NASEM BBCSS Holds 2021 Fall Meeting

The Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences (BBCSS) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine met on December 9 and 10 for their Fall Advisory Meeting. BBCSS provides vision on how to advance public policy and practice by leveraging cutting-edge research from these fields. Each day, part of the agenda, featuring updates from federal colleagues and science presentation, was open to the public. Dr. Terrie Moffitt, Duke University, BBCSS Chair hosted both sessions. 

Dr. Steve Breckler, Program Director, National Science Foundation, spoke about Behavioral and Cognitive Science in Collaboration. Breckler reviewed several opportunities and spotlighted some important studies including one by FABBS President Roxane Cohen Silver: “Responding to Turbulent Times: Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic and its Aftermath”. The grant enables Dr. Silver’s team of psychologists and nurses to continue a longitudinal study of the mental and physical health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study team has surveyed a large probability-based, representative sample of over 6500 Americans twice and is poised to conduct another survey in the coming weeks.  

Driving home a message that he has raised previously, Dr. Breckler reiterated the need for behavioral and cognitive scientists to engage with interdisciplinary teams. While the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate has a very small budget, our disciplines are eligible to compete for large, interdisciplinary awards to address major societal challenges. Dr. Breckler underscored the importance of encouraging our scientists to engage at the conception of studies, not participating later as an afterthought. 

Board members asked questions to better understand the barriers to improved collaboration, raising possibilities such as the lack of training or absence of clear examples of success. In part, researchers need additional socialization to the idea of working across disciplines, including a better  understanding of the vocabulary and a greater appreciation for  the value of unfamiliar approaches. 

Other presentations included Cynthia Null from NASA (formerly FABBS Executive Director) and Cedrine Robinson from the Department of Veterans Affairs also spoke to the committee. Robinson presented on Improving Veteran Functional Outcomes: An Overview of the VA’s Behavioral Health and Reintegration Portfolio. 

On day two the committee heard from BBCSS Board Member Michele Gelfand, from Stanford University, about the role of social norms and the differences between cultures with tight vs. loose norms, and how these differences affect health communication and treatment.  

Russell Poldrack, also at Stanford University, spoke about the overall conception of psychology. His Cognitive Atlas project aims to develop an ontology that characterizes the state of current thought in cognitive science.