National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR)


Behavioral and Social Science



Behavioral and Social Sciences research is a large, multifaceted field, encompassing a wide array of disciplines. The field employs a variety of methodological approaches including: surveys and questionnaires, interviews, randomized clinical trials, direct observation, physiological manipulations and recording, descriptive methods, laboratory and field experiments, standardized tests, economic analyses, statistical modeling, ethnography, and evaluation. Yet, behavioral and social sciences research is not restricted to a set of disciplines or methodological approaches. Instead, the field is defined by substantive areas of research that transcend disciplinary and methodological boundaries. In addition, several key cross-cutting themes characterize social and behavioral sciences research. These include: an emphasis on theory-driven research; the search for general principles of behavioral and social functioning; the importance ascribed to a developmental, life span perspective; an emphasis on individual variation, and variation across sociodemographic categories such gender, age, and sociocultural status; and a focus on both the social and biological context of behavior.

A Definition of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research for the National Institutes of Health, updated on March 15, 2002