November 10, 2020
Expanding the Role of the Behavioral and Social Sciences in Population Health: OBSSR 2011-2014
As we celebrate 25 years of OBSSR, we have asked the former Directors to reflect on their time at OBSSR. This guest blog was authored by OBSSR’s fourth Director, Robert Kaplan, Ph.D.
It was a great honor to serve as the fourth OBSSR Director between 2011 to 2014. I came from academia having served as a professor and administrator at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). For 35 years I had been continuously funded by the NIH and, like most grantees, I had been through the struggles and mood swings associated with keeping a research enterprise alive. I brought that empathy for the grantee with me to Bethesda.
I was humbled to serve following three very distinguished OBSSR directors and a series of exceptionally talented acting directors. All three of the previous directors (Norman Anderson, Raynard Kington, and David Abrams) were friends and colleagues who I had admired for years. During one job interview visit, I had a particularly memorable breakfast with Drs. Anderson and Abrams. They candidly and accurately forecasted the considerable challenges and opportunities facing the office. In addition to the directors, former acting directors, including Deborah Olster, Christine Bachrach, and Peter Kaufman, provided unwavering support and guidance.
Findings from Recently Published Research
Differences in EEG brain connectivity during language processing in 3-month-old infants at risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder in which there are impairments in social communication skills and behaviors. Typically, ASD is not diagnosed until at least age three, despite the emergence of behavioral symptoms between the ages of one and two. In a recent publication, research supported by the NICHD, NIGMS, Autism Speaks, the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation, and the University of California Los Angeles investigated if there are differences in brain function and connection in early infancy during language processing that could predict symptoms of autism, including language outcomes.
Adverse experiences in childhood can have long-term consequences on physical and mental health that continue to persist into adulthood. Present hypotheses suggest that these experiences induce lifelong changes by impacting neural mechanisms in the brain. Different adverse environments, such as violence exposure and social deprivation, have distinct neural correlates in the brain related to emotion, fear, and reward processing. A recent study supported by the NIMH, NICHD, NCRR, the Doris Duke Foundation, and the Jacobs Foundation sought to determine if violence exposure and social deprivation during childhood are associated with long-lasting brain network connectivity into adolescence.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many experts are asking the question about why Americans choose to (or choose against) using vaccines? Research sponsored by the NIGMS aimed to address this question. Vaccine propensity is defined as a change in the willingness to vaccinate with a change in perceived risk of infection—holding fixed other considerations such as vaccine confidence and convenience. The purpose of this study was to better understand how risk perception can influence vaccine willingness. The authors used an online survey instrument that presents seven vaccine-preventable “new” diseases to a sample of 2,411 Americans in 2018.
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