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Dr. Lisbeth Nielsen to lead NIA's Division of Behavioral and Social Research

On March 1, 2020, NIA appointed Lisbeth Nielsen, Ph.D., as its new Division of Behavioral and Social Research (BSR) director. Nielsen has a long history of leadership in the behavioral and social sciences at NIH: She served for 15 years as a program director and branch chief of the NIA BSR Individual Behavioral Processes Branch. She also held leadership roles in the NIH Science of Behavior Change Common Fund program and the trans-NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Opportunity Network. Prior to joining NIH, Nielsen conducted research in the affective and decision science of aging at Stanford University.

Dr. Lis NielsenThroughout her research career, Nielsen has built bridges linking psychological and behavioral science to economics, genetics, neuroscience, biology, epidemiology, social science, and biomedicine, at all levels from basic to translational research. She was instrumental in launching new areas of research in subjective well-being and the social, affective, and economic neurosciences of aging.

Nielsen helped initiate several innovative research networks linking behavioral and population scientists to tackle questions related to the influences of stress on physical health and on the potential for midlife reversibility of health risks associated with early life adversity. She is an advocate for the study of aging processes across the full life course, including research on early life influences on later life outcomes and on processes in midlife that play a causal role in shaping trajectories of aging.

“Dr. Nielsen’s efforts have enhanced the impact of aging-related research and created meaningful opportunities for behavioral and social scientists to participate in high-level and significant NIH scientific initiatives,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “Her impressive and accomplished background and experiences make her exceptionally qualified to lead this important division at a time of great scientific opportunity.”

“NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research is among the most influential and exciting behavioral and social science funding organizations in the U.S., and I look forward to leading our talented and creative staff,” Nielsen said. “Our work will continue to evolve to encompass a wide range of behavioral and social science approaches to understanding Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, embracing life course research on the developmental origins of aging processes, extending our focus on midlife prevention of the chronic diseases of aging, and promoting a range of rigorous mechanistic approaches to understanding and advancing behavior change at the individual and organizational levels.”

Nielsen also highlighted the division’s role in integrating life-span developmental and social science approaches into the broader geroscience agenda, to understand how behavior and the social environment impact the life span, health span, and the development of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.

“Multiple approaches — from molecular to social — are needed to understand individual and group differences in the pace of aging, and to tackle the growing and disturbingly large health disparities in the United States, a topic that has always been at the forefront of BSR efforts,” said Nielsen.

Nielsen earned her Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and cognitive science from the University of Arizona, a master’s degree in psychology from Copenhagen University, and a B.A. in philosophy from Rhodes College. She is a fellow of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Mind and Life Institute.