The NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research

The NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research


(MUSIC) At the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research is bringing together experts from disparate fields to work collaboratively on some of the nation’s most complex and pressing health challenges. We think that behavioral factors remain a very important explanation for why people die early, and we think that changing behaviors is going to continue to have a big impact on why people live longer. Nearly 50% of deaths in this country are caused by behavioral factors that can be changed. Those factors include things like use of tobacco, diet, physical inactivity, unintentional injury, alcohol and drug use, and those are all behavioral factors. So if we can understand what causes those behaviors, we’d have a real good shot at changing those behaviors and thus improving the health of the population. If you look at what’s happened in the U.S. over the last 40 years, it’s pretty exciting. Heart attacks have dropped by 60%, strokes by 70%. Some of that is most certainly on the basis of the development of new medicines, but a lot of it is on the basis of changes in behavior. One of the things that has become very apparent to us is that all kinds of technologies are providing more data for us than we ever imagined we would have. So, instead of having hundreds of data points, now we might have hundreds of millions of data points. So, one of our directions for the future is to invest in understanding how to store the data, how to protect the privacy of the data, and most importantly, how we’ll analyze hundreds of millions of data points that will very shortly be available to us. A second pillar of our future direction is to look at social and behavioral sciences in what we call a reforming health care system. How do we use electronic health records to not only study people, but improve the care that they get? With the protection of privacy, how do we allow people greater access to their medical records? And how will this affect not only the research we do, but the care that people receive in the future? One of the things that we’ve come to realize is that our current training programs will probably be inadequate because the world is changing so quickly. The Ph.D. that receives his or her degree in 2017 is going to need to know a whole bunch of other techniques and technologies that most of us don’t know at this point. They might be doing less original data collection than we currently are and using more analysis of tweets and various things that come their way. Social and behavioral awareness and intervention are the next step forward in health care. The office coordinates behavioral and social sciences research across the whole agency, and we do both traditional kinds of behavioral and social sciences research, which are very valuable, as well as sort of hopping on emerging opportunities, new ways of thinking, new methodologies and technologies, that allow us to do research in different ways. The research we do here in behavioral and social science aims to try to understand how can that kind of information be presented to everybody in a way that gives them a better chance of living a healthy life. As the population of America ages, the cost of health care is expected to rise substantially. The more we can do to prevent and limit disease through changes in behavior, the more we can lower health care costs overall. Most important, we will give Americans more control over their health, resulting in more life and a far better quality of life. Welcome to a future of healthful living.