Areas of Research

Supported by over $12 million in external funding annually, faculty members in BSS conduct public health research across the translational spectrum. This work spans 

  • from qualitative research across diverse populations to sophisticated quantitative modeling of mechanisms of behavior change
  • from laboratory-based experiments to formative research with community partners
  • from development and testing of behavior change theories to projects that develop, evaluate, implement, and disseminate interventions to promote healthier behaviors and environments

BSS research engages community partners and employs the latest technological advances to measure behavior and social contexts and to deliver interventions.

BSS research and faculty expertise generally falls into the following nine broad research areas.


Research Areas


BSS faculty conduct empirical research on alcohol use across the translational research spectrum, with most of this work conducted through the internationally renowned Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies (CAAS). This research includes: investigations to characterize the neurobiological and neurocognitive predictors and consequences of alcohol use; laboratory and ecological momentary assessment studies of the contextual factors, mechanisms, and consequences of alcohol use; longitudinal cohort studies; treatment development and treatment outcome studies; studies of pharmacotherapy for alcohol use disorder, including pharmacotherapies with adolescents; and early intervention research.  Significant work has focused on comorbidity, particularly the comorbidity of alcohol with cannabis use, affective and other mental disorders, and cigarette smoking.  Adolescent use is of particular interest, including etiology and brief interventions for adolescent misuse.  Extensive treatment studies involve a variety of populations with particular emphasis on adolescents, college students, patients in substance use treatment programs, prisoners, and Emergency Department patients; many of these studies employ modern communication technologies to deliver behavioral interventions. CAAS houses the Alcohol Research Center on HIV, and BSS faculty collaborate on programmatic research on the biobehavioral interactions of alcohol use and HIV infection. This research that examines neurobiology of alcohol use in people living with HIV, the role of alcohol use on HIV transmission, and interventions to address alcohol use in people living with HIV and those at high risk for HIV infection.  



BSS Faculty focuses on research topics with behavioral and social issues towards improving health outcomes, often associated with chronic diseases.  Interventions are created to decrease the longer term risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension, as well as shorter term markers such as biochemical markers such as hemoglobin A1C, blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides and anthropometric or clinical measures such as blood pressure, body fatness, waist circumference and weight measures.  Additionally, long term risk of many types of cancer are studied.  Some infectious diseases, such as HIV and Hepatitis C have become chronic in their treatment plans.  In addition to these health outcomes, shorter term behaviors of screening for chronic diseases as or adherence to clinical care guidelines are often targeted.



BSS faculty examine multiple dimensions of drug use and misuse, employing a range of scientific methods. Such research includes: a marijuana administration laboratory to investigate various determinants of marijuana use and its effects; interventions to modify drug use in prisoners on release; investigating ways to address smoking in substance treatment programs; longitudinal studies on the developmental course of substance use throughout adolescence; medications for adolescents with comorbid cannabis and alcohol use; and dissemination/implementation of research findings. Behavioral economics plays a substantial role in our drug use portfolio. BSS’s portfolio on drug use and HIV includes research on drug use and HIV prevention in Latino adolescents, the syndemics of drug use with alcohol use and HIV risk in developing countries, drug and alcohol use in sexual minorities, and using new technologies to study and intervene in HIV risk behavior in substance users. Significant work has focused on comorbidity, particularly the comorbidity of alcohol and cannabis use and the comorbidity of affective disorders with cannabis use.



Global health research by BSS Faculty is emerging as a signature strength in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Our expanding global health research portfolio seeks solutions for issues of urgent concern in low- and middle-income countries—such as HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, reproductive health, mental health, substance use and addictions, and violence and victimization. We apply a range of research methodologies to examine these issues, including survey research, qualitative research, as well as clincial trials of behavior change interventions using counseling and mHealth techniques. Some of the current areas where our faculty conduct research include South Africa, Zambia, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru.


A primary aim of many BSS faculty members is to improve the health of underserved and diverse communities by understanding and eliminating inequities in health and healthcare outcomes. As a result, many BSS faculty members direct their research efforts toward addressing avoidable and preventable inequalities due to social, cultural, and environmental injustices.  Advanced quantitative and qualitative research methods are implemented across interdisciplinary teams using a community-based approach to prevent, reduce, and eliminate health inequities across diverse populations, including among racial and ethnic minorities, sexual and gender minorities and those in resource-limited settings—both domestically and globally. BSS faculty members conduct health equity research in the following content areas: HIV/STIs; mental health; obesity, nutrition, and physical activity; and, alcohol and other drug use.


HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in Rhode Island. Accordingly, there is both the need and opportunity to develop HIV-related research activities in Providence.  BSS faculty have a comprehensive HIV, STI and reproductive health research portfolio in collaboration with various domestic and international partners and funding agencies. Current research focuses on uptake and adherence to antiretroviral medications for the prevention and treatment of HIV; Documenting prevalence, incidence, and determinants (psychosocial, behavioral, biological and structural) of HIV and STI emergence and transmission in various at-risk populations; characterizing social, sexual and drug networks to better understand how connections (e.g., homophily, multiplexity), distributions (e.g., centrality, density), and segmentation (e.g., cohesion) potentiates HIV risk and infection; developing and testing integrated psychosocial treatment and HIV risk reduction interventions; development, evaluation, and implementation of interventions to modify behaviors that heighten an individual's vulnerability to becoming infected, or infecting others, with HIV; and research that advances health among myriad at-risk populations in resource-limited settings. A substantial body of research in BSS focuses on addressing alcohol, drug, and tobacco use in HIV prevention and care. Current studies in this topic are being conducted across several continents, including Asia, Africa, North America, South America, and Europe. 



BSS faculty are dedicated to conducting translational research to improve the health of all LGBT people. Sexual and gender minority groups experience health disparities as a result of multiple socio-cultural factors. Studies have shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) populations have higher prevalence of life-threatening physical and mental health conditions, experience greater barriers to health care access, and face substantial threats to quality of life compared to their heterosexual counterparts.  Current research is being conducted on: the impact of social policies on LGBT health; behavioral research on the sexual transmission of infectious diseases; interventions to decrease sexual risk for HIV and other STIs as well as to decrease substance use and other psychosocial problems, such as depression, among men who have sex with men and transgender individuals; examining the impact of sexual minority stressors on health outcomes; interventions for same sex couples that address the role of relationship dynamics on sexual health; research on LGBT families and households; and demographic aspects of LGBT health, morbidity, disability, and mortality.


Another area of research among BSS faculty is obesity, nutrition (including breastfeeding), and physical activity. Faculty research in this area involves multilevel community-based interventions, with a particular focus on enhancing health equity and reducing racial and ethnic disparities for underserved populations.  Other areas of emphasis include identification of social, cognitive, and affective mediators and moderators of intervention effects, sophisticated statistical modeling of behavior change, and issues related to dissemination of efficacious interventions.


Faculty in Behavioral and Social Sciences conduct a diverse body of research on tobacco and nicotine use and exposure, ranging from longitudinal studies on the initiation of electronic and combustible cigarette use in adolescence to studies of smoking cessation and environmental tobacco smoke avoidance in adulthood. BSS faculty conduct laboratory-based studies to investigate the reinforcing properties of nicotine, the effects of smoking abstinence, and the effects of pharmacotherapies on smoking, mood, and behavior. They also conduct randomized controlled trials to test novel behavioral and pharmacological methods of helping smokers quit, including studies using motivational interviewing, positive psychology, physical activity promotion, and contingency management to improve smoking outcomes. Smoking cessation interventions employ in-person counseling, text messaging, video, and web-based programs. A particular focus of tobacco research in BSS is on smoking cessation and the impact of tobacco regulatory policies in underserved and high-risk groups including: smokers with substance use disorders; smokers who drink alcohol heavily; pregnant women; people living with HIV; sedentary smokers; racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities; and people living with mental illness.