About NIA

Offices & Divisions

Division of Behavioral and Social Research (DBSR)

Director: Richard Suzman, Ph.D.

Go to DBSR research page »

The Division of Behavioral and Social Research (BSR) supports social, behavioral, and economic research and research training on the processes of aging at both the individual and societal level. BSR fosters cross-disciplinary research, at multiple levels from genetics to cross-national comparative research, and at stages from basic through translational.

BSR has 2 branches, with substantial interactions between them:

Individual Behavioral Processes Branch

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

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.

Population and Social Processes Branch

This branch supports research and training on the causes and consequences of changes in social, demographic, economic, and health characteristics of the older population. Research on the effects of public policies, social institutions and health care settings on the health, well-being, and functioning of people — both over the life course and in their later years — is supported. International and comparative research is encouraged, as are interconnections with individual behavioral processes. Interdisciplinary and multi-level research is especially promoted.

Branch Chief:
John Haaga, Ph.D.

Program Officers:
Georgeanne Patmios, M.A.
John Haaga, Ph.D.
Colin Baker, Ph.D.
Partha Bhattacharyya, Ph.D.
John W.R. Phillips, Ph.D.

Research Program Analyst:
Vacant

Program Consultant in Genetics:
Jennifer Harris, Ph.D., Contractor

Demography and Epidemiology Section

This unit fosters research on trends in functioning, disability, morbidity, and mortality; age trajectories of health; life expectancy and active life expectancy; causes and consequences of changes in the age-structure of population; interactions between health and socioeconomic status over time and across generations; the effect on health of social networks and social contexts; interrelationships between work, family and health; the intersection between demographic processes and social outcomes, including intergenerational relationships; and cohort analyses of aging. Epidemiologic studies of the health and well-being of older populations include studies of the incidence, prevalence and dynamics of disability and frailty, and the identification and evaluation of strategies and interventions to promote health. A life course perspective is emphasized.

Program Contacts:
Georgeanne Patmios, M.A.
John Haaga, Ph.D. 

Economics of Aging Section

This unit promotes research on all aspects of the economics of aging. Topics include implications of population aging for public and private retirement and health insurance programs and for income security of future retirees; allocation of family resources across generations; the impact of care arrangements for the elderly on labor supply; determinants of retirement, family labor supply, and saving; consequences of retirement for health and functioning; effects of psychological factors and mental health characteristics on economic behaviors; evaluations of the impact of changes in Federal programs including Medicaid, Medicare, Supplemental Security Income and Social Security policies; health and long-term-care insurance and expenditures; interrelationships between health and economic status, including issues related to wealth, poverty, productivity, human capital development, and economic development; the economic costs of disability; cost-effectiveness of interventions to improve the health and well being of the elderly; and the economic value of disability reduction and additional years of life.

Program Contacts:
Colin Baker, Ph.D.
John W.R. Phillips, Ph.D.
Partha Bhattacharyya, Ph.D.

Epidemiology and Population Genetics of Aging Section

Genetic components are an integral part of many of the research areas in the Population and Social Processes branch. The genetics section focuses particularly on the integration of genetic methods into population-based research, population genetics of aging, the interplay between genes and environment on a population level.

Program Contacts:
Jennifer Harris, Ph.D. (Contractor)

Health Systems Section

This unit encourages research on the impact of formal health care and long-term care systems and settings on the health and well-being of older persons. The emphasis is on how older people and their families deal with multiple services, often for multiple conditions, not on the efficacy or effectiveness of treatments for particular conditions or facility management. This section supports research on the long-term care system; health services and health care financing for older people with multiple chronic conditions; provider-level and regional variation in health expenditures, services, and outcomes for older persons; and U.S. and comparative cross-national studies of the efficiency and effectiveness of health-care systems.

Program Contacts:
Partha Bhattacharyya, Ph.D.
Colin Baker, Ph.D

Staff

Farheen Akbar Health Scientist Specialist 301-402-4156 farheen.akbar@nih.gov e-mail
Colin Baker 301-402-4447 colin.baker@nih.gov e-mail
Partha Bhattacharyya 301-496-3131 bhattacharyyap@mail.nih.gov e-mail
Shanell Butler Extramural Support Assistant (OA) 301-496-4997 butlers3@mail.nih.gov e-mail
Prisca Fall-keita Research Program Analyst 301-402-4582 fallpn@mail.nih.gov e-mail
Melissa Gerald Program Director 301-451-4503 geraldmel@mail.nih.gov e-mail
John Haaga BSR 301-496-3131 jh735i@nih.gov e-mail
Jonathan King 301-402-4156 kingjo@mail.nih.gov e-mail
Lyn Neil Program Analyst 301-496-3136 en56d@nih.gov e-mail
Lis Nielsen 301-402-4156 nielsenli@nia.nih.gov e-mail
Georgeanne Patmios 301-496-3138 gp29p@nih.gov e-mail
John Phillips 301-496-3138 john.phillips@nih.gov e-mail
Richard Suzman Director, Division of Behavioral and Social Research 301-496-3131 suzman@nih.gov e-mail