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Request for Information (RFI): Input on Revised Definition of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at NIH

Posted by on January 17th, 2019 Posted in: Funding


Outreach and Special Populations Branch

Request for Information (RFI): Input on Revised Definition of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at NIH 

Notice Number: NOT-OD-19-032

Key Dates
Release Date: January 14, 2019
Response Date: January 14, 2019 – February 22, 2019

Issued by
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR)

Purpose
This Request for Information (RFI) is intended to gather broad public input on a revised definition of behavioral and social sciences research (BSSR) for use by the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) in the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI), National Institutes of Health (NIH) to assess and monitor NIH BSSR funding. The definition, originally developed in 1996 and updated periodically since then, can be found at https://obssr.od.nih.gov/about/bssr-definition/. The field has evolved significantly in the last two decades, and a more extensive update of the BSSR definition will improve OBSSR’s and NIH’s ability to assess and monitor NIH BSSR funding.

The OBSSR invites input from behavioral and social science researchers in academia and industry, health care professionals, patient advocates and advocacy organizations, scientific or professional organizations, federal agencies, and other interested members of the public. When providing input on behalf of an organization, a single coordinated response reflecting the views of the organization and its members is encouraged.

Information Requested
Behavioral and social sciences research (BSSR) is a broad, multifaceted field represented by a wide array of disciplines working together to generate knowledge about the behavior of animals and humans (organisms) in their social context. There is no single scientific discipline of behavioral and social science. Instead, the behavioral and social sciences encompass a set of disciplines including but not limited to psychology, sociology, economics, demography, social epidemiology, and anthropology. When Congress created OBSSR, it mandated that the Office establish a standard definition of BSSR. In 1996, a definition of behavioral and social sciences, as it applies to health research, was developed to monitor funding for BSSR across the NIH. Since then, the definition has been updated periodically to improve clarity and reflect developments in the behavioral and social sciences while retaining the meaning and scope of the original definition. Based on input from the 2017 to 2022 strategic planning process, the OBSSR has drafted the following working definition:

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.

The NIH seeks comments on the following:

  • 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.

How to Submit a Response
To ensure consideration, responses must be submitted February 22, 2019 through OBSSR’s crowdsourcing IdeaScale website https://obssr.ideascale.com/, where users may also view and comment on others’ ideas.

This RFI is for information and planning purposes only and shall not be construed as a solicitation, grant, or cooperative agreement, or as an obligation on the part of the Federal Government, the NIH, or individual NIH Institutes and Centers to provide support for any ideas identified in response to it. The Government will not pay for the preparation of any information submitted or for the Government’s use of such information. No basis for claims against the U.S. Government shall arise as a result of a response to this request for information or from the Government’s use of such information.

Inquiries
Please direct all inquiries to:

Farheen Akbar, MPH
Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR)
Telephone: 301-496-9165
Email: OBSSRNews@mail.nih.gov

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