Please weigh in on next steps in the NIH Common Fund’s Science of Behavior Change initiative by March 6:
Please comment on the value and significance of the following approaches for overcoming barriers to the development of a unified science of behavior change, and potential strategies for their achievement. In your remarks, wherever possible, please provide input on the use of mechanisms of behavior change as targets to be identified, engaged, and validated in intervention designs. Where applicable, your input may include but is not limited to research evidence in the form of data or references to support your statements.
A. Redefining NIH’s Translational Approach to Behavior Change Research by Targeting Basic Mechanisms of Behavior Change. The SOBC Program proposes to reshape NIH’s approach to the design of and investment in behavior change interventions by establishing the expectation that clinical trials incorporate mechanistic hypotheses and rigorous methods to test them. A unified approach to behavior change research could be adopted across the NIH, such that research projects related to behavior change would be expected to lead to an understanding of how change occurs (i.e., mechanisms of behavior change). A greater emphasis could be placed on the translation of basic behavioral and social science findings into behavior change interventions, and intervention studies could be expected to incorporate studies of mechanisms, in addition to testing for efficacy and/or effectiveness. Encouraging a mechanistic approach to clinical trials could enhance the value of each trial beyond its specific disease, population, or setting, and potentially produce data useful across fields.
B. Improving Understanding of the Underlying Principles of Behavior Change that Can Serve as Targets for Intervention. Understanding the principles of behavior change requires clear definitions and measures of key constructs and intervention targets. The SOBC Program proposes to support research that identifies, defines, and measures constructs essential for mechanistic studies of behavior change. Some constructs have been identified as important in behavior change across multiple health fields (e.g., motivation, decision-making, family communication, health literacy, built environments), but measures often vary across research laboratories, scientific disciplines, and health conditions. Refining the core components of these constructs, mapping similar components across fields, and developing rigorous measures of those components could accelerate progress in behavior change research. In addition, it may be useful to map similar mechanisms across multiple levels (e.g., genetic, neurobiological, social, cognitive, affective and environmental), so that behavior change can be captured and verified in multiple ways.
This initiative was the subject of a good recent discussion in the NIH Council of Councils meeting. That council provides the second level of peer review for NIH Common Fund initiatives. Dr. Richard Hodes, Director of the National Institute on Aging, gave an overview, and psychologist Elizabeth Phelps of NYU, who currently has funding under the initiative, gave a presentation about her research. A videocast of the entire Council of Councils meeting is available at https://commonfund.nih.gov/behaviorchange/index. The presentation on SOBC begins at 3:16. Dr. Phelps' portion of the presentation begins at about 3:35.
Patricia Clem Kobor | Sr. Science Policy Analyst Science Government Relations Office
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