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OBSSR Celebrates 10th Anniversary with Scientific Meeting at NIH and Poster Session on Capitol Hill

The need for behavioral and social research and intervention has never been greater, and its impact has never been clearer.

By Patricia Kobor

NIH Director Elias Zerhouni welcomed an overflow crowd to Natcher Auditorium on the NIH campus on June 21, 2006 for the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR). In his prepared statement, which he amplified for the audience, Zerhouni acknowledged the importance of behavioral and social sciences research to NIH's mission:

"We are faced with an enormous and evolving national burden of disease and disability, much of which has roots in personal behavior or socioeconomic influences. The need for behavioral and social research and intervention has never been greater, and its impact has never been clearer. We need but look at recent decreases in rates of cancer, largely due to dramatic decreases in tobacco use. We can point to a remarkable demonstration of the pronounced benefits of diet and exercise - more effective than drug therapy - in preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes among high-risk individuals. These are but two among many shining examples of the widespread benefits to public health realized through our investment in basic and applied behavioral and social science research, so critical to our understanding of health and disease."

The three scientists who have directed OBSSR since its founding made remarks. Norman Anderson, now the CEO at the American Psychological Association, recalled how in his role as the first OBSSR director, his credo was to find ways to make OBSSR as helpful as possible to NIH institutes and centers. He told scientists, "Ask not what NIH can do for the behavioral and social sciences: ask what the behavioral and social sciences can do for NIH." Raynard Kington, now the Deputy Director of NIH, recalled speaking at multiple institute advisory councils, talking about the behavioral and social science research agenda published by the National Academies Press, "New Horizons in Health: an Integrative Approach." Kington challenged the assembled scientists to continue to sharpen instruments of measurement and assessment and expand interdisciplinary training. David Abrams, the current director of OBSSR, emphasized the need to study gene-environment interactions, saying that one of his chief messages to NIH institute and center directors is, "the action is in the interaction." Abrams expressed his belief that the dissemination of knowledge to practitioners and the public is going to be an important challenge of OBSSR's next ten years.

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman gave a well received talk on his work on well-being, and efforts to measure satisfaction in real-time experience as well as reflection. Several other psychologists spoke during the two day meeting, some of whom included Martha McClintock, Rena Wing, James Jackson, Elissa Epel, Steve Suomi, and Marilyn Carroll. To see the agenda and a complete list of speakers, visit the OBSSR web site.

A highlight of the NIH meeting was a poster session that included as many as three posters per NIH institute, featuring contributions of behavioral and social science research funded by that institute. APA and other behavioral and social science partner organizations decided to bring the posters to Capitol Hill so that they could find a wider audience. On June 23, 2006, APA and 18 other organizations brought the posters, the featured scientists, and a dozen gallons of ice cream to the Cannon Caucus Room in an extension of the tenth anniversary celebration. About two hundred congressional staff, along with at least one U.S. Representative-- Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)-- agency staff and federal policymakers attended.