Director’s Voice Blog

This blog is co-authored with Dr. Janine Simmons, Chief, Individual Behavioral Processes Branch, National Institute on Aging.

Advancing Ontology Development and Use in the Behavioral and Social Sciences
In this month’s blog, we dive into the case for ontology building and use in the behavioral and social sciences and describe some NIH activities in this area. OBSSR’s Strategic Plan emphasizes the need to “Enhance and promote the research infrastructure, methods, and measures needed to support a more cumulative and integrated approach to behavioral and social sciences research” and calls out ontologies as one way forward. As noted in the January blog, OBSSR’s priorities continue to include building a cumulative knowledge base across the behavioral and social sciences. This includes facilitating better integration of BSSR into biomedical disciplines through the development and use of ontologies. Read Full Blog

Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Spotlights


Mental health emergency room visits and extreme heat among US adults

Recently published research supported by the NIEHS and the Wellcome Trust examined the association between extreme heat and emergency room visits for mental health concerns among adults residing in the U.S. Previous research has documented the links between extreme heat adverse physiological responses, such as heat rash and heat stroke, and some studies have identified links between extreme heat and mental health concerns. However, previous studies focused on the relationship between extreme heat and mental health have been limited by their focus on specific geographic regions or populations, and reliance on self-reported measures. In this study, researchers built upon previous work by examining claims data for individuals from across the U.S. with commercial or Medicare Advantage health insurance plans.

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Your spouse’s education can positively affect your overall health

Education is correlated with positive health, however does your spouse’s education also influence your health? The idea that the individual characteristics of one’s spouse may affect the partner’s health is considered a crossover effect–meaning that the effect of someone else’s conditions can cross over to impact the primary person of interest (and vice versa). A study supported by the NIA aims to address this question. It is unknown if the positive effect of spouse’s education being connected to better health is simply the result of marriage selection or of education attainment. In other words, if healthier people tended to have more schooling and to partner with those who also are highly educated, it would be more difficult to isolate a unique cross over effect.

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Anxiety-like behaviors linked to molecules produced by gut bacteria in mice

Previous research has reported a correlation between complex emotional behaviors and changes in the gut bacteria in humans and in animal models, however little is known about this relationship. A recent study, supported by the NIGMS, NIMH, NIA, NSF, and others, sheds some light on this relationship using a mouse model. It has been known that there are communities of bacteria that inhabit the intestines of animals (the microbiome) that can influence physiology and function, including the immune system, and metabolism. More recently studies have linked the microbiome to brain function and mood (or mood-like states) in humans and animal models Additionally, individuals experiencing certain neurological conditions have different gut microbiomes. Manipulation of these bacterial communities has been shown in mouse models to alter neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative states.

Go There Now

NIH seeks Associate Director for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research/Director, OBSSR

The NIH is seeking exceptional candidates for the challenging position of Director, OBSSR. The Director also functions as the NIH Associate Director for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research. The Director provides advice and staff support to the NIH Director and the Director, DPCPSI, serves as the NIH focal point for establishing agency-wide policies and goals in behavioral and social sciences research, and coordinates the activities undertaken in the performance of this research. This is a dual reporting position. As the Associate Director for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, the position reports to the Director, NIH, and as the Director, OBSSR, the position reports to the Director, DPCPSI, and has trans-NIH responsibilities. Information about the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research is located at its website: Applications will be reviewed starting May 14, 2022 and will be accepted until the position is filled. Learn More

[Register] Technical Assistance Webinar for PAR 22-115 and PAR 22-120: Research on Community Level Interventions for Firearm and Related Violence Injury and Mortality Prevention

Date: Thursday, March 17, 2022
Time: 3:00 PM ET

OBSSR is holding a technical assistance webinar related to the recently released funding opportunity announcements (FOA) PAR 22-115 and PAR 22-120: Research on Community Level Interventions for Firearm and Related Violence Injury and Mortality Prevention (CLIF-VP).

The webinar will provide an overview of the FOAs and provide an opportunity to address participant questions. NIH staff will discuss the purpose and scope of these funding opportunities, go over the scientific review process, and review criteria and other logistical information. Participation in the webinar is recommended but not required in order to submit an application in response to these funding announcements. This webinar will include live captioning and will also be recorded and posted with captions on the OBSSR website until the April 23, 2022, FOAs expiration date.

Experts provide multidisciplinary insight on the state of the American opioid and pain crises

The OBSSR commissioned a special issue in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH)that provides opportunities for integrating varied expertise and perspectives from a wide range of communities into NIH behavioral and social sciences research efforts related to the opioid and pain crises in the U.S.

Commentaries in this OBSSR-commissioned special issue “US Opioid and Pain Crises: Gaps and Opportunities in Multidisciplinary Research,” include those from legal professionals, government agencies, researchers, advocates, and people with lived experiences, as well as from those who describe the implications of these crises for the military and for worsening racial disparities. Read more.

Seeking Public Comment on CSR’s 2022 – 2027 Strategic Plan

CSR’s draft strategic plan is now open for public comment. This 5-year plan (for 2022–2027) will serve as our roadmap as CSR advances its mission of seeing that NIH grant applications receive fair, independent, expert, and timely scientific reviews—free from inappropriate influences—so NIH can fund the most promising research.

Input from CSR’s stakeholders—the external scientific community, the CSR Advisory Council, NIH institutes and centers, and our own CSR staff—helped to shape the goals of the plan, all of which center on strengthening peer review. Input included critical discussions about topics that have received increased and necessary attention recently, including structural racism and the COVID-19 pandemic. The goals are:

Goal 1: Maintain scientific review groups that provide appropriate scientific coverage and review settings for all of NIH science.
Goal 2: Further develop a large cadre of diverse, well-trained, and scientifically qualified experts to serve as reviewers.
Goal 3: Further develop an outstanding, engaged, and diverse staff.
Goal 4: Implement changes to the peer review process to make it more fair, effective, and efficient.
Goal 5: Achieve our mission through transparency, engagement with the scientific community, and a data-driven approach to decision-making.

Comments on the strategic plan will be accepted through March 23, 2022. Read more.

Public Workshop on Use of Race, Ethnicity, and Ancestry as Population Descriptors in Genomics Research

The second meeting of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and MedicineCommittee on Use of Race, Ethnicity, and Ancestry as Population Descriptors in Genomics Research will be held on April 4 and April 7, 2022. The public workshop will be held onApril 4 between 11AM and 5PM ET via webinar to review and assess the existing methodologies, benefits, and challenges in the use of race and ethnicity and other population descriptors in genomics research.

The committee requests public comments as part of this workshop. The committee would like to hear from researchers, advocates, and any other interested stakeholders on how population descriptors are currently being used effectively in genomics research, how they could be improved, and what systems might be used effectively in the future.

The committee will invite a few authors representing a sample of the submissions to present their comments at the workshop on April 4th. If you wish to be considered as a speaker at this workshop, please submit your comment by March 23rd. Authors of submission submitted after March 23rd may also be considered to be speakers at the workshop in the summer.

Click here to learn more and submit your comment. Learn more.

National Institute of Mental Health James Jackson Memorial Award

2022 Award Nominations due April 18, 2022

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is pleased to announce the 2022 James Jackson Memorial Award. This award is named in honor of the late Dr. James Jackson, a renowned social psychologist who was the Daniel Katz Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Jackson’s research on race, ethnicity, racism, health, and mental health has had far-reaching impacts on the fields of disparities research and minority mental health. Of particular significance, he authored the National Survey of Black Americans and the National Survey of American Life, which changed the way the field examined and understood Black life and mental health in the United States.

To acknowledge Dr. Jackson’s great impact on the fields of disparities research, minority mental health and his commitment to mentoring trainees, NIMH will honor an outstanding researcher who has demonstrated exceptional individual achievement and leadership in mental health disparities research and excellence in mentorship, influence, and support of trainees. Read more and apply.

NIH Request for Information (RFI) on Interdisciplinary Research Opportunities that Bridge Neuroscience and Environmental Health Science

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), in partnership with six other NIH institutes, centers, and offices, plans to explore the current challenges and opportunities for interdisciplinary research that might advance knowledge about how environmental toxicants impact nervous system health. Collaborations between neuroscientists and the environmental health sciences community provide a means to accelerate our understanding of the role of environmental chemicals in nervous system dysfunction, as well as identify the cellular and molecular mechanisms at play. To support these efforts, we are seeking your help to provide input through a recently released Request for Information (RFI) about how best to promote interdisciplinary research and to understand the most prominent gaps and research opportunities in environmental neuroscience.

It is important to us that we gather input through this RFI from a diverse community including individuals and families affected by neurological conditions, patient advocacy groups, scientists across disciplines, and clinicians. We highly encourage you to submit your feedback through this RFI, and to share the RFI with your colleagues, organization members, constituents, and loved ones.

With your critical input, we will consider targeted research and treatment strategies to achieve a full understanding of the multifactorial etiologies of neurological disease, disorders, and dysfunction to reduce the burden of neurological illness across the lifespan for everyone, especially in underserved communities where health inequities are prevalent.

Submissions are encouraged through May 7, 2022 at Please direct any questions Learn more.

Registration now open for the 8th annual BRAIN Initiative Meeting

The 8th Annual BRAIN Initiative Meeting: Open Science, New Tools is now open for registration! Join us on June 21-22 and be a part of a dynamic and collaborative BRAIN research community through your attendance and symposia submissions.

Plenary speakers include:

  • Diana Bautista, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley
  • Elizabeth Buffalo, Ph.D., Wayne E. Crill Endowed Professor and Chair in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington School of Medicine
  • Kafui Dzirasa, M.D., Ph.D., K. Ranga Rama Krishnan Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center

During registration, attendees may submit proposals for symposium sessions and/or submit abstracts for Trainee Highlight Award consideration and the general poster session. Learn more

Introduction to the Multiphase Optimization Strategy (MOST)

This course is aimed at intervention scientists working in any area–including public health, education, criminal justice, and others—interested in learning about an innovative framework for conducting intervention research. This course will show you how to use the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST) to: streamline interventions by eliminating inactive components; identify the combination of components that offers the greatest effectiveness without exceeding a defined implementation budget; develop interventions for immediate scalability; look inside the “black box” to understand which intervention components work and which do not; and improve interventions programmatically over time. In this course you will relate the MOST framework to your research objectives; learn how MOST differs from the standard approach to intervention development and evaluation; learn how to complete the preparation and optimization phases of MOST; and become familiar with rigorous and highly efficient experimental designs that will enable you to examine the performance of individual intervention components.

The preparation of this course was supported by OBSSR (R25 DA049699). Go there now.

New Resource: Best Practices for Systems Science Research

This document emerged out of a day-long workshop hosted at the NIH on April 18th, 2016. The workshop gathered a number of experts in this area, including OBSSR’s Drs. William T. Riley and Michael Spittel, to discuss best practices in systems science research. Consensus statements of best practices were agreed upon and an outline of these statements was drafted by the group. This outline was then expanded upon and refined by the lead authors, with guidance from the editors, as well as feedback and agreement from the advisory board. The remainder of the paper is organized around the topics or statements that the workshop members agreed constituted a set of best practices for the field. This set of best practices is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather establishes a baseline set of evaluation criteria to assure that Systems Science produces insights that are useful, feasible, credible, and ethical. Learn more.

Analyses by Sex or Gender, Race and Ethnicity for NIH-defined Phase III Clinical Trials (Valid Analysis)

When an NIH-defined Phase III clinical trial is proposed, evidence must be reviewed to show whether or not clinically important sex/gender and race/ethnicity differences in the intervention effect are to be expected. The application or proposal must address plans for the analysis of intervention effect differences on the basis of sex/gender, race, and ethnicity unless there is clear evidence that such differences are unlikely to be seen.

Valid analysis means an unbiased assessment. Such an assessment will, on average, yield the correct estimate of the difference in outcomes between two groups of subjects. Valid analysis can and should be conducted for both small and large studies. A valid analysis does not need to have a high statistical power for detecting a stated effect.

The principal requirements for ensuring a valid analysis of the question of interest are:

  • allocation of study participants of both sexes/genders (males and females) and from different racial and/or ethnic groups to the intervention and control groups by an unbiased process such as randomization;
  • unbiased evaluation of the outcome(s) of study participants; and
  • use of unbiased statistical analyses and proper methods of inference to estimate and compare the intervention effects by sex/gender, race, and/or ethnicity. Read more.


Recently Published Funding Announcements

Research on Community Level Interventions for Firearm and Related Violence, Injury and Mortality Prevention (CLIF-VP) (UG3/UH3 Clinical Trial Optional)

FOA Number

Key Dates
Open Date (Earliest Submission Date): March 22, 2022
Expiration Date: April 23, 2022

This FOA solicits bi-phasic research projects proposed in UG3/UH3 Phased Innovation Awards Cooperative Agreement applications. Funding for the UG3 phase (phase I) will be used to demonstrate sufficient preparation, feasibility and capacity to meet foundational milestone targets specific to the work proposed. A UG3 project that meets its milestones will be administratively considered by NIH and prioritized for transition to the UH3 award (phase II). Applicants responding to this FOA must address specific aims and milestones for both the UG3 and UH3 phases.

View PAR-22-115

Coordinating Center to Support Research on Community Level Interventions for Firearm and Related Violence, Injury and Mortality Prevention (CLIF-VP) (U24 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)

FOA Number

Key Dates
Open Date (Earliest Submission Date): October 9, 2021
Expiration Date: November 10, 2021

The purpose of this FOA is to seek applications for a Coordinating Center (CC) for Community-Level Interventions for Firearm Violence Prevention (CLIF-VP) Research Network. Members of the CLIF-VP Research Network, including the CC, will work collaboratively with the NIH to develop and test interventions at the community or community organization level that aim to prevent firearm and related violence, injury, and mortality. The CLIF-VP Research Network will include the CC funded under this Cooperative Agreement and up to 10 Research Projects funded under the companion UG3/UH3 Phased Cooperative Agreement FOA, Research on Community Level Interventions for Firearm and Related Violence, Injury, and Mortality Prevention (CLIF-VP) PAR-22-115 . In phase 1 (1-2 years) the Research Projects will need to demonstrate sufficient preparation, feasibility, and capacity for the planned intervention study. Those that pass their milestones will transition into phase 2, during which they will implement their proposed intervention. The CC will provide overarching support and guidance to the network in three domains: (1) administration, coordination, and communication; (2) data, measurement, and analytic support and consultation; and (3) public/stakeholder engagement and dissemination support. It is important that applicants for the CC also read the companion FOA to understand the full mission and structure of the research network.

View PAR-22-120

HEAL Initiative: Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) regarding the Availability of Administrative Supplements to Support Strategies to Increase Participant Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement in Clinical Studies

Notice Number

Key Dates
First Available Due Date: April 29, 2022
Expiration Date: April 30, 2022

This Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) provides an opportunity for clinical trials and studies funded by the Helping to End Addiction Long-Term (HEAL) initiative to address challenges of recruitment, retention and engagement of populations suffering from pain and opioid use disorder.

NIH will support supplements to current HEAL awards that would either 1) enhance their patient, community, and other stakeholder engagement efforts or 2) improve recruitment, retention and inclusion of participants from U.S. racial and ethnic minority populations; or 3) both, as appropriate for a particular study.

This supplement program is not intended to support research on basic processes but rather to implement strategies to enhance stakeholder engagement and diversity and inclusion in HEAL clinical studies. Activities proposed must be within the scope of the approved aims of the parent award.

View NOT-NS-22-066

BRAIN Initiative: Exploratory Team-Research BRAIN Circuit Programs – eTeamBCP (U01 Clinical Trials Optional)

FOA Number

Key Dates
Open Date (Earliest Submission Date): May 14, 2022
Expiration Date: June 15, 2024

This funding opportunity announcement (FOA) is designed to support teams of three or more (up to six) PDs/PIs that seek to cross boundaries of interdisciplinary collaboration to elucidate the contributions of dynamic circuit activity to a specific behavioral or neural system. Applications are encouraged to propose adventurous and challenging goals that can only be tackled by a synergistic team-based approach and have the potential to be transformative and/or to enable significant advances. These studies at the exploratory stage are intended for the development of experimental capabilities and/or theoretical frameworks in preparation for a future competition for larger-scale or extended efforts, including the BRAIN TargetedBCP (R01) or the multi-component, Team-Research BRAIN Circuit Programs (U19).

View RFA-NS-22-028

Limited Competition: Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity at Minority Serving Institutions
(U01 Clinical Trial Optional)

FOA Number

Key Dates
Open Date (Earliest Submission Date): April 22, 2022
Expiration Date: May 24, 2022

The Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity at Minority Serving Institutions initiative is soliciting applications to support collaborative investigative teams or individual scientists who propose unusually innovative research projects, which, if successful, would have a major impact in developing, implementing, or disseminating innovative and effective interventions to prevent, reduce, or eliminate health disparities and advance health equity. No preliminary data are required. Projects must clearly demonstrate, based on the strength of the logic, a compelling potential to produce a major impact in addressing health disparities and advancing health equity.

View RFA-RM-22-001

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