Science Directions

The science of psychology depends in many ways on the federal funding of research from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. We depend on federal support for training the next generation of scientists, funding our basic research and translating that work into practical applications. Science in this country thrives because the federal government invests in research.

Most scientific associations, including APA, recognize the importance and value of federal funding. That is why we devote so much energy and resources to advocating for the inclusion of psychology within the budgets of the funding agencies. We do it because it helps psychology, and we do it because it helps society.

The people of our nation are healthier, more productive and better educated because of advances in psychological science. And many of those advances are the result of federally supported research.

The federal commitment to research in psychology was significantly improved when NSF established its Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economics Sciences in 1992. The commitment grew again when NIH established its Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research in 1995. These important milestones were achieved because dozens of scientific associations and thousands of scientists lobbied for them. APA and our advocacy partners helped to lead the way.

The latest news from NIH heralds yet another significant commitment to research in psychology. Achieved through our collective advocacy and the wisdom of NIH leadership, the Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network devotes significant NIH funding toward improving our knowledge about the nature of behavior and social systems.

The new initiative is called OppNet, and it will support research in three important areas:

  • Research on behavioral and social processes

  • Biopsychosocial research

  • Research on methodology and measurement

NIH plans to invest $10 million in fiscal year 2010, $20 million in fiscal year 2011 and $30 million in each of the following fiscal years in the program, which will provide broad research support for social and behavioral science that is relevant to the nation’s health and well-being. It is clear that psychological science will play an integral role.

Opportunities like this do not come along every day. It took great effort to make it happen, and it will take great effort to sustain it and ultimately deliver results. The responsibility now rests with the psychology research community. We must rise to the challenge by understanding where the needs for basic research are greatest, and then develop and submit proposals to do that work. We must reinforce NIH for its commitment by showing that we too are committed to the effort.

Thanks to the health-care debate, a new opportunity can be seen on the horizon. Everyone seems to understand that research can help to establish the relative efficacy of different interventions, and that improved health care depends on more research along these lines. Comparative effectiveness research is an opportunity for psychology. We know that our health-related interventions are effective, and often more effective than medical interventions. Ultimately, the proof will depend on formal comparisons between psychology-based interventions and the others.

If our interventions are more efficient, longer-lasting and less expensive, the research will show it. But the comparisons need to be made; the research needs to be done. Once again, we must rise to the challenge by identifying the interventions with greatest relative advantage and then submitting proposals to do the work.

Psychological science has enormous contributions to make toward improving the quality of health and health care. OppNet and comparative effectiveness research are the latest opportunities that allow psychology to demonstrate its value. When opportunity knocks, we must answer the door.