Comment on NIH’s Revised Definition of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research by 2/22

Comment on NIH’s Revised Definition of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research by 2/22

The NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) wants your input on a new definition of behavioral and social sciences research that it has developed. According to OBSSR, the current definition was created in 1996, and an updated definition is necessary for NIH to describe, assess, and monitor behavioral and social sciences research funding.

NIH’s proposed definition for behavioral and social sciences research is below. NIH welcomes feedback that includes, but is not limited to:

  • Is the definition clear? If it is not clear, please suggest language that would improve the clarity.
  • How well does the definition capture the full range of health-related behavioral and social sciences research at the NIH? If not well, please suggest modifications to the definition that would reflect the full range of health-related behavioral and social sciences research supported by the NIH.
  • How well does the definition distinguish behavioral and social sciences research from other disciplines of research? If not well, please suggest modifications to the definition that would appropriately distinguish behavioral or social sciences research from other areas of research.

You can submit your feedback to NIH and OBSSR by clicking here. Responses are due by February 22, 2019.

Please see below for NIH’s proposed definition of behavioral and social sciences research.


Revised Definition of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research for OBSSR

The behavioral and social sciences at the NIH include a multi-disciplinary set of research disciplines that have in common the study of behavior and social processes relevant to health.

BSSR at the NIH involves the systematic study of behavioral and social phenomena, as well as their causes and consequences:

“Behavioral” refers to overt or observable actions and to mental phenomena such as knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, cognitions, and emotions that are inferred from behavior.

“Social” refer to the interactions between and among individuals, and to the activities of social groups, institutions, and environments, including family, community, school, workplace, economic, cultural, and policy environments.

To further the behavioral and social sciences, researchers study the interplay between behavioral and environmental processes, focusing on causal and explanatory processes that occur not only within the organism (e.g., genetics, neurobiology, emotion, cognition) but also external to the organism (e.g., physical, familial, community, and societal influences).

The complex, bidirectional impacts of these external influences – the environment on behavior and behavior on the environment – are essential to the understanding of how behavior and the environment interact to affect health and well-being. This broad perspective on the underpinnings of behavior, from genetic through societal influences, provides the behavioral and social sciences with a unique perspective on the dynamic interactions that can influence health outcomes across an individual’s lifespan and across generations.

The multi-disciplinary nature of BSSR is a challenge and an opportunity. The contributing disciplines of BSSR often have different scientific approaches, methods, definitions, vocabularies, and hypotheses.  This broad and complex research landscape, however, provides a rich fundamental and applied knowledge base to understand behavioral and social processes and how these processes impact health and well-being.

For the purposes of monitoring the behavioral and social sciences at the NIH, a project (grant application, funded grant, contract, etc.) is considered BSSR if any one of the dependent (predicted) variables or the independent (predictor) variables of the project is a “behavioral” or “social” phenomena as defined above.  Behavioral or social moderator or mediator variables also may be sufficient for a project to be classified as BSSR if these variables are relevant to study hypotheses.

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