the festival. View the meeting agenda, speaker biographies, and recordings of the presentations on the OBSSR YouTube Channel (Day 1 and Day 2).
Updates for PATH Study PUF RUF BRUF Wave 5 Adult and Youth data files
The FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) and the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) announce the release of the first in a series of restricted-use biomarker data files from Wave 5 of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study collected December 2018 – November 2019. This latest addition to the PATH Study’s Biomarker Restricted-Use Files (BRUF) includes urine panel assay data files, namely urinary nicotine metabolites (UNICM), creatinine (CREAU), metals, and volatile organic compounds metabolites (VOCM). The release also includes datafiles containing urine biomarkers of oxidative stress (F2PG2a) at Wave 3. Qualified researchers may apply for access through the PATH Study Biomarker Restricted-Use Files webpage at https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36840.
In addition, updates were made to the Wave 5 Public-Use File (PUF), the Wave 5 Restricted-Use File (RUF), Wave 4 BRUF, the Wave 1 – Wave 4 VOCM BRUFs. Researchers may apply to access the RUF at https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36231, and the PUF can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36498. Restricted-Use Master Linkage Files were also updated and are available at https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR38008.
The Biospecimen Access Program webpage at http://bit.ly/2wBFOtc provides information on how to access the urine, serum, plasma, and genomic DNA (gDNA) collected from adult PATH Study participants during Wave 1 (2013-2014) and urine collected during Wave 2 (2014-2015), Wave 3 (2015-2016), Wave 4 (2016-2018), and Wave 5 (2018-2019).
The PATH Study is a household-based, nationally representative, longitudinal cohort study of youth (12-17 years old) and adults in the United States. The study was launched in 2011 to inform FDA’s regulatory activities under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. For the latest announcements, data releases and updates, new publications, upcoming events, and other information for PATH Study data users, join the PATH Study Data User Forum. The forum enables researchers using PATH Study data to submit and answer questions.
Questions about the collection, content, weighting, documentation, or structure of PATH Study data may be submitted to PATHDataUserQuestions@Westat.com (not to be used for questions about statistical analysis or analytic guidance).
Recently Published Funding Announcements
Notice of Intent to Publish a Funding Opportunity Announcement for Research on Community Level Interventions to Prevent Firearm and Related Violence, Injury and Mortality
Estimated Publication Date of Funding Opportunity Announcement: January 27, 2022
First Estimated Application Due Date: April 22, 2022
Earliest Estimated Award Date: September 1, 2022
Earliest Estimated Start Date: October 1, 2022
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) intends to publish one or more Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) to invite applications for community and community organizational level interventions to prevent firearm and related violence, injury and mortality. Applications will be encouraged to include multiple levels of intervention and/or multiple sectors (e.g., health, education, justice) when appropriate and to be developed in partnership with communities and/or community organizations. Given that violence and suicide have a number of causes, NIH will take a comprehensive approach to studying these underlying causes and evidence-based methods of prevention of injury, including crime prevention. All applicants will be expected to fulfill requirements around open data, open code, pre-registration of research projects, and open access to research articles. Funded awards will support ideologically and politically unbiased research projects. Applications are not being solicited at this time, but NIH plans to publish one or more FOAs in December for funding to begin in FY 2022.
Notice of Intent to Publish a Funding Opportunity Announcement for Evaluating the Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic-related Food and Housing Policies and Programs on Health Outcomes in Health Disparity Populations (R01 Clinical Trial Optional).
Estimated Publication Date of Funding Opportunity Announcement: January 4, 2022
First Estimated Application Due Date: April 7, 2022
Earliest Estimated Award Date: September 1, 2022
Earliest Estimated Start Date: September 1, 2022
This notice is to inform the research community that the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) and the above participating NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) intend to issue an FOA seeking applications that will identify and evaluate the ongoing and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing specifically on governmental (local, state, tribal, federal) policy and programmatic actions that address two specific social determinants of health: food/nutrition security and housing security. Applications are requested to examine how these food/nutrition and housing policies and programs aimed at lessening the effects of the pandemic impacted health and health equity in individuals, families, and communities from health disparity populations.
Health disparity populations include racial and ethnic minorities, socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, underserved rural populations, and sexual and gender minorities.
This Notice is being provided to allow potential applicants sufficient time to develop meaningful collaborations and responsive projects.
Understanding Place-Based Health Inequalities in Mid-Life (R01 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)
Open Date (Earliest Submission Date): February 3, 2022
Expiration Date: March 4, 2022
The purpose of this Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is to support research that uncovers potential modifiable explanations about how “places” (e.g., countries, US Census regions, states, counties, neighborhoods, and locations across the urban-rural continuum) are related to morbidity and mortality among middle-aged adults in order to inform policy responses to address poor mid-life health and health disparities. Specifically, this FOA will support studies that: 1) clarify social, economic, behavioral, and institutional explanations for place-based health disparities (levels and trends), 2) examine intersections between place and sociodemographic characteristics (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity) to better understand and address processes driving other health disparities, and/or 3) include data collection and data enhancements to support 1 and 2.
Advancing communication strategies to support future HIV vaccine use (R01 Clinical Trial Optional)
Open Date (Earliest Submission Date): April 10, 2022
Expiration Date: May 11, 2022
This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) invites applications for Research Project Grants (R01) that will advance novel health communication research designed to inform and support acceptance and uptake of future vaccines that protect against HIV. Research should focus on understanding key drivers for HIV vaccine communication success, communication strategies for engagement of communities placed at greatest risk for acquiring HIV, and/or mitigating the impact and reach of HIV vaccine misinformation. Research applications may leverage HIV vaccine analogs (e.g., COVID-19, HPV, HBV vaccines), so long as they have a primary focus on populations placed at risk for HIV, and/or healthcare settings and providers involved in HIV prevention delivery.
This FOA uses the R01 grant mechanism, while RFA-MH-22-171 uses the R21 mechanism. Applications with preliminary data and/or those including longitudinal analysis, advanced modeling, or large-scale clinical trials should consider using the R01 mechanism. Applicants proposing to conduct exploratory, novel studies that break new ground, extend previous discoveries in new directions or result in novel techniques, models or applications should consider the R21 mechanism.
Advancing communication strategies to support future HIV vaccine use (R21 Clinical Trial Optional)
Open Date (Earliest Submission Date): April 10, 2022
Expiration Date: May 11, 2022
This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) invites applications for Research Project Grants (R21) that will advance novel health communication research designed to inform and support acceptance and uptake of future vaccines that protect against HIV. Research should focus on understanding key drivers for HIV vaccine communication success, communication strategies for engagement of communities placed at greatest risk for acquiring HIV, and/or mitigating the impact and reach of HIV vaccine misinformation. Research applications may leverage HIV vaccine analogs (e.g., COVID-19, HPV, HBV vaccines), so long as they have a primary focus on populations placed at risk for HIV, and/or healthcare settings and providers involved in HIV prevention delivery.
This FOA uses the R21 grant mechanism, while RFA-MH-22-170 uses the R01 mechanism. Applications with preliminary data and/or those including longitudinal analysis, advanced modeling, or large-scale clinical trials should consider using the R01 mechanism. Applications proposing to conduct exploratory, novel studies that break new ground, extend previous discoveries in new directions or result in novel techniques, models, or applications should consider the R21 mechanism.
Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Research to Address Vaccine Hesitancy, Uptake, and Implementation among Populations that Experience Health Disparities
First Available Due Date: February 5, 2022
Expiration Date: January 8, 2023
This Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) highlights the need for research on strategies, and interventions to address vaccine hesitancy, uptake, and implementation among populations who experience health disparities in the US and its territories. Research is needed to understand and address misinformation, distrust, and hesitancy regarding uptake of vaccines (e.g., SARS-CoV-2, pneumococcal, influenza, hepatitis B, human papilloma virus (HPV)) among adults in the United States and territories, especially in populations at increased risk for morbidity and mortality due to long-standing systemic health and social inequities and chronic medical conditions. This NOSI is focused on adults 18 years and older except for SARS-CoV-2 and HPV-related vaccine topics, which may include eligible children and adolescents. The purpose of this NOSI is to solicit research to: 1) evaluate community-engaged interventions (e.g., expand reach, increase access, address psychosocial barriers) to facilitate vaccination uptake in clinical and community contexts; 2) evaluate organizational, local, state, and federal policies and initiatives that mitigate or exacerbate disparities in vaccine access, uptake, and series completion, and 3) understand and address barriers to increasing reach, access, and uptake of vaccinations among populations who experience health disparities.
Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): BRAIN Initiative: Translation of Groundbreaking Technologies from Early-stage Development through Early Clinical Study via Blueprint MedTech
First Available Due Date: February 18, 2022
Expiration Date: June 21, 2024
This Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) encourages the translation of the novel neurotechnologies, funded through the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative and overseen by the NIH Blueprint MedTech program. Academic and Small Business Concerns (SBCs) are encouraged to submit grant applications that propose non-clinical validation for subsequent clinical feasibility studies. Applications supporting the development and translation of groundbreaking neurotechnologies that fit within the mission of the BRAIN Initiative are encouraged.
Risk and Protective Factors of Family Health and Family Level Interventions (R01 - Clinical Trial Optional)
Open Date (Earliest Submission Date): May 5, 2022
Expiration Date: May 8, 2025
The purpose of this initiative is to advance the science of minority health and health disparities by supporting research on family health and well-being and resilience. The NIMHD Research Framework recognizes family health, family well-being, and family resilience as critically important areas of research to decrease disparities and promote equity.
The NIH has been an instrumental leader in shaping and supporting behavioral and social sciences research (BSSR) to improve the nation’s health. Integrated with advances in other scientific disciplines, BSSR has made substantial contributions to the prevention or treatment of numerous physical health and mental health conditions.
In collaboration with subject matter experts from Institutes, Centers, and Offices across NIH, OBSSR has summarized some of the important scientific advances that demonstrate the valuable contribution of BSSR across various health conditions and behaviors. These summaries are provided as fact sheets (PowerPoint slides forthcoming) that highlight a significant public health problem and the corresponding BSSR-informed approaches used to address the problem. Various audiences such as academic researchers, public health organizations, and other health federal agencies, may find these materials useful to demonstrate to their stakeholders the importance of BSSR to the health of the United States population.
These new BSSR accomplishment resources are available on the OBSSR website:
Managing Chronic Pain
Preventing and Treating Diabetes
Preventing Intimate Partner Violence
Reducing Teen Pregnancy
Reducing Tobacco Use
Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Additional BSSR accomplishments will be added to the website in 2023.
BSSR Clinical Trials Resources
The Clinical Trials Protocol Template for the Behavioral and Social Sciences is a resource for communicating the science, methods, and operations of a clinical trial. This template is a suggested format for clinical trials that are testing a behavioral or social intervention or experimental manipulation. Use of the protocol template is encouraged but not required.
The Behavioral and Social Clinical Trials Template was derived from the successful NIH-FDA Phase 2/3 IND-IDE Clinical Trial Template but was adapted to include terminology and approaches used by behavioral and social scientists. While the template is a suggested format for clinical trials that are testing a behavioral or social intervention or manipulation for which a stand-alone clinical protocol is required, the template can also be a useful tool for those trials funded by NIH Institutes or Centers that do not require stand-alone clinical protocols. Using the template to anticipate decision points and potential challenges before a study launches can help avoid subsequent delays and problems.
The DECISION SUPPORT TOOL: Features to Consider in Determining if a Clinical Trial is Phase II or Phase III is the result of a working group led by OBSSR, with participants from other NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices. It is a designed to be a resource to help investigators, program officers, and reviewers determine if a behavioral or social science study is better characterized as a Phase II or a Phase III clinical trial. Distinguishing earlier phases of clinical trials (Phase 0 or I) is not usually difficult but distinguishing between a Phase II and III study can be more challenging, particularly for non-drug trials. Being thoughtful about this distinction is important for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that a Phase III designation for an NIH funded clinical trial generally requires following additional policies and practices beyond those that already apply to Phase II clinical trials, such as the requirement for valid analysis and for a Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB). Data and safety monitoring are required for all clinical trials but for a Phase III trial, the constitution of a board is required.
NIH’s definition of a Phase III Clinical Trial is quite broad, including drug studies, device studies, behavioral interventions, epidemiological studies, community trials, and more. Phase III trials are usually large, prospective trials that compare two or more interventions against other standard or experimental interventions. In this next episode of our NIH All About Grants podcast (MP3 / Transcript) we explain what a Phase III trial is, how it compares to other types of clinical trials, considerations for your application and its review, how these studies influence standards of care, helpful tools and other resources, and much more. The guests include Ms. Dawn Corbett, NIH’s Inclusion Policy Officer, and Dr. Christine Hunter, OBSSR Acting Director.
Social and Behavioral Good Clinical Practice eCourse
In September 2016, the NIH issued a Policy on Good Clinical Practice (GCP) Training for NIH Awardees Involved in NIH-funded Clinical Trials. GCP is an international ethical and scientific quality standard for designing, conducting, recording and reporting clinical trials. The principles of GCP help assure the safety, integrity, and quality of clinical trials. Investigators and clinical trial staff who are competent in GCP principles will be better able to assure that the rights, safety, and well-being of human subjects are protected; that clinical trials are conducted in accordance with approved plans and with rigor and integrity; and that data derived from clinical trials are reliable.
Extramural Researchers can go here to take the course.
NIH Employees can go here to take the course. (NIH login required)
Educational Facilities can Download the Good Clinical Practices for Social and Behavioral Sciences Course for your educational facility's Learning Management System (LMS).