Highlights of the 2019 NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival

Highlights of the 2019 NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival

The fourth NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival was held on December 6, 2019.  The festival serves two purposes, to highlight some of the recent behavioral and social science supported by the NIH, and to bring together behavioral and social science program officers, review administrators, and intramural scientists across the NIH to network face-to-face. This year’s festival showed the breadth, innovation, and potential impact of the behavioral and social sciences research that the NIH supports.

The keynote speaker this year, Chanita Hughes Halbert from the Medical University of South Carolina, presented an extensive research program on improving engagement of minorities in research, the role of the electronic health record (EHR) for identifying and recruiting minorities in research, and the use of natural language processing to extract social determinant of health indicators from EHRs.

The featured presentation was given by Alia Crum from Stanford University, a NIH Director’s New Innovator awardee, described her work on how mindset alters not only attention, affect, and behavior, but also physiology.  In one of her initial studies, participants drank the same milkshake but were randomly assigned to different labels, one a high calorie, indulgent shake, the other a sensible, low calorie shake. Not only did those drinking the “indulgent shake” report feeling less hungry and more satisfied, but ghrelin, the body’s hunger hormone, decreased three times as much in the indulgent label condition than in the sensible, low calorie label condition.  In subsequent studies, she showed how mindset also impacts how symptoms are interpreted and how people respond to genetic results.  Her presentation showed the important role of one’s mindset across a range of relevant health outcomes.

The festival included eight additional presentations across three sessions, representing research supported by many NIH institutes and centers.  The session on Health and Wellness included a presentation from Yujin Lee of Tufts University on the cost effectiveness of diet and health financial incentives on Medicare and Medicaid costs, and from David Creswell of Carnegie Mellon University on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness interventions.  The session on Technology Applications included a presentation from Shelly Fritz of Washington State University on the use of smart home sensors to assess and intervene on health behaviors in real time, from Dennis Wall of Stanford University on using wearable technologies to train emotion recognition in those with autism, and from Ahmet Arac of University of California Los Angeles on the use of technology to provide more detailed, accurate, and temporally dense characterization of laboratory animal and human behavior.  The session on Brain and Behavior included a presentation from Kamran Khodahah of Albert Einstein College of Medicine on how the cerebellum influences social behavior and reward, from Michael Baratta of University of Colorado on sex differences in how the brain processes behavioral control to stress, and from Kareem Zaghloul of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke on how the coupled ripple oscillations between the medial temporal lobe and the neocortex retrieve episodic memories in humans.  Together, these presentations illustrate a broad-based and highly impactful behavioral and social science research supported by the NIH.

In addition to highlighting some of the recent behavioral and social sciences research supported by the NIH, we also took the opportunity at this year’s festival to acknowledge the considerable effort of over 50 NIH staff, particularly the leadership of Melissa Riddle, Bill Elwood, and Elyse Sullivan,  who worked on various committees and workgroups to assist the behavioral and social sciences research community in adhering to the NIH Clinical Trials Policies and assist the NIH to adapt these policies to the unique needs of behavioral and social sciences researchers.

Thanks to the NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival planning team, particularly the co-chairs Dana Greene-Schloesser and Dana Wolff-Hughes, for organizing this event. The videocast of this event is now available on the NIH Videocast site.

Next year’s festival will be on December 1, 2020 and will coincide with the 25th Anniversary of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, so I hope you’ll mark your calendars and join us next year to celebrate the behavioral and social sciences supported by the NIH.