Applied social and behavioral science to address complex health problems

Am J Prev Med. 2011 Nov;41(5):525-31. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.07.021.


Complex and dynamic societal factors continue to challenge the capacity of the social and behavioral sciences in preventive medicine and public health to overcome the most seemingly intractable health problems. This paper proposes a fundamental shift from a research approach that presumes to identify (from highly controlled trials) universally applicable interventions expected to be implemented "with fidelity" by practitioners, to an applied social and behavioral science approach similar to that of engineering. Such a shift would build on and complement the recent recommendations of the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research and require reformulation of the research-practice dichotomy. It would also require disciplines now engaged in preventive medicine and public health practice to develop a better understanding of systems thinking and the science of application that is sensitive to the complexity, interactivity, and unique elements of community and practice settings. Also needed is a modification of health-related education to ensure that those entering the disciplines develop instincts and capacities as applied scientists.

MeSH terms

  • Behavioral Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Behavioral Research / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.)
  • Preventive Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Public Health Practice
  • Social Sciences / organization & administration*
  • United States