NIH Leadership Creates Working Group on Behavioral and Social Science Research and NIMH Releases Updated Strategic Plan

May 21, 2020

The NIH Council of Councils met – with members attending virtually – on May 15th. On the agenda was a proposal to create a working group on Behavioral and Social Science Research. Dr. William Riley, Director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research, presented the goal of the group, to identify emerging and promising basic research with a plausible pathway to application, including new interventions to improve health.

Dr. Riley explained that this topic was last looked at in 2004 by the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) on Research Opportunities in the Basic Behavioral and Social Science Research and resulted in the creation of OppNet, which has been valuable. However, the initiative would benefit from a review in context of important changes since 2004, including the introduction of Research, Condition, and Disease Categorization (RCDC) in 2009 and the creation of the Council of Councils in 2007.

The Council approved the proposal and Drs. Graham Colditz and Riley will co-chair the working group which will consist of seven to 10 at-large members.

The NIMH Advisory Council met (virtually) on May 19th. NIMH Director Dr. Josh Gordon presented the updated strategic plan, which outlines research and priorities over the next five years. The process to update the plan started last year and an initial draft was shared with Council members last October. At that time, Dr. Gordon, had explained that revisions were a “refresh” and not a rewrite. In December, NIMH shared a draft of the plan and invited comments from the community. FABBS, in collaboration with the Coalition for the Advancement and Application of Psychological Science (CAAPS), submitted comments. NIMH reported receiving 6,266 comments in response to their draft with only 2 percent from academic and research groups — 5,478 were categorized as ‘personal’ in nature. NIMH identified 102 actionable comments with 326 actionable ideas and reported including 39 of those actionable ideas into the plan.

These four Goals remained largely unchanged from initial 2020 draft:

  1. Define the Brain Mechanisms Underlying Complex Behaviors
  2. Examine Mental Illness Trajectories Across the Lifespan
  3. Strive for Prevention and Cures
  4. Strengthen the Public Health Impact of NIMH-Supported Research

FABBS was pleased to see that NIMH incorporated a couple of changes included in our comments. In the section on ‘Cross Cutting Themes’, NIMH replaced ‘computational psychiatry’ with ‘computational approaches’, a welcome broadening to include psychology. Under Goal 1, FABBS appreciates that explicit mention of behavioral mechanisms, in addition to biological. In reviewing Goal 3, NIMH included ‘behavioral’ to the list of modalities. Under Goal 2, NIMH added the role of ‘social determinants’ to the list of ‘relevant factors.’

Other recommendations were not included. FABBS had recommended removing the word ‘Brain’ from Goal 1 and including ‘Health’ in the title of Goal 2. Under ‘Challenges and Opportunities’ FABBS had encouraged NIMH to consider genomic and non-genomic factors in the section on ‘Genetics.’

The NIMH Strategic Plan for Research is a living document, which means it will be regularly updated to keep pace with ever-evolving scientific approaches and research priorities that can lead to new discovery. FABBS will continue to work with our NIMH colleagues and member societies to serve the mission of NIMH.