Director’s Voice Blog

The Importance of Social Science Research to Improving Health. In recognition of the important contributions of social science research, this month’s blog is authored by Dr. Rosalind King. 

OBSSR’s mission includes advancing both the behavioral and social sciences. Historically at NIH, the former has been more broadly supported and better- understood than the latter. To some extent, this is due to the proximity of behavior to health phenomena. In this month’s blog, we want to highlight the importance of better understanding social influences for improving health. We also provide some examples clarifying the distinctions between behavioral and social factors.

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Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Spotlights

Using classification models that identify mentions of Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) within clinical notes to develop open-source tools for identifying SDoH categories

Recently published research supported by NIMH utilized EHR notes from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to develop a 3-step framework to identify SDoH concepts in the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS), then map those concepts onto one of the six SDoH categories identified by the Kaiser Family Foundation (economic stability, physical environment, education, food, community and social context, healthcare system).

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Income–associated disparities in children’s brain structure can be alleviated with state-level anti-poverty programs

Recently published research supported by NIMH and others utilized data from the large, multi-site Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study that included data of over 10,000 9 to 11-year-old children across 17 states, to explore the effect of state-level macro-economic factors on early adolescent brain development and mental health. Higher costs of living were hypothesized to place additional stress on low-income families leading to brain structure disparities and mental health symptoms in children.

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Factors associated with improvements in physical health and functioning of women during midlife

A recent study supported by NIA, NINR, and ORWH aimed to identify factors associated with changes in physical health and function among women during midlife. Researchers used data from Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) sites, which collect information from multiethnic, multiracial community-based cohorts regarding menopause transition and midlife. This study used data from 2004 to 2017, although the SWAN study contains baseline data from 1996.

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News and Events

Transition in Acting Director, OBSSR and NIH Acting Associate Director for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research

Wendy B. Smith, Ph.D., is serving as Acting NIH Associate Director for Behavioral and Social Sciences Research and Acting OBSSR Director. This follows the retirement of Christine M. Hunter, Ph.D., who has been serving in an acting capacity for both roles since January 2022. Dr. Hunter retired on May 31, 2023, and we encourage you to read her reflections on her retirement in the May 12 OBSSR blog.

Dr. Smith joined OBSSR in 2013 and has held several senior leadership positions, including, Senior Scientific Advisor for Research Development and Outreach, Acting Deputy Director, and her current role as Associate Director since 2016. She joined OBSSR from the NIH Office of Science Policy, where she served as the Program Director for Clinical and Translational Research Partnerships. Prior to this, Dr. Smith was the Deputy Director of the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine, where she also established and directed the Research Development and Support Program. Dr. Smith earned her M.A. in the psychology of health and her Ph.D. in applied experimental psychology and is a licensed experimental psychologist and a nationally certified biofeedback therapist with advanced training in the use of hypnosis for pain. She joined NIH in 1990 as a research psychologist in the intramural research program at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Dr. Smith is a founding member of the NIH Pain Consortium, and her publications include research on pain memory, psychophysics of pain perception, psychological aspects of pain, complementary and alternative medicine, and research methodologies.

Please join us in expressing our appreciation to Dr. Hunter for her exemplary contributions to advancing the coordination, collaboration, and integration of behavioral and social sciences across NIH and in wishing her the very best in her retirement. Also please join us in thanking Dr. Smith for her continued leadership at NIH and her willingness to take on the additional role of acting OBSSR director for an interim period.


More about Dr. Wendy B. Smith


Virtual Workshop: Advancing the science of aggression across species and disciplines

On June 14 and 15, 2023, (1:00 – 5:00 p.m. ET each day) OBSSR and collaborating NIH ICOs will host a virtual workshop, Advancing the science of aggression across species and disciplines. The workshop will be available for live public viewing on the NIH Videocast. Goals of the workshop include bringing together both animal and human aggression researchers from various backgrounds to facilitate dialogue across disciplines, individual and interpersonal levels of analysis, lifespan, and disorders/diseases; identifying barriers and potential solutions to move research on basic mechanisms of aggression and health to inform intervention development as well as identify opportunities for more use-inspired basic research; and identifying research gaps and opportunities in the science of aggression and health in the service of advancing progress in prevention, assessment, and treatment.

Plenary Speakers:
Dayu Lin, Ph.D., NYU Grossman School of Medicine
Terrie E. Moffitt, Ph.D., Duke University, King’s College London
L. Syd M Johnson, Upstate Medical University
Celia Fisher, Fordham University

Registration is not required. This virtual workshop will be live streamed through NIH Videocast. Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions through the live videocast.

June 14, 2023:
June 15, 2023:


Health Equity Distinguished Lecturer: Daniel E. Dawes, JD

On June 29, 2023, from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. ET, Daniel E. Dawes, JD, Senior Vice President of Global Health Equity and the Executive Director of the Institute of Global Health Equity at Meharry Medical College, will join the NINR with co-hosts NIMHD and OBSSR to share his expertise as a scholar, educator, and researcher on health equity and social and political determinants of health. CEUs will be available for those who attend the lecture.


[National Academies Workshop] Going Beyond BMI: Communicating About Body Weight: A Second Workshop in the Series

The National Academies’ Roundtable on Obesity Solutions is hosting a two-part workshop series titled, “Exploring the Science on Measures of Body Composition, Body Fat Distribution, and Obesity.”  Building on the previous workshop that explored the current science, the June 26 workshop will focus on strategies for improving communication about body composition, body mass index (BMI), adiposity, and health across diverse groups and sectors. Presentations will address communicating the diagnosis and definition of obesity; innovations for communicating about body weight to mitigate weight bias and stigma; and the ethics and trust challenges in communicating about body weight. The workshop will also include discussions about long-term communication strategies and promoting change in culture and perception around body weight. The event will be accessible via live webcast. Learn more on the event page.



Webinar Recording: Violence as a public health problem: What we know, and where we are going

The recording of the OBSSR Director’s Webinar featuring guest presenter Megan L. Ranney, MD, MPH, FACEP, Incoming Dean, Yale School of Public Health (July 2023), is now available. Dr. Ranney presented “Violence as a public health problem: What we know, and where we are going” on May 16, 2023. In this talk, Dr. Ranney presented work that illuminates the current state of knowledge on physical, digital, and firearm violence and co-occurring disorders (such as depressive symptoms and substance use disorder). She also discussed novel approaches, drawn from her and others’ work, to studying, preventing, and treating these interdependent crises across the social-ecological model.

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Webinar Recording: 16th NIH Matilda White Riley Honors

The recording of the 16th NIH Matilda White Riley Behavioral and Social Sciences Honors, held on May 15, 2023, is now available. The Distinguished Lecturer Jennifer J. Manly, Ph.D., presented “Lifecourse Social and Structural Mechanisms of Inequalities in Cognitive Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease.”

The half-day event also featured presentations from four early-stage investigator (ESI) honorees:
Alina Arseniev-Koehler, Ph.D.
Marissa Burgermaster, Ph.D.
Jessica Finlay, Ph.D.
Ted K.S. Ng, Ph.D.

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NIH Institutional Excellence in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Biomedical and Behavioral Research Prize Competition

NIH is now accepting submissions for a new initiative that rewards effective strategies for enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in research environments: the NIH Institutional Excellence in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in Biomedical and Behavioral Research Prize Competition. The prize competition will recognize and reward biomedical and behavioral science institutions that have identified gaps in DEIA and designed, implemented, and evaluated interventions to address them. It also aims to identify effective practices for enhancing DEIA within faculty, postdoctoral scholars, and student bodies that can be feasibly disseminated for adoption by other institutions.

NIH will award up to 10 prizes of $100,000 each through the competition. Up to half of the prizes will be set aside for consideration for limited-resourced institutions. NIH may also recognize additional entries as honorable mentions with nonmonetary awards. Visit the Prize Competition website to review the eligibility and participation rules and to submit a written entry. The deadline to apply is September 26, 2023.

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Recently Published Funding Opportunities

Request for Information (RFI): Food is Medicine Research Opportunities

Notice Number

Key Dates
Release Date: April 11, 2023
Response Date: June 30, 2023

This Request for Information (RFI) invites input on research opportunities and best practices for Food is Medicine research programs.  These programs are part of a whole-of-government approach to end hunger, improve nutrition and physical activity, and reduce diet-related diseases and disparities. Review of this entire RFI notice is encouraged to ensure a comprehensive response is prepared and to have a full understanding of how your response will be used.

View NOT-OD-23-107


Accelerating Behavioral and Social Science through Ontology Development and Use: Dissemination and Coordination Center
(U24 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)

NOFO Number

Key Dates
Open Date (Earliest Submission Date): September 3, 2023
Expiration Date: October 4, 2023

This Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) invites applications from multi-disciplinary teams to establish a Dissemination and Coordination Center (DCC) for the Behavioral and Social Science Ontology Development U01 Research Network Projects (PAR-23-182). Teams must include subject matter experts in 1) one or more fields of behavioral or social science, 2) ontology-related informatics and computational approaches, and 3) Team Science or the Science of Science.

The primary responsibilities of the DCC are to: 1) Coordinate and provide logistical support to facilitate collaboration and cross-project learning; 2) Provide ontology-related technical, computational, and informatics expertise and support; 3) Facilitate dissemination of resources and training to support ontology expansion, development, and use; and 4) Provide active outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders to increase understanding of and demand for BSSR ontology-related tools and resources.

View PAR-23-181


Accelerating Behavioral and Social Science through Ontology Development and Use: Research Network Projects
(U01 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)

NOFO Number

Key Dates
Open Date (Earliest Submission Date): September 3, 2023
Expiration Date: October 4, 2023

This Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) invites applications to support research projects focused on the expansion of existing or development of new ontologies for behavioral or social science research (BSSR). The research projects must include multi-disciplinary teams of subject matter experts in one or more BSSR fields, as well as ontology related informatics and computational approaches. Projects should address health-related behavioral and social science problems not easily solved without improvement in semantic knowledge structures (e.g., controlled vocabularies, taxonomies, and ontologies). Each project should identify one or more BSSR use cases and elucidate how the proposed ontological resources or tools to be developed and tested will advance BSSR research capabilities and efficiencies. This includes a plan for promoting dissemination and use of the resources and tools. Tools or resources proposed should include health-relevant terminology related to constructs, measures, and/or intervention components. Tools or resources must also account for socio-behavioral cultural context in vocabulary/ontology development. As part of a cooperative agreement, each project will focus on independent ontology development research aims and be expected to work collaboratively with the Dissemination and Coordination Center (DCC; PAR-23-181) and the other funded projects in a Behavioral and Social Science Ontology Development U01 Research Network.

View PAR-23-182


BSSR Accomplishments


The NIH has been an instrumental leader in shaping and supporting behavioral and social sciences research (BSSR) to improve the nation’s health. Integrated with advances in other scientific disciplines, BSSR has made substantial contributions to the prevention or treatment of numerous physical health and mental health conditions.

In collaboration with subject matter experts from Institutes, Centers, and Offices across NIH, OBSSR has summarized some of the important scientific advances that demonstrate the valuable contribution of BSSR across various health conditions and behaviors. These summaries are provided as fact sheets (PowerPoint slides forthcoming) that highlight a significant public health problem and the corresponding BSSR-informed approaches used to address the problem. Various audiences such as academic researchers, public health organizations, and other health federal agencies, may find these materials useful to demonstrate to their stakeholders the importance of BSSR to the health of the United States population.

These new BSSR accomplishment resources are available on the OBSSR website:

Improving Sleep
Managing Chronic Pain
Preventing and Treating Diabetes
Preventing Intimate Partner Violence 
Reducing Teen Pregnancy
Reducing Tobacco Use
Treating Depression
Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Treating Phobias
Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Additional BSSR accomplishments will be added to the website in 2023.

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BSSR Clinical Trials Resources

Clinical Trials Protocol Template for the Behavioral and Social Sciences

The Clinical Trials Protocol Template for the Behavioral and Social Sciences is a resource for communicating the science, methods, and operations of a clinical trial. This template is a suggested format for clinical trials that are testing a behavioral or social intervention or experimental manipulation. Use of the protocol template is encouraged but not required.

The Behavioral and Social Clinical Trials Template was derived from the successful NIH-FDA Phase 2/3 IND-IDE Clinical Trial Template but was adapted to include terminology and approaches used by behavioral and social scientists.

While the template is a suggested format for clinical trials that are testing a behavioral or social intervention or manipulation for which a stand-alone clinical protocol is required, the template can also be a useful tool for those trials funded by NIH Institutes or Centers that do not require stand-alone clinical protocols. Using the template to anticipate decision points and potential challenges before a study launches can help avoid subsequent delays and problems.

Decision Support Tool: Features to Consider in Determining If a Clinical Trial is Phase II or Phase III

This document is the result of a working group led by OBSSR, with participants from other Institutes, Centers, and Offices. It is a designed to be a resource to help investigators, program officers, and reviewers determine if a behavioral or social science study is better characterized as a Phase II or a Phase III clinical trial. Distinguishing earlier phases of clinical trials (Phase 0 or I) is not usually difficult but distinguishing between a Phase II and III study can be more challenging, particularly for non-drug trials. Being thoughtful about this distinction is important for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that a Phase III designation for an NIH funded clinical trial generally requires following additional policies and practices beyond those that already apply to Phase II clinical trials, such as the requirement for valid analysis and for a Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB).

Phase III Trials 

NIH’s definition of a Phase III clinical trial is quite broad, including drug studies, device studies, behavioral interventions, epidemiological studies, community trials, and more. Phase III trials are usually large, prospective trials that compare two or more interventions against other standard or experimental interventions. In this next episode of our NIH All About Grants podcast (MP3 / Transcript) we explain what a Phase III trial is, how it compares to other types of clinical trials, considerations for your application and its review, how these studies influence standards of care, helpful tools and other resources, and much more. The guests include Ms. Dawn Corbett, NIH’s Inclusion Policy Officer, and Dr. Christine Hunter, former OBSSR Acting Director.

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Social and Behavioral Good Clinical Practice eCourse

In September 2016, the NIH issued a Policy on Good Clinical Practice (GCP) Training for NIH Awardees Involved in NIH-funded Clinical Trials. GCP is an international ethical and scientific quality standard for designing, conducting, recording and reporting clinical trials. The principles of GCP help assure the safety, integrity, and quality of clinical trials. Investigators and clinical trial staff who are competent in GCP principles will be better able to assure that the rights, safety, and well-being of human subjects are protected; that clinical trials are conducted in accordance with approved plans and with rigor and integrity; and that data derived from clinical trials are reliable.

Extramural Researchers can go here to take the course.
NIH Employees can go here to take the course. (NIH login required)
Educational Facilities can Download the Good Clinical Practices for Social and Behavioral Sciences Course for your educational facility’s Learning Management System (LMS).

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