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Fact Sheet

Human and Social Dynamics

February 13, 2004

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

A World of Change. The 20th century saw unprecedented growth in our understanding of the physical and biological worlds, and new technologies transformed everyday life and enabled the development of a more closely linked global economy. The 21st century has brought with it new hopes and possibilities for better living, but also change, uncertainty and disruption.

Social systems and human knowledge do not develop independently. Social systems shape what knowledge is produced and influence new markets and technologies. At the same time, new knowledge and technologies influence people and institutions. Because clearer insight into these relationships is essential for our nation's progress and well-being, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has initiated a new priority area in Human and Social Dynamics.

Goals. Through the Human and Social Dynamics priority area, NSF seeks to promote research and education activities that will enable the nation to better understand the human causes and responses to the myriad forms of change. Human and Social Dynamics aims to increase our ability to anticipate the complex consequences of change; to better understand how human and social behavior at all levels changes over time, including that of the human mind; to better understand the cognitive and social structures that create and define change; and to help people and organizations better manage profound or rapid change.

Understanding individual and group behavior in the context of natural, human-built and social environments poses immense challenges. The research must embrace interactions that range in time from nanoseconds to millennia and across scales-from the internal workings of the human mind to the interplay of global social and cultural systems. Accomplishing priority area goals requires a comprehensive approach across science and engineering research and education, including the development of an infrastructure that can support such efforts.

NSF Support. Following on seed funding of $10 million in FY03 (with awards to be announced in the first half of 2004), Human and Social Dynamics expects to fund $24 million in awards in FY04. The administration's FY05 budget request includes approximately the same amount for interdisciplinary research in Human and Social Dynamics, and the priority area will continue through FY08.

FY05 Emphasis Areas. In FY05, the priority area will build on its three primary topic areas-agents of change, dynamics of human behavior and decision-making and risk.

Agents of change. Research will focus on large-scale changes in humanity and society over different scales, such as industrial globalization; disease epidemics; the evolution of society and its interaction with the environment; the implications of cultural variation for conflict and assimilation the implications of transformations for diversity and equality; and adaptation and resistance to technological change and new science- and engineering-based knowledge.

Dynamics of human behavior. Research into the dynamics of human behavior includes such topics as links between mental processes and human behavior; how individuals and collective entities form, grow, learn, change, and act; and explorations of cognitive, computational, linguistic, developmental, social, economic, organizational, cultural, biological and other processes as dynamic, evolving systems.

Decision-making and risk. Research will focus on how humans and organizations can make better decisions in an uncertain world. Projects might explore changing risks and risk perception and how these changes affect decision making and help shape human and social behavior; individual and societal responses to risk, such as interpreting complex scientific information for decision making; decision making under uncertainty associated with many factors; responses to hazards and extreme events; how educational systems respond to changes in risk and risk perceptions; and basic understanding about chronic risks, especially in the areas of environment, energy and health.

In concert with those topic areas, three resource areas--spatial social science, modeling human and social dynamics and instrumentation and data resources--will focus on research to improve the tools available for conducting cutting-edge social and behavioral science research.

Spatial social science. Research will use recent technological advances such as global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS) to explore such topics as neighborhood effects on social outcomes, human interactions with the environment and the growth of organizations that defy traditional boundaries.

Modeling human and social dynamics. Research will focus on empirical, computational, mathematical and theoretical models of individuals, social groups, large organizations and economic and political systems and changes over time. Also included is the development and application of innovative approaches for improved understanding of complex social interactions, such as stochastic agent-based modeling, social network analysis and new techniques for modeling human behavior and interaction.

Instrumentation and data resource development. This area will develop instrumentation and software to expand the infrastructure available to the nation's social science community for cutting-edge research. NSF will also support research using advanced technologies and development of data resources, including new and extended longitudinal databases, collaboratories, and mechanisms for preserving confidentiality in databases to examine topics closely related to at least one of the three thematic focus areas of the competition.

Human and Social Dynamics home page:


Media Contacts
David Hart, NSF, (703) 292-7737, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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