Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (bBSSR) Working Group


In 2004, a Working Group (WG) of the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) reported on the Research Opportunities in the Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences. The report described the basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (bBSSR) funded by the NIH at that time and recommended a “home” for bBSSR that is relevant to the NIH mission but does not fit within the mission of any one NIH Institute or Center (IC). This report was the impetus for creating OppNet, a trans-NIH initiative, funded from 2009 to 2014 primarily through IC taps, and since 2014 via voluntary support from participating ICs. 

In the over 15 years since this report was issued, much has changed, both in the bBSSR field and in NIH support for this area of research. Updated analyses and directions for bBSSR are needed that reflect these changes. 

  • Although funding for bBSSR increased only modestly during years of flat NIH funding (from $1.15B in FY08 to $1.23B in FY14), during the past six years, when NIH funding increased by approximately 30% (from $23.5B in FY14 to $31.2B in FY19), bBSSR funding more than doubled (from $1.23B in FY14 to $2.56B in FY19). Grants coded as bBSSR now account for 8% of NIH extramural funding, and in the context of increased bBSSR funding over the past six years, the concern is less about adequate NIH investment in bBSSR and more about how well coordinated and adequately targeted the NIH investment is toward promising areas of research that have a plausible translational pathway to applied health research.  
  • The trans-NIH effort specifically designed to advance bBSSR, Oppnet, was productive in its five years of dedicated funding; however, as it has shifted to voluntary funding (OBSSR matches IC contributions up to $2M, resulting in a maximum OppNet budget of only $4M per FY), its ability to address trans-NIH bBSSR needs is severely limited. 
  • A number of trans-NIH initiatives launched in recent years have the potential to support bBSSR related to epidemiology (e.g., AllofUs, ECHO, ABCD) and neuroscience (e.g., Blueprint, BRAIN).  Identifying promising bBSSR directions can provide useful input to these trans-NIH initiatives on how they can best advance bBSSR within their respective missions while also identifying those directions outside their missions that will need to be pursued through other trans-NIH bBSSR efforts.
  • Recent OBSSR analyses of applied behavioral and social sciences intervention grants reveals an insufficient translation of basic research into innovative behavior change approaches (only 14% of NIH-supported behavioral clinical trials awarded in FY18 evaluated novel intervention components or packages). In addition to various translational efforts, a bBSSR portfolio targeted toward promising areas of research with a plausible translational pathway to applied health research will facilitate the translation of basic research into novel intervention approaches.
  • Tools developed by the Office of Portfolio Analysis (OPA) provide for more in-depth analyses of bBSSR funding, not only at NIH but at other agencies as well (e.g. NSF), providing an opportunity to review and coordinate research goals across agencies and ensure that NIH’s funding is complementary with other agencies.
  • Scientific advances in neuroscience, behavioral assessment (e.g., sensors), data science, and AI and computational modeling are transforming the basic behavioral and social sciences. Future directions for NIH-supported bBSSR need to be considered in the context of these transformative advances.


In light of these changes since the 2004 report, the Council of Councils Working Group on Trans-NIH Research Opportunities in the Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences is charged with addressing the following questions:

  1. What are the promising and emerging areas of bBSSR that are priorities for NIH support (i.e., have a plausible translational pathway to health-relevant applied research; not supported under the mission of another funding agency)?
  2. Which of these emerging areas of research are not adequately supported by the current NIH bBSSR portfolio?
  3. Can these inadequately addressed emerging areas of research be addressed by individual IC efforts, or do some require a trans-NIH effort to address?



Graham A. Colditz, M.D., Dr.PH
Council of Councils Member
Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery,
Professor of Medicine and Associate Director, Prevention and Control
Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center
Deputy Director, Institute for Public Health
Chief, Division of Public Health Sciences
Department of Surgery
Washington University School of Medicine
Saint Louis, Missouri 

William T. Riley, Ph.D.
NIH Associate Director for Behavioral and Social Sciences
Director, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR)
Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI)
Office of the Director (OD)
National Institutes of Health


Dolores Albarracín, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, Business, and Medicine
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Champaign, Illinois

Patricia J. Bauer, Ph.D.
Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Psychology
Editor-in-Chief, Psychological Science
Emory University
Atlanta, Georgia

Jordan A. Booker, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences
University of Missouri
Columbia, Missouri

Steve Cole, Ph.D.
Professor of Medicine, Psychiatry, and Biobehavioral Sciences
Director, UCLA Social Genomics Core Laboratory
University of California, Los Angeles

M. Lynne Cooper, Ph.D.
University of Missouri

Dustin T. Duncan, Sc.D.
New York University School of Medicine

Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D.
Council of Councils Member
Ward Coleman Professor
Chair of the Dorothy H. and Lewis Rosenstiel   
Department of Pharmacology and Systems Therapeutics 
Director, Experimental Therapeutics Institute
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
New York, New York

Florencia Torche, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Stanford University
Stanford, California

Jenny Tung, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Evolutionary Anthropology and Biology
Faculty Research Scholar, DuPRI’s Population Research Center and DuPRI’s Center for Population Health & Aging
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina

Jeffrey Zacks, Ph.D.
Associate Chair, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Professor, Radiology
Washington University in St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri

Working Group Advisors

William Elwood, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator

Kristin Brethel-Haurwitz, Ph.D.
Social & Behavioral Scientist Administrator

Designated Federal Official

Kathryn Morris, M.P.H.
Health Science Policy Analyst


Working Group Report

bBSSR at the NIH is in a very different position than it was in 2004 when the first report on bBSSR was released. There have been advances in scientific approaches, new discoveries, and in recent years, increased funding for bBSSR by the NIH. Although bBSSR support has strengthened in recent years, critical areas of need remain, as well as emerging and promising new areas that the NIH should consider accelerating. Continued improvements in the diversity of the bBSSR workforce are needed, and the NIH can ensure that its various workforce diversity efforts not only include bBSSR, but also draw upon lessons learned from the BSSR workforce. bBSSR has extensive scientific approach and infrastructure needs that the NIH should consider addressing to advance the field. Overall, bBSSR is an important and foundational part of the NIH research enterprise and, with targeted effort in the areas outlined in this report, can play an increased role in addressing the NIH mission and the urgent public health issues facing the nation and the world.

Working Group Membership

Working Group Members selected from editors of bBSSR journals and/or scientific leadership from bBSSR organizations. Members also will include ESIs and basic biomedical researchers. Membership will be diverse, both by gender and race/ethnicity.

This page last reviewed on July 23, 2021