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Cross-cutting “Human and Social Dynamics” Is First NSF Priority Area Led by Behavioral & Social Sciences

See also accompanying article on "Human and Social Dynamics".

by Pat White and Joane Nagel, National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation recently approved the FY2004 program solicitation for a new cross-cutting funding priority area, Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) (see July/August 2003 Footnotes, p. 3). This NSF-wide initiative, housed in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate, has been in development for the past three years; it is the first in NSF’s history in which the social and behavioral sciences have leadership. The HSD priority area will extend for five years.

The aim of HSD is to foster breakthroughs in knowledge about human action and development as well as organizational, cultural, and societal adaptation and change in a comprehensive and multidisciplinary context across the sciences, engineering, and education. The emphasis areas supported in HSD’s first year are listed below. Three areas focus on substantive issues associated with the dynamics of change and behavior on different scales and on human responses to changing environments (i.e., Agents of Change, Dynamics of Human Behavior, and Decision Making and Risk). The other areas focus on the methods, tools, and resources needed to illuminate the substantive areas of interest and to realize the potential of the priority area (i.e., Spatial Social Science, Modeling Human and Social Dynamics, and Instrumentation and Data Resource Development).

All six emphasis areas encompass topics for which interdisciplinary synergies hold special promise for important breakthroughs. Grant proposals must focus on at least one of the first three emphasis areas. Support will be provided for research-focused, education-focused, infrastructure-focused, and exploratory projects. A brief discussion of each of these areas is included below. Complete information about the mandatory Letter of Intent (deadline of March 3, 2004) and Proposal Preparation and Submission (deadline of March 30, 2004) as well as descriptive information about the HSD priority area may be found at If you have questions, contact the Sociology Program Directors, Pat White ( and Joane Nagel ( Human and Social Dynamic Substantive and Resource-related emphasis areas include:

Substantive Areas

  • Agents of Change. Examination of large-scale transformational changes over different scales, such as globalization, democratization, migrations, and epidemics; the reciprocal relationship between individual and social action, including its role in educational settings; the evolution of culture and society and its interaction with climate, geography, and environment in settings ranging from high-density cities to sparsely populated polar regions; the implications of cultural variation for conflict and assimilation; the implication of large-scale transformational changes for diversity and equality; and adaptation and resistance to technological change and new science- and engineering-based knowledge.
  • Dynamics of Human Behavior. Explorations into the dynamics of change in human behavior over time, including links between mental processes and human behavior; the dynamics though which individuals and collective entities form, grow, learn, change, and act under the impetus of internal and external stimuli; and explorations of cognitive, computational, linguistic, developmental, social, organizational, cultural, biological, and other processes as dynamic, evolving systems.
  • Decision-making and Risk. Explorations of changing risks and risk perception and of how these changes affect decision-making and help shape human and social behavior; individual and societal responses to risk, such as translation and interpretation of complex scientific information for decision making; decision making under uncertainty associated with many factors, including environmental change, risk assessment, and responses to hazards, and extreme events; research on how educational processes or systems respond to changes in risk and risk perceptions; and basic understanding about chronic risks, especially in the areas of environment, energy, and health.


  • Spatial Social Science. Exploration of how recent technological advances (such as embedded sensors, global positioning systems, and geographic information systems) that provide tools and techniques for acquiring geospatial information can be combined with behavioral, demographic, political, health-related, historical, and other social data to advance fundamental understandings of the spatial dimensions of human and social dynamics and/or to expand the utility and accessibility of those tools.
  • Modeling Human and Social Dynamics. Advances in modeling theory and techniques as well as research involving innovative combinations of empirical and theoretical models designed to specify causal relationships, despite confounding factors, in human and social dynamics; the development and application of innovative approaches to understand complex interactions, such as stochastic agent-based modeling, social network analysis, and new techniques for modeling human behavior and interaction using innovative information and engineering technologies.
  • Instrumentation and Data Resource Development. Development of instrumentation and software that takes advantage of advanced technologies; data resources, including new and extended longitudinal databases, collaboratories, and mechanisms for preserving confidentiality in databases that incorporate sensitive biological, behavioral, and social information.