Research and Funding

Division of Behavioral and Social Research

Individual Behavioral Processes (IBP)

This branch supports research and training on health and behavior, cognitive and emotional functioning, technology and human factors, and integrative approaches to the study of social, psychological, genetic and physiological influences on health and well-being over the life course.

Branch Chief:
Lisbeth Nielsen, Ph.D.

Program Officers:
Jonathan King, Ph.D.
Lisbeth Nielsen, Ph.D.
Melissa Gerald, Ph.D.

Research Program Analyst:
Farheen Akbar, M.P.H

Program Consultants in Genetics:
Jennifer Harris, Ph.D., Contractor
David Reiss, M.D., Contractor

Behavioral Medicine and Interventions Section

This unit is focused on the dynamic interrelationships among aging, health, and behavior processes. It expands traditional studies in behavioral medicine by adding an aging perspective as well an emphasis on the influence of the socio-cultural environment on the development and maintenance of a wide range of health and illness behaviors (e.g., healthy lifestyle practices, medical self management, and coping with chronic illnesses and disabilities). Major topics include: (1) disease recognition, coping and management, including physiological consequences of life stresses and burdens; and (2) social, behavioral and environmental interventions for health promotion, disease prevention, and disability postponement.

Program Contacts:
Jonathan King, Ph.D.
Lisbeth Nielsen, Ph.D.

Program managed until March 2012 by Sidney Stahl, PhD; future assignments may vary

Behavioral Genetics of Aging Section

Genetic and genomic research is an integral part of many of the research areas in this branch. The behavioral genetics unit focuses on: (1) genetics and genomics of social behavior and social environments; (2) understanding genetic and genomic influences linking social, psychological, and behavioral processes with health and wellbeing over the life course; (3) understanding the social and environmental contexts in which genetic and genomic factors are expressed and influence social, psychological, and behavioral aspects of aging, including examinations of social influences on gene expression, and genetic influences on selection of environments. Approaches of interest include quantitative and molecular genetic analysis; epigenetic and gene expression studies; discordant twin designs, among others.

Program Contacts:
Jonathan King, Ph.D.

Cognitive Aging

This unit supports research on changes in cognitive functioning over the life course. Studies are encouraged that: (1) examine the influence of contexts (behavioral, social, cultural, and technological) on the cognitive functioning of aging persons; (2) investigate the effects of age-related changes in cognition on activities of daily living, social relationships, and health status, and (3) develop strategies for improving everyday functioning through cognitive interventions. Major topics include higher-order cognitive processes (such as executive function, problem-solving, decision-making, consumer behavior, driving, and health literacy), memory strategies, perceptual skills, and reading and speech comprehension. Research that takes a lifecourse perspective on these topics is especially encouraged, as is work that explores the role of individual difference factors in cognitive functioning (e.g., motivation, self-efficacy, beliefs about aging, sensory limitations, experience and expertise) and health disparities. This unit collaborates with the NIA Division of Neuroscience to encourage research at the intersection of behavior and neurocognition, notably in the area of cognitive interventions.

Program Contacts:
Jonathan King, Ph.D.

Family and Interpersonal Relationships

This unit supports research focusing on family and interpersonal relationships at an individual and dyadic level. Areas of interest include associations between marital and other interpersonal relationships with health and wellbeing; the role of the family and social network on individual health behavior and compliance; the role that friends and siblings play in healthy aging; the development of interpersonal relationships over the lifespan; and intergenerational transmission of social behaviors. Studies are encouraged to take a lifespan perspective where possible.

Program Contacts:
Melissa Gerald, Ph.D.

Psychological Development and Integrative Science

This unit promotes research that applies an integrative approach to the study of psychological aging. Topics include: personality, emotion, subjective well-being, motivation, self-regulation, social behaviors and social environments, social relationships, social cognition, stress and coping, resilience, and vulnerability to stress over the life course. Studies are encouraged that combine diverse levels of analysis and examine reciprocal interactions among these levels, as in the areas of social and affective neuroscience, behavioral and neuroeconomics, mind/body health, and behavior genetics. Examples include research on the biological pathways through which psychosocial stress impacts physical and psychological health, studies of socioemotional influences on decision making and economic behavior, and the effects of sociocultural, psychological (socioemotional, motivational), biological, and genetic processes on behavioral and functional aging. Personality, affect, and social/interpersonal relationships are investigated as causal variables and as mediators or moderators of the relation between behavioral and social factors and aging-relevant outcomes in both health and economic domains. Research that takes a lifecourse perspective on these topics is especially encouraged.

Program Contacts:
Lisbeth Nielsen, Ph.D.