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ARRA Investments in Behavioral and Social Sciences Research


Public Health Burden
Behavioral and social factors often play a key role in all aspects of today’s most pressing health issues. These factors include risk behaviors, social group interactions, and socioeconomics, among many others. Developing better ways to prevent and manage chronic disease, disability, and emerging acute diseases (such as pandemic flu and drug-resistant infections), requires us to not only understand the underlying biological causes of these conditions, but also the behavioral and social factors that contribute to their development, management, and treatment. ARRA-supported research is expanding on NIH’s longstanding commitment to supporting behavioral and social science research and integrating these areas fully into the NIH health research enterprise to improve health and prevent disease.

Biobehavioral Research
Biobehavioral research explores the interplay between biology and behavior, and plays an essential role in the research that NIH supports on health promotion, disease prevention, and quality of life. For example, behaviors such as exercise may confer as yet undefined and far-reaching benefits through a combination of biological and psychological mechanisms. Biology, in turn, influences behavior, often through genetic mechanisms that may determine, for example, who will respond positively to a behavioral intervention. NIH research seeks to define these interactions, implement behavioral interventions to achieve biological outcomes, and intervene in biological processes to influence behavior. Behavioral measures and biological markers together serve as important tools in diagnosis, assessment of disease progression, and evaluation of treatment outcomes. For example, ARRA-funded grants are:
  • Assessing persistent pain behaviors (behaviors that communicate to others that a person is experiencing pain) such as displaying facial expressions, resting, or taking medication, in those suffering from chronic pain, and developing interventions that target such behaviors. While such behaviors may be helpful in allowing a person to persist through the initial acute phase of pain, persistent use may be detrimental and cause psychosocial and physical disability.1
  • Establishing a research center emphasizing a combination of methodological perspectives, the study of individual and family outcomes, and development of novel research methods that incorporate economic models and explore the interaction of biological and behavioral variables.2
  • Exploring the differences in neurological changes between men and women with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) to better understand differences in male-female health outcomes in individuals with OSA.3
  • Analyzing the relationship between memory, thiamine (Vitamin B) levels, and brain structure in patients with heart failure (HF), to enable better assessment and evaluation of HF patients and to optimize resources for HF management.4
Building Research Networks Through Enhanced Communication and Technology
Conducting innovative behavioral and social science research requires investment in the teams, individuals and networks involved.  Researchers and institutions need information, data, techniques, tools, perspectives, concepts, and/or theories with specialized knowledge to advance fundamental understanding or to solve complex health issues. Researchers apply advances in computer sciences, communications, imaging, and biomarker data collection and other technologies to measure behavior in real time (e.g., ecological momentary assessment, personal sensors, geospatial coding methods) to decipher multilevel pathways linking biology, behavior, environment, and society. ARRA-supported projects are:
  • Improving quality, effectiveness and patient safety in healthcare through a national practice-based research network and a new large-scale coordinating center.5
  • Developing a consumer-based health information technology research network that will serve as a powerful tool for investigators seeking to recruit large numbers of diverse participants for large epidemiological and genetic research studies.6
  • Establishing a community-based participatory research partnership to facilitate the translation of best practices in emergency medicine and improve health outcomes in minority and underserved populations.7
Ethics/Bioethics
Addressing the ethical, legal, and social implications of research projects improves the quality and applicability of biomedical, behavioral, social science, and public health research. Additionally, this focus increases the number of researchers who have both awareness and skills in the ethical aspects of such research. ARRA funded grants are:
  • Advancing understanding of the boundary between treatment and research in advanced clinical trials by studying subjects' confusion of risks undermining true informed consent.8
  • Assessing the frequency and severity of emotional reactions elicited by survey research, including measuring the impact of research on participants’ thoughts and behavior and evaluating new methods to decrease negative emotional impacts of survey research.9



  1. 1RC1NR011804-01 -- Development and Validation of Measures of Pain Behaviors in Chronic Pain -- Cook, Karen (WA)
  2. 3P20NR010674-03W1 - Center for Enhancement of Self-Management in Individuals and Families- Marek, Karen Dorman (WI)
  3. 1R21NR011230-01 -- Gender Differences in Neural Deficits Associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea -- Macey, Paul (CA)
  4. 1R21NR011091-01 -- Memory, Thiamine Levels, and Brain Structure in Heart Failure -- Woo, Mary (CA)
  5. 1RC2NR011946-01 -- A Practice-Based Research Network for Improvement Science- Stevens, Kathleen R (TX)
  6. 1RC2NR011942-01 -- Development of a Consumer Research Network for Studying Obesity- Jacko, Julie A (MN)
  7. 1RC1NR011536-01 -- Community Partnership for Ethical Research- Ripley, Elizabeth B (VA)
  8. 1RC1NR011612-01 -- The Blurring of Treatment and Research in Clinical Trials: two problems- Lidz, Charles (MA)
  9. 1R21NR010595-01A2 - Predicting Occurrence and Minimizing Negative Impacts of Survey Research- Labott, Susan M (IL)


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