Reflections on Behavioral and Social Sciences at the NIH in 2018

Reflections on Behavioral and Social Sciences at the NIH in 2018

The behavioral and social sciences continue to play an integral role in the mission of the NIH. In FY2018, NIH funding for grants meeting the RCDC criteria for behavioral and social sciences research was $4.83 billion, an increase from $4.55 billion in FY2017. All of the NIH Institutes and Centers support the behavioral and social sciences to some degree, with NIA, NIMH, NIDA, NINDS, and NICHD providing the largest funding for new grants in the behavioral and social sciences in FY2018.

The behavioral and social sciences are becoming increasingly integrated within the larger NIH biomedical research enterprise, a goal of the OBSSR since its inception. Large NIH cohort efforts—such as All of Us, Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO), and Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD)—incorporate a range of social and behavioral constructs. The BRAIN Initiative is transitioning to its second phase (PDF, 1.91 MB), in which the tools and technologies developed during the first phase will be applied increasingly to behaviors and disease states. Recent funding announcements of the BRAIN Initiative have already begun to encourage research to understand complex human behaviors by precisely measuring and analyzing behavior with high temporal resolution during neural recordings in naturalistic settings (RFA-NS-18-010). The NIH response to the opioid crisis, the HEAL Initiative, has integrated social and behavioral research in this initiative in response to an OBSSR-convened meeting on the Contributions of Social and Behavioral Research in Addressing the Opioid Crisis.

Training the next generation of behavioral and social science researchers to address the increasingly complex and multidimensional questions to improve health remains a significant priority of the NIH, and OBSSR specifically. This year, after many years of successful leadership by our colleagues at NCI, OBSSR led the Training Institute for Dissemination and Implementation of Research in Health (TIDIRH). Following five years of funding highly successful short courses, OBSSR recently re-released Short Courses on Innovative Methodologies and Approaches in the Behavioral and Social Sciences (RFA-OD-19-012). OBSSR also provides ongoing support to NHLBI for the Randomized Behavioral Clinical Trials Training Institute and to NIDA for the Training on Optimization of Behavioral and Biobehavioral Interventions. OBSSR recently released two initiatives to integrate better the behavioral and social sciences with the computer and data sciences: (1) K18 on Short-term Mentored Career Enhancement Awards in Mobile and Wireless Health Technology and Data Analytics (PAR-18-881), and (2) T32 Predoctoral Training in Advanced Data Analytics for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (RFA-OD-19-011) for predoctoral training programs that focus on innovative computational and/or data science analytical approaches and their incorporation into training for the future BSSR health research workforce.

In 2018, OBSSR also led the launch of the Intensive Longitudinal Health Behaviors Network. This network of seven projects and a research coordinating center will leverage the recent advances in sensors and other technologies to assess behaviors and their influences intensively over time, and will utilize computational and other advanced modeling approaches to understand and predict behavioral changes within individuals over time. This is but one of many behavioral and social science research initiatives that were either launched or encouraged via Funding Opportunity Announcements in 2018.

To highlight these and the many other accomplishments of the behavioral and social science research community and the NIH, OBSSR supports a number of communication and outreach efforts. We recently held our annual Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival that highlights recent researchers funded by the NIH. In May, we held our 11th Matilda White Riley Honors with Terrie Moffitt as Distinguished Lecturer and a number of Early Stage Investigator Paper awardees. Along with the research spotlights of recently published research each month and regular OBSSR Director’s webinars, we strive to keep the field updated on the latest exciting and impactful findings from the behavioral and social sciences. To strengthen that effort in 2019, we will initiate a crowdsourcing effort to identify key public health and health care accomplishments that are the result of behavioral and social sciences research—more on that in the near future.

This is but a sampling of the accomplishments in 2018. While OBSSR played a role in many of the accomplishments and activities, these could not have been achieved without the dedicated and engaged behavioral and social scientists who work across the various Institutes, Centers, and Offices of the NIH, as well as the broader research community. This year was another year of outstanding progress for behavioral and social research at the NIH, but much remains to be accomplished. Working together, the OBSSR, the NIH behavioral and research staff, and the behavioral and social science research community can accomplish much to advance these sciences to improve the nation’s health.