National Science Foundation

4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 22230

Dear Colleague,

The National Science Foundation is announcing a new emphasis on proposals in the area of Cognitive Neuroscience. The Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) at the National Science Foundation has a history of supporting basic research in cognitive, perceptual, linguistic, developmental, affective, and social neuroscience, primarily through the Programs of the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS). This support has come predominantly from the Programs in Human Cognition and Perception, Linguistics, Social Psychology, Child Learning and Development, and Physical Anthropology. Additional support has been provided through Programs in the Biological Sciences, Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Education. The purpose of this letter is to inform the research community that support for neuroscientific approaches will now receive added emphasis via additional funding to many of these existing programs.

Until recently, our understanding of the basic mechanisms underlying cognitive, affective, and social behaviors had been inferred primarily by examination of behavioral data such as the accuracy of performance, response latencies, and subjective reports that participants provide in experimental situations. These approaches have produced many important empirical observations and substantial knowledge of these processes. Technologies to study the living human brain now add a new dimension to the study of cognitive, affective, and social behaviors, a dimension that is complemented by studies of regional brain damage. The neuroscientific approach contributes to scientific understanding of human behavior in several ways:

These developments have come about in large part because of new imaging technologies, renewed and elaborated uses of existing technologies, and an increasing sophistication in the analysis of individuals who have brain lesions, with the aim of understanding normal function.

The goals of introducing new funding for neuroscientific approaches within the core programs of the NSF Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences are to:

  1. Enhance support of research on the basic mechanisms of cognition and perception by fostering a neuroscientific approach that is grounded in current theory and that will yield data which will inform future theories;
  2. Provide substantially larger and longer grants for such work in recognition of the higher cost of conducting such studies;
  3. Foster collaborations among investigators from different fields who would benefit by working together on cognitive, affective and social neuroscience research;
  4. Foster the extension of this neuroscientific approach to studies of language, social and affective processes, developmental studies of cognition, memory, perception, higher cognitive processes, and sensory and attentional processes;
  5. Support basic developmental cognitive neuroscience studies of the brain mechanisms that help explain when and how children learn new knowledge and skills. (See the National Science and Technology Council's 1997 report: Investing in our Future: A National Research Initiative for America's Children in the 21st Century.)

Funding for neuroscientific approaches will be available in several forms. Regular, multi-year research proposals will continue to be reviewed and funded by the existing disciplinary programs in Human Cognition and Perception, Linguistics, Social Psychology, Child Learning and Development, and Physical Anthropology. Each of these programs has target dates of January 15 and July 15 each year (for an exception, see the web page for the Physical Anthropology Program). For the January 2001 target date only, investigators needing an extension beyond the target date are strongly encouraged to contact the appropriate Program Director listed at the end of this letter. Examples of appropriate grant proposals include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Studies of cognitive, perceptual, linguistic, developmental, affective and social processes using techniques such as fMRI, PET, MEG, ERP, or single-unit recording with the aim of developing theories about these processes.
  2. Joint use of more than one tool or technology to understand the spatial and temporal localization of cognitive, affective, or social processes.
  3. Neuroscientific studies of the relation between brain development and cognitive, linguistic, social, and affective behaviors.
  4. Development and implementation of computational models of neural processes underlying these behaviors.
  5. Projects focused on behavior and brain activation in individuals with adventitious lesions in order to elucidate the neural mechanisms underlying specific cognitive, affective or social behaviors.
  6. Studies exploring the evolution of cognitive, affective or social behaviors.

In addition to regular, multi-year research proposals submitted to the disciplinary programs as described above, several additional funding mechanisms will be used with the goal of building research capacity in cognitive neuroscience. These include small grants for pilot projects and planning activities, workshops, and doctoral dissertation research. Proposals for these activities must be submitted no later than April 16, 2001, and must focus on one of the following four areas:
Small grants for pilot projects. To encourage the application of neuroscientific approaches to novel and groundbreaking problems, small grants will be made for pilot research efforts. These awards will give investigators the opportunity to perform a small number of innovative experiments, ideally with the aim of gathering preliminary data to justify or motivate a larger, multi-year research grant. These small grants may be especially useful for new investigators (including postdoctoral trainees in collaboration with a faculty sponsor) and more-established individuals who are using these approaches for the first time. Requests should normally not exceed $50,000 for 12 months, including indirect costs.
Planning grants. Recognizing that the creation of collaborations in the emerging field of cognitive neuroscience takes some time, investigators may apply for small planning grants. The goal of these grants is to seed a new collaboration that may lead to the development of a team of scientists from several disciplines. These planning grants should be used in the service of performing pilot research on a new problem to develop empirical or theoretical understanding that might lead to further research by the collaborative team. Requests should normally not exceed $75,000 for 12 months, including indirect costs.
Workshops. To further develop the interdisciplinary work that will be necessary for successful research in cognitive neuroscience, workshops will be supported that bring together diverse scientific partners around specific topics. These workshops should be targeted to topics that could benefit from a small group conferring about the latest results and theoretical developments. The maximum request can be $30,000 for 12 months, including indirect costs.
Doctoral dissertation improvement grants. To improve training in neuroscientific approaches to cognitive, affective, perceptual, social, and developmental research problems, programmatic support will be provided to graduate students in the form of doctoral dissertation improvement grants. These awards can provide funds for items not normally available through the student's university, for significant data-gathering projects, and to conduct research away from the student's home campus. The maximum request can be $18,000 for 12 months, with no indirect costs, stipend, or tuition expenses allowed.

Specific guidelines for the submission of proposals can be found below.

We view these grant opportunities as providing an initial investment in a rapidly growing area of emphasis at the National Science Foundation. We anticipate that a major new program announcement will be released during the summer or fall of 2001, calling for new proposals in the area of Cognitive Neuroscience. Whether you decide to submit a proposal now or later, watch for news of this exciting initiative on the NSF website.


Philip Rubin, Ph.D.
Director, Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Science

Proposal Submission Guidelines

Proposals submitted in response to this Dear Colleague letter should be prepared and submitted in accordance with the general guidelines contained in the Grant Proposal Guide (GPG), NSF 01-2. The complete text of the GPG (including electronic forms) is available electronically on the NSF Web site at Paper copies of the GPG may be obtained from the NSF Publications Clearinghouse, telephone (301) 947-2722 or by e-mail from NSF FastLane requirements apply to all proposals submitted in response to this Dear Colleague letter. Proposers are reminded to select the announcement number of this letter (01-41) in the program announcement/solicitation block on the FastLane Proposal Cover Sheet. Compliance with this requirement is critical to determining the relevant proposal processing guidelines. Failure to submit this information may delay processing.

Investigators are strongly encouraged to contact one or more of the following program officers to determine if their proposed ideas fall within the goals of this emphasis:

Human Cognition and Perception Program (
Joseph L. Young, Ph.D. (703) 292-8732

Linguistics Program (
Catherine Ball, Ph.D. (703) 292-8731

Social Psychology Program (
Steven J. Breckler, Ph.D. (703) 292-8728

Child Learning and Development Program (
Rodney R. Cocking, Ph.D. (703) 292-8732

Physical Anthropology (
Mark L. Weiss, Ph.D. (703) 292-7321

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance CFDA Number 47.075
OMB# 3145-0058
NSF Publication Number: 01-41