BSSR FAQs


What is the NIH definition of basic behavioral and social sciences research (b-BSSR)?

Investigators conduct behavioral and social sciences research across an extended translational continuum sometimes is conveniently labeled basic or applied research. In contrast to this dichotomy, the health sciences have become increasingly interdisciplinary to help resolve complex research questions. Diffusing social and behavioral research throughout the biomedical research enterprise and integrating basic biomedical tenets into social-behavioral often begins with bBSSR. Though OppNet defers from imposing a definition on the field, OppNet uses the following statement to guide the concepts it develops toward funding opportunity announcements: b-BSSR furthers our understanding of fundamental mechanisms and patterns of behavioral and social functioning, relevant to the Nation’s health and wellbeing, and as they interact with each other, with biology, and with the environment.

NIH considers basic behavioral and social science research (bBSSR) in three broad categories:

  1. Research on behavioral and social mechanisms and processes,
  2. Biopsychosocial research (Interactions among biology, behavior and social processes), and
  3. Novel research in methodology and measurement.

Basic research in behavioral and social sciences increases our understanding of fundamental mechanisms and patterns of behavioral and social functioning relevant that relate to health and wellbeing, and as they interact with each other, with biology and the environment. As is the case with basic biomedical research, basic behavioral and social sciences research does not address disease outcomes per se. Rather, it is designed to elucidate knowledge about underlying mechanisms and processes, knowledge that is fundamental to improving the understanding, explanation, observation, prediction, prevention, and management of chronic illnesses, as well as the promotion of optimal health and wellbeing. Given NIH’s mission, OppNet posits that investigators can conduct bBSS research projects in disease-specific contexts so long as the results have implications across disease- and health-contexts.

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What is considered basic BSSR under this definition?

OppNet considers basic behavioral and social research in three categories: 1. Research on behavioral and social mechanisms and processes; 2. Interactions among biology, behavior and social processes (biopsychosocial research); and 3. Novel research in methodology and measurement.

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What do the terms “behavior” and “social” mean?

For purposes of this definition, the term "behavioral" refers to overt actions; to underlying psychological processes such as cognition, emotion, temperament, and motivation; and to biobehavioral interactions. The term "social" encompasses sociocultural, socioeconomic, and sociodemographic status and processes; biosocial interactions; and the various levels of social context from small groups to complex cultural systems and societal influences.

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If my research aims incorporate behavioral and/or social variables, does the project qualify as b-BSSR?

Many types of research have implications for understanding behavior and social processes or use behavioral and social factors as outcome variables. However, if the research lacks a major and explicit focus on the understanding of basic behavioral or social mechanisms or processes, it is not considered b-BSSR.

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How can we distinguish basic from applied BSSR?

OppNet acknowledges that it is difficult to identify firm boundaries between basic and applied research. Indeed, many studies have both basic and applied components, and the same study may be used to address both basic and applied questions.

Based on this definition, the following two studies would be applied:

  • A study of medical decision-making that sought to test the efficacy of a new technique for framing treatment choices on the quality of decision outcomes
  • A study that examined how variations in framing treatments choices affected medical decision-making outcomes

The following two studies would be basic:

  • A study that sought to understand the cognitive mechanisms linking the framing of choices to decision outcomes in general, even if conducted within a medical decision-making setting
  • A study that used an experimental intervention to test hypotheses about how social mechanisms (e.g., social networks) frame choices and decision outcomes, even if conducted within a medical decision-making setting.

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Can b-BSSR include research using model animals as well as humans?

Yes. Basic-BSSR can involve humans and/or animals. Research on animals is considered b-BSSR when it helps illuminate basic principles of human behavior and social function. The NIH definition of b-BSSR acknowledges that: Research on behavioral and social processes involves the study of human or animal functioning at the level of the individual, small group, institution, organization, community, or population. A component of b-BSSR involves the development of novel animal models of behavior or translation of existing models toward new problems.

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Can b-BSSR be conducted in clinical settings and in studies with disease outcomes?

Yes. While b-BSSR does not address disease outcomes per se, as suggested above, b-BSSR can be conducted in a broad variety of settings, including general population and clinical samples. It can also be embedded within studies that include disease (or risk-factor) outcomes, as long as the focus of the study is on basic behavioral or social processes, basic biobehavioral or biosocial interrelationships, or methodology and measurement relevant to BSSR research.

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Does b-BSSR include infrastructure investments, such as the development of interdisciplinary networks or projects that produce or organize data for basic behavioral and social sciences research?

Yes. Such investments are considered “basic” for the purposes of OppNet.