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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

First OBSSR Director Anderson Remembered

Dr. Norman Anderson

Dr. Norman Anderson

Dr. Norman B. Anderson, a trailblazer in the field of behavioral and social sciences research who served as inaugural director of NIH’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) from 1995 to 2000, passed away on Mar. 1 while recovering from unexpected complications after knee surgeries.

A distinguished clinical psychologist, Anderson began his career as an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center where he studied the intersection of health and behavior, focusing on racial, ethnic and socioeconomic health disparities.

Joining OBSSR in 1995, he fervently championed integrating BSSR across NIH. Under his leadership, the office developed a comprehensive definition of behavioral and social sciences research and established itself as the cornerstone of the field at NIH. 

Anderson also oversaw the release of OBSSR’s first strategic plan, addressing critical behavioral and social science factors influencing public health.

During his tenure at OBSSR, he facilitated the launch of various funding opportunities that encouraged cross-disciplinary collaboration. He led initiatives to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions for sustained behavior change and drove research efforts to enhance our understanding of the impact of child neglect, to promote youth violence prevention and to improve adherence to long-term medicine regimens.

At a two-day celebration of OBSSR’s 10th anniversary in 2006, Anderson “recalled that he was often asked ‘why is such an office here?’” according to an NIH Record article. “He reminded listeners that, when he headed the office, he was fond of paraphrasing the late President John F. Kennedy: Ask not what NIH can do for behavioral and social sciences research; ask what social and behavioral sciences research can do for NIH. 

“Scientific advances could be accelerated by greater attention to behavioral and social sciences factors and their interactions with biomedical variables…[Anderson] offered three justifications for increased attention: behavioral and social factors are major contributors to health and illness; behavioral and social factors represent important avenues for diagnosis, treatment and prevention; and by focusing more on behavioral and social factors, NIH would be more effective in fulfilling its mission.”

A towering figure in behavioral and social science research, Anderson will be remembered as a wise, thoughtful, caring, humorous and supportive leader and mentor.

Survivors include his wife of more than 37 years, Elizabeth, and extended family.

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