Healthier Lives Through Behavioral and Social Sciences Research
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December 12, 2008
Retreat Refreshes Behavioral, Social Sciences

Dr. Christine Bachrach, acting director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, wanted just one thing out of the first-ever day-long retreat for NIH’s widely dispersed community of behavioral and social scientists, held Nov. 12 at Natcher Bldg.

December 12, 2008
New Hope for Treatment of Addiction

Drug addiction is notoriously tough to treat, but now research is showing a fresh way to tackle the problem. It’s called computer-based training for cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT4CBT)

OBSSR’s Mabry Wins with Systems Analysis Team

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January 28-29, 2009 Dissemination and Implementation Conference

February 9, 2009, ­ 10:00 – 11:00 AM
Stigma: Lessons & New Directions from a Decade of Research on Mental Illness

July 12-24, 2009
OBSSR/NIH Summer Training Institute on Randomized Clinical Trials Involving Behavioral Interventions

May 3-8, 2009
Institute on Systems Science and Health

May 22-25, 2009
Gene-Environment Interplay in Stress and Health at the Association for Psychological Science 21st Annual Convention, San Francisco, CA

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Home > Scientific Areas > Genes, Behavior and Environment

Genes, Behavior and Environment

Introduction to Genes, Behavior and Environment (GBE)

The longstanding debate about nature versus nurture has been turned on its head. Scientists now recognize that it is not a question of genes or environment, but rather, how genes and environment interact in complex ways to explain virtually every observable trait. Take the link between stress and depression: recent research has demonstrated that genetic vulnerability plays a key role in explaining why stressful life events result in depressive symptoms, diagnosable major depression, and suicide attempts among some individuals but not others. In the same way that “personalized medicine” may tailor medical treatment based on an individual’s genetic makeup, behavioral and social science interventions will also benefit from a more sophisticated understanding of the interactions among genetic, personal, and environmental factors in human behavior.


“Successful transdisciplinary research that is conducted on gene-social environment interaction could provide a way for us to redefine how we think about health and disease. Such a redefinition, however, is not a short trip going forward with a specific goal in mind; rather, it is a journey that will require time and patience. This report and its recommendations are intended to launch us on that journey.” -- From Genes, Behavior, and the Social Environment: Moving Beyond the Nature/Nurture Debate. ed. L. Hernandez and D. Blazer, (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2006), x.

As part of a strategy to determine how best to integrate research priorities to include an increased focus on the health impacts of interactions among social, behavioral and genetic factors, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), in conjunction with the National Human Genome Research Institute and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, requested that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) undertake a study to examine the state of the science on gene-environment interactions that affect human health, with a focus on the social environment. The goal of the study was to identify approaches and strategies to strengthen the integration of social, behavioral and genetic research and to consider relevant training and infrastructure needs. More specifically, NIH requested the following:
  • Review the state of the science on the interactions between the social environment and genetics that affect human health.
  • Develop case studies that will demonstrate how the interactions of the social environment and genetics affect health outcomes; illustrate the methodological issues involved in measuring the interactions; elucidate the research gaps; point to key areas necessary for integrating social, behavioral and genetic research; and suggest mechanisms for overcoming barriers.
  • Identify gaps in the knowledge and barriers that exist to integrating social, behavioral and genetic research in this area.
  • Recommend specific short- and long-term priorities for social and behavioral research on gene-social environment interactions and identify mechanisms that can be used to encourage interdisciplinary research in this area.
  • Assess workforce, resource and infrastructure needs and make actionable recommendations on overcoming barriers and developing mechanisms to accelerate progress.
This report examines a number of well-described gene-environment interactions, reviews the state of the science in researching such interactions, and recommends priorities not only on research itself but also on its workforce, resource, and infrastructural needs. It is intended to encourage and facilitate the growth of transdisciplinary research on the impact of health and interactions among social, behavioral and genetic factors. These studies are designed to identify relationships between genes with observable traits such as body weight or the presence or absence of a disease or condition. Within this context, the IOM Report, Genes, Behavior and the Social Environment: Moving Beyond the Nature-Nurture Debate suggests that examining the interactions among genetic, social environments, and behavioral factors could greatly enhance the understanding of health and illness. This report also recommends ways to foster transdisciplinary research teams necessary to more fully examine the questions raised by these research gaps. OBSSR, located in the NIH’s Office of the Director, is leading the implementation of the recommendations produced by this report.

The report can be purchased or read online for free at:

Read this FREE online!
Full Book | PDF Summary | PDF Report Brief | Podcast

Genetics Education

In 2008, the OBSSR contracted the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics (NCHPEG) to develop a web-based course on genetics for behavioral and social scientists. The proposed program includes two multimedia modules which would serve as the basis for self-paced instruction by the learner :
  1. Introduction to genetic aspects of social and behavioral phenomena
  2. Evaluating and applying genetic science to research in social and behavioral science
More information will be posted to this Web site as the course is developed, so please check back again.

The Genes, Environment and Health Initiative (GEI)

The Genes, Environment, and Health Initiative (GEI) is a four-year NIH-wide program in the President’s budget to identify major genetic susceptibility factors for disease and to develop technologies for reliable and reproducible measurement of potential causative environmental exposures.

The GEI has two main components:
  • The Genetics Program is a pipeline for analyzing genetic variation in groups of patients with specific illnesses.
  • The Exposure Biology Program is an environmental technology development program to produce and validate new methods for monitoring environmental exposures that interact with a genetic variation to result in human diseases.
Recognizing that common diseases are likely due to factors in the physical, chemical, behavioral, social and developmental environments interacting with genetic predisposition, the GEI includes a substantial environmental component within the Exposure Biology Program, devoted to developing and field testing new technologies for assessing such exposures. Within this program, OBSSR supports GEI’s efforts to better measure the behavioral and social environment. OBSSR participated in the planning and hosting of two workshops on psychosocial stress measurement, conducted through the GEI Network on Exposures to Psychosocial Stress and Addictive Substances.

Information about other GEI exposure biology components can be found at The Exposure Biology Program is led by NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

GEI-related funding opportunities can be found on the GEI Web site. Please see below for information on the funding opportunity in which OBSSR is involved.

OBSSR Funding Announcements on Genes, Behavior and Environment Research

NIH Revision Awards for Studying Interactions Among Social, Behavioral, and Genetic Factors in Health

The following announcements invite applications from NIH-funded investigators to supplement their currently funded research to study how interactions among genetic and behavioral/social factors influence health and disease. Applications were received in May 2008 and are currently under review. Genes, Environment and Health Initiative
This FOA encourages the development, improvement and/or adaptation of measurement technologies which, by the end of the funding period, will be field-deployable tools that can detect and quantify personal exposure to psychosocial stress and/or addictive substances (licit and illicit) with maximum precision and reliability.