APA Science Directorate and Divisions Provide Feedback to NIH on Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Research
The NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research recently asked for comments about the basic behavioral and social sciences research that is supported, or should be supported, by NIH. The APA Science Directorate responded to the request, and several APA divisions provided information to help inform those comments. Some of those comments are excerpted below.
Ed Wasserman, PhD, of the University of Iowa, and Tom Zentall, PhD, of the University of Kentucky, representing APA’s Division of Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology (Division 6), commented that NIH needs to expand research on animal behavior and cognition. “Health, behavior, and cognition are inextricably interrelated. Understanding the nature of that interrelation requires effective animal models. Contemporary neuroscience and genetics are advancing at an amazing pace. But, unless basic research in animal behavior and cognition is also permitted to move forward, we face the unfortunate circumstance of twenty-first century biology being applied to twentieth-century psychology.”
“The science of animal behavior and cognition is at a critical point. Its methods and paradigms have brought us to the point of now being able to study advanced cognitive processes in nonhuman animals, processes that truly approach those of human beings. Real progress in understanding the bodily bases of complex behavior and cognition will be possible when these newest methods and paradigms are mated with the latest methods of neuroscience and genetics.”
Steve Wegener, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University, speaking for Division 22 (Rehabilitation Psychology), commented that important areas of basic science for NIH to support include Epigenetics—how environmental, social and behavioral factors impact genetic changes and expression—and Cognitive, Behavioral and Environmental factors in determining well-being and positive health.
Bill Howell, PhD, Arizona State University, commented that even though human factors research is normally considered ‘applied,’ that “without support for basic research in areas like cognitive neuroscience, aging, human perception and attention, small-group processes, stress, etc., the Human Factors/Ergonomics community would have a very limited toolbox with which to promote "human-centered design" or "human-systems integration.”
APA’s comments sought to make a compelling case that NIH needs to broaden and deepen its support for many areas of basic behavioral and social sciences research. Writing for APA, Howard Kurtzman, PhD, Deputy Executive Director for Science, said, “…The APA recommends that NIH maintain a comprehensive portfolio of basic BSSR research. Research encompassing the full range of topics and approaches that NIH has supported in recent years continues to make important contributions to the accomplishment of NIH’s public health mission and deserves sustained support in order to enable new advances.
“The APA is concerned, however, that in recent years some significant areas of basic BSSR have lost support as budgetary pressures have increased and some individual Institutes have adopted highly restrictive notions of the types of basic BSSR that are relevant to their particular missions. The areas deserving of renewed attention include:
animal behavior research (both laboratory and field) that informs understanding of human mechanisms
individual, social, and cultural processes underlying personality, self, and identity
interpersonal interactions, close relationships, family processes, group processes, and social networks, across the lifespan and socio-cultural contexts
prejudice, discrimination, stigma
higher-level reasoning, problem-solving, planning, and decision-making
attitudes and their relation to behavior
“Behavioral research in these areas is relevant to such public health concerns as: stress mechanisms and effects; individual and group differences in the features and course of behavioral and physical disorders; development of personalized and culturally-appropriate interventions; behavior change and compliance; disease management; help-seeking, and health communications. Findings in many of these areas can also guide research on the biological substrates of behavior.
“In addition, some research areas have never had clear homes within the NIH structure or have lost support as particular Institutes have redrawn their boundaries. These areas include:
psychological and computational models of motor control
normal adult language and communication processes
psychometric research (for assessment of the behavioral features of development and disorders)
organizational, management, human factors, and communications research, relevant to the improvement of health care delivery
methodology and technology development
“The APA believes that by adopting a broad and sustained approach to support of basic BSSR, the NIH will motivate scientists to pursue the most significant and creative new ideas that can lead to improvements in human health. Both existing research paradigms within basic BSSR and those on the horizon hold great promise for producing important new insights and tools.”