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Common Fund Makes New FY2010 Awards to Advance the Science of Behavior Change

Ten new Common Fund awards are made in fiscal year 2010 in the Science of Behavior Change program to improve the understanding of basic mechanisms of behavior change that play a role in initiating or maintaining behavior change across a broad range of health-related behaviors. The projects bridge work done in laboratories and in the field, and are intended to stimulate investigations of basic mechanisms at the social, contextual, behavioral, psychological, neurobiological or genetic level of analysis.

The new research projects address critical areas including:

  • Dr. Barbara Frederickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is investigating how positive emotions alter biological pathways that mediate the expression of inflammatory response genes in ways that reinforce long-term adherence to positive health behaviors and wellness. Knowledge gained by this work may lead to new interventions to promote health (1-R01NR012899-01).
  • Dr. Scott Halpern of the University of Pennsylvania is comparing different economic incentive structures for smoking cessation to define the mechanisms by which incentives alter behavior and inform the design of smoking interventions (1-R01CA159932-01; early stage investigator).
  • Drs. Johannes Haushofer and Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich are investigating the interaction of environmental and biological factors associated with poverty and stress that underlie abnormal impulsivity that accompanies addiction to substances and unhealthy behaviors (1-R01-AG039297-01).
  • Dr. James Hudziak of the University of Vermont is leading a combined survey, laboratory and intervention study using data collected from the Netherlands Twin Study and longitudinal assessment of the environmental modulators of exercise behavior in adolescents to identify individual differences in voluntary exercise behavior and inform new ways to change exercise behavior in this age group. (1-R01DK092127-01).
  • Drs. Julie Lumeng and Alison Miller of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor are studying the biobehavioral basis of self-regulation and its relationship to eating behavior and excess weight gain in toddlers to identify possible targets for prevention of obesity (1-R01HD069179-01).
  • Dr. Megan Andreas Moreno of the University of Wisconsin is examining the role of social networks and media in identifying and preventing substance abuse among college students (1-R01DA031580-01).
  • Dr. Kevin Ochsner of Columbia University is examining the neurological mechanisms underlying the development of self-regulatory ability in late childhood and early adolescence that may affect making healthy versus non-healthy choices (1-R01HD069178-01).
  • Dr. Anya Phelps of New York University is using an integrated behavioral neuroeconomics and affective neuroscience approach to probe the impact of emotion on decision making to help identify new means to encourage healthy behavior change (1-R01-AG039283-01).
  • Taking inspiration from recent findings in neuroeconomics, Dr. Henry Saffer of the National Bureau of Economic Research is investigating the economics of addiction by examining how alcohol advertising, alcohol outlet density and alcohol price affect alcohol consumption and abuse (1-R01AA020464-01).
  • Dr. Timothy Strauman of Duke University is examining the effects of genetics and environmental factors on vulnerability to failures of self-regulation that may underlie tobacco use, alcoholism, mood disorders, obesity, eating disorders, and impulsivity, and testing a novel set of cognitive/behavioral techniques to acutely reverse the dysfunctions that underlie self-regulatory failure in both adolescent and college student students (1-R01DA031579-01).

View the funded research...


Human behavior accounts for almost 40% of the risk associated with preventable premature deaths in the United States. Health-injuring behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and drug abuse, as well as inactivity and poor diet are known to contribute to many common diseases and adverse health conditions. Unfortunately, there are few tried and true approaches to motivate people to adopt and maintain healthy behaviors over time. It is difficult for people to begin to change unhealthy behavior, even when they intend to do so, and even more difficult for them to maintain positive behavior changes in the long run. Effective and personalized approaches to achieve sustained behavior change are typically outside the routine practice of medical care. We often use terms like "willpower" and "self-control" to explain behavior change, although the underlying biological, social, and cultural contexts for these terms are not clear. It is clear, however, that understanding the basic underpinnings of motivation change across a broad range of health-related behaviors can lead to more effective and efficient approaches to behavioral intervention and ultimately improve the health of our nation.

The Common Fund is launching the Science of Behavior Change program to improve our understanding of human behavior change across a broad range of health-related behaviors. The program will support research that integrates basic and translational science and cuts across disciplines of cognitive and affective neuroscience, neuroeconomics, behavioral genetics, and behavioral economics. The program will establish the groundwork for a unified science of behavior change that capitalizes on both the emerging basic science and the progress already made in the design of behavioral interventions in specific disease areas. This will be accomplished by supporting basic research to improve our understanding of human motivation and maintenance of behavior change across multiple diseases and conditions, and using this knowledge to develop more effective and economical behavioral interventions.

The NIH hosted a Science of Behavior Change Meeting in June.

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