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Humans sitting at Blombos Cave

Humans occupied Blombos Cave, on the shore of the Indian Ocean, 75,000 years ago. Accumulated dune sand then closed off the cave. About 2,000 years ago, rising sea levels re-opened Blombos and humans returned.
Credit: C. Henshilwood, F. d'Errico

Cover Page Credit: Additional credits appear throughout the site.

Out of fascination and need, people have always studied other people. When scientific methods are applied to those observations, the studies help characterize and analyze our behavior, social and political institutions, family and community structures and our economies. Scientific studies of people and society help answer age-old human contemplations.

  row bullet How did humans develop as a species? What can we discover about social relations in different societies from the past – and present?
  row bullet How does language develop? How do languages function as communication, and then disappear?
  row bullet How do people develop as social beings? How do people develop as individuals?
  row bullet How do people make decisions? How do people perceive choices and risks?
  row bullet How do social institutions develop? How do economic, legal, political, and scientific institutions develop?
  row bullet How do people effect change? In what ways does change affect behavior in today’s complex social environment?

NSF supports research that addresses these broad questions. Study results have provided insights and pathways to change in such disparate areas as parent-child relationships, the use of tools in a society 2 million years old, and Federal Communications Commission auctions. Read more about those studies by clicking on the questions above.

In building research programs that study people and society, NSF has sought to fund the best ideas proposed. Although basic research on people and society does not always lead to direct applications, scientific results often have important implications for individual and societal well-being. To enable such results, NSF sponsors the development and maintenance of data sets that provide rich opportunities for further research. And NSF invests in students and researchers who lead the progress of scientific research about people and society.

Rebuilding the Mosaic--NSF's Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences communities weigh in on the future of basic research in the SBE sciences . . .
Rebuilding the Mosaic: Fostering Research in the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences at the National Science Foundation in the Next Decade
(PDF, 1.96 Mb)