Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.

The Funding of Behavior Analytic Research in the U.S. Federal Government

By Barbara A. Wanchisen, Ph.D.


When it comes to the U.S. Federal Government, there are many funding sources, such as the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, to name just two. All sources are worth investigating, but my comments will focus on two of the largest funding sources of psychological research in Washington: the National Science Foundation ( and the National Institutes of Health ( My comments will be less concerned with the mechanics of obtaining grants and more on my observations in Washington as an advocate for the psychological sciences. As a behavior analyst and former academic, I hope that my insights will be of some help.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) is viewed as the premier source of basic science funding. Their predominant focus is on the physical and life sciences but there is also the Directorate of Behavioral, Social and Economic Sciences (BSE). It is important to note that the budget for BSE is small in comparison to the other directorates and that most of what they fund in psychological realms is more in line with your cognitive counterparts and neuroscientists than in basic behavioral processes. In fact, when it comes to basic research, a behavior analyst has a very small chance of funding at the NSF as things currently stand - that is, all animal behavior is reviewed in NSF's Biology Directorate, and your kind of work is not at the top of their list. I do not like saying this, since the more applications made the better - one way to make a big impact at the NSF is to flood them with related applications and then they will be forced to deal with the field. However, I would be dishonest if I said that one application (in your field) out of the many they receive (in Biology) would make an impact. (I must hasten to add that a number of us are working on this problem at the NSF and I hope to report better news to you one day.)


As for applied research, there is little funded at the NSF since their focus is on basic processes; however, the Education Directorate might consider certain topics of interest to you. In fact, if you do work related to their mission, the Directorate of Computers and Information Sciences could be an area where you could have some success.


Finally, NSF does have a program area called "Crosscutting" that you might want to explore. It is multi-disciplinary or cuts across various sciences and includes such topics as women in science, liaisons of academics with industry, and the like. All of the NSF program areas are listed on the first page of their web page (


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is absolutely "the" place where I would go as a behavior analyst to seek funding. Perhaps surprisingly to some of you, the NIH funds both basic and applied research, not just the applied. Sometimes people have asked if the NIH (or any agency really) is biased against the behavior analytic tradition and, from what I have seen and heard, that is simply not the case. In my experience here, agencies are seeking good science and internal disputes of approach to a field are irrelevant.
That said, one way to get a good sense of where you might find your application reviewed (and simply to find out what NIH funds) is to visit this page: This shows the names of the various study groups (scroll to the Bs for example for all the behaviorally-oriented ones) and the names of people who sit on them. One of interest to those doing basic research would be Biobehavioral Regulation, Learning, & Ethology (BRLE) and a glance at the roster reveals that your reviewers would include folks like Peter Balsam (chair), Nancy Ator, Mark Galizio, Howard Rachlin, and Shep Siegel (to name a few). These are people who are or have been funded by NIH in the past and my point here is to say that you will likely have your application reviewed by "friendly" faces. (However, contacting them directly is not advised - always go through the NIH program officer for information.)


BRLE funds this sort of work (excerpt taken directly from the web page):


Learning, cognition, and behavioral control: Classical and operant conditioning; sensitization and habituation; choice; observational and social learning; sensory, perceptual, spatial, motor, and navigational abilities; timing, counting and other quantitative abilities; attention; memory; categorization; problem-solving; executive function


Behavioral mechanisms of substance abuse: Preferences and aversions; craving; tolerance and sensitization; discriminative and reinforcing effects of abused substances; subjective, sensory, perceptual, and performance effects; vulnerabilities to dependence; social influences; learning-theoretic and behavioral economic approaches


Animal models of psychopathology and treatment: Processes underlying fear, depression, mania, violence, regulatory dysfunction, cognitive dysfunction, behavioral [dis]inhibition; genetic, biological, and social influences on development of pathology; behavioral interventions; behavioral aspects of psychopharmacologic interventions


This is just one example and one that may mostly of interest to the basic researchers of ABA. Note that quite a bit of applied research is funded at the NIH in areas that are of interest to applied behavior analysts. A major initiative at the NIH is understanding autism spectrum disorder, not to mention depression in men as well - for more on these and other initiatives, visit: If you are interested in bridging basic work with applied, there is an NIH-wide initiative on "translational research." This is an interesting area because they seek proposals where an applied researcher plans and works with a basic researcher and so both "sides" get added insight and benefit. (Mike Perone, ABA International President, has written recently in this newsletter about this initiative and in fact, ABA International hosted a special set of meetings here in Washington to raise awareness that ABA is well-grounded in thinking this way about research problems.)


Spending some time browsing the NIH site will give you a great deal of information and insight. Not all of a behavior analyst's research will be funded via an "obvious" institute like the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) but nowadays many institutes include interest in behavioral (psychological) work. For example, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a leading funding institute of your kind of applied (and basic for that matter) work. Also some of you have received funding from the National Institute of Child and Human Development (NICHD). Other institutes who fund your type of work well include the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism. (All of these institutes, by the way, are under the umbrella of the NIH.) Special opportunities can be obtained through the Small Business Innovations Research program and should be seriously considered.


One thing I have learned about the NIH is how important outreach and good communication are to the directors. That said, I can say with great confidence that program officers believe it is their duty and mission to talk to potential applicants. Once you find someone on their pages who seems to be interested in your kind of work, do not hesitate to call or email that person directly! If you contact the wrong person, soon you will be on the right track. This is not a hollow statement - they will help you and in talking to someone, it will likely take the fear out of the process. They are there to help and want to help so at least see if your idea is on the right track before you fill out any forms or go further.


As you know, there are many sources of funding of research in the United States, not the least of which is from private foundations and businesses (non-governmental). For a good list of available funding, you might try "Fund Source" on the web page of the Decade of Behavior ( Also it is wise to ask others in your area of interest where they receive funding, as this can be an invaluable source of information.


Finally, ABA International is a member of the Federation and while I am afraid to say this to the thousands of you who receive the ABA Newsletter, if you think I can be of any help, please email me at and I will certainly try! Good luck!




Modifed by Eddie Soh