25 Years of OBSSR: Snapshots of Accomplishments in Behavioral and Social Sciences Research

January 13, 2022   

For more than 25 years, the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) has galvanized the role of the behavioral and social sciences in the mission of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability. Since it was first established by Congress in 1993, the OBSSR has facilitated the communication and coordination of FABBS disciplines across the NIH and beyond. OBSSR has cultivated cross-disciplinary collaborations to investigate the nexus between health and behavior. 

To capture these advances, NIH recently launched the first “Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Accomplishments,” a collection of fact sheets and infographic resources with bite-sized summaries of important scientific advancements rooted in BSSR contributions. The NIH’s support of OBSSR has allowed the office to explore and communicate scientific findings of the nation’s public health challenges, effectively informing sound policymaking decisions and setting new industry standards along the way. This installment features the following ten public health topics and their corresponding BSSR-informed approaches; 

Through the years, the OBSSR has bolstered disease prevention research by developing practical interventions for many topical public health challenges, spanning alcohol misuse, tobacco dependence, and adherence to pharmacological treatment, among others. OBSSR funding has also advanced our understanding of the social and cultural dimensions of health, supporting research topics such as the long-term health consequences of child neglect, of chronic pain, and the factors underlying health disparities within rural, low-income, and certain racial and ethnic populations. BSSR-informed approaches have also raised the standard of care and saved lives by providing guidelines and communicating scientific findings. 

BSSR educational campaigns have helped to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by 53% from 1992 to 2001, in part by informing parents that it is important for infants to lie on their backs while sleeping.

Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Expansion of recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment [Technical Report]. Pediatrics, 128(5), e1341-e1367. 

BSSR has made major contributions to today’s gold-standard methods in psychotherapeutic treatments for a breadth of issues, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for PTSD, Exposure therapy for phobias, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for tobacco dependence, among others. BSSR promotes integrated care models that address medical and psychological outcomes; this patient-centered diagnostic and treatment framework and the use of behavioral interventions in conjunction with pharmacotherapy have shown higher rates of treatment adherence for numerous adverse health conditions (e.g., diabetes).  

BSSR has elevated quality of care by considering whole person health. Institutions such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs use the BSSR-informed PTSD Checklist to help clinicians and researchers diagnose individuals with PTSD and to monitor their symptoms, while also advocating for patients by reducing stigma – as in the case of the NIMH’s “Real Men, Real Depression” campaign to increase patient willingness to seek treatment for PTSD symptoms. 

BSSR is valuable in providing evidence-based treatments and disease mitigation strategies for various health conditions and behaviors. From educational campaigns to reduce stigma to outreach programs to deliver care and support, BSSR is integral to address today’s public health issues. A previous iteration of Public Health Achievements of the Behavioral and Social Sciences was published in April 2013 (OBSSR fact sheets- Achievements (nih.gov)) and we look forward to the upcoming batch in the series of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Accomplishments in 2022.