NIH OBSSR Releases Updated Definition of Behavioral and Social Science Research
NIH OBSSR Releases Updated Definition of Behavioral and Social Science Research

May 2019

The National Institutes of Health Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (NIH OBSSR) announced a revised definition of “behavioral and social science research” (BSSR) on May 14 after seeking public input earlier this year. The revision updates the initial definition developed in 1996 with the creation of OBSSR.

"AERA applauds this revised definition," said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. "It is not only succinct and clear, but also recognizes the importance of studying educational settings as they relate to health and well being." 

The introduction to the revised definition highlights three areas:

Behavioral and social sciences research at the National Institutes of Health involves the systematic study of behavioral1 and social2 phenomena relevant to health3.

1“Behavioral phenomena” refers to the observable actions of individuals or groups and to mental phenomena such as knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, motivations, perceptions, cognitions, and emotions.

2“Social phenomena” refers to the interactions between and among individuals, and to the characteristics, structures, and functions of social groups and institutions, such as families, communities, schools, and workplaces, as well as the physical, economic, cultural, and policy environments in which social and behavioral phenomena occur.

3”Health” refers to a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (as per the World Health Organization).

As noted in the definition, NIH research “is considered a BSSR project if one or more of its specific aims include understanding and/or modifying behavioral or social phenomena relevant to health.

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