What is biosocial research?

Biosocial research is concerned with the dynamic interplays between biology, experiences and behaviours over the life course. Encompassing multidisciplinary science, biosocial research brings together expertise from the biological, medical and social sciences. It enhances the depth and breadth of insights drawn from research, thereby improving the positive impacts of research on policy and society.

Our biosocial research

The ESRC is committed to helping facilitate the emerging biosocial research agenda. Our Framework to Enable Biosocial Research (PDF, 80Kb), developed in partnership with the MRC, BBSRC and Wellcome, sets out our ambitions for the engagement of the social sciences in biosocial research. The Framework underpins our activity and investment in this innovative field and aims to maximise the benefits for social science. Our vision is to build partnerships, resources and capacity to meet the challenges in fostering biosocial research.

We are engaged with other funders for whom biosocial research is an interest and will work in partnership with them to support the development of a connected biosocial research landscape, with excellent UK social science at its heart.

Our biosocial resources

We have invested in a rich and diverse range of resources for biosocial research and recognise the need to ensure that social scientists realise the huge potential of this biosocial data emerging from longitudinal studies. The Secondary Data Analysis initiative, now an open, response-mode scheme, provides funding for the exploitation of such data resources, encouraging applications in interdisciplinary areas such as biosocial research.

A wealth of health measures which can be used for interdisciplinary research are collected as part of Understanding Society, the world’s largest household panel study. You can hear about the study’s biomarker and genetic data by listening to the Understanding Society podcast.

Three of Britain's internationally renowned birth cohort studies - the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS), the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) and the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) (a cohort of children born in 2000-01), housed by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) - collect biomedical data. Access to the CLS and Understanding Society biomedical resources is available via the META-DAC (Managing Ethico-social and Technical issues and Administration Data Access Committee).

Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources (CLOSER) aims to maximise the use, value and impact of longitudinal studies, both at home and abroad and works to stimulate interdisciplinary research, develop shared resources, provide training, and share expertise. Its work packages include projects on harmonisation of strategies for the exploitation of biological sample collections and well as harmonisation of key biomedical measures and linkage to health data.

Working with other research funders we are creating opportunities for strategic partnerships to enable biosocial research. The joint ESRC-BBSRC investment in epigenetics research is an example of a key emerging platform for interdisciplinary research, among the biological and social sciences.

We have also invested with the MRC in the second wave of Born in Bradford, which was originally set up in 2007 to track the lives of 13,500 babies and their families. Wave 2 will collect social and biomedical information from at least 9,000 BiB children at age 7-10 years and their parents, to investigate the determinants of: child social and emotional wellbeing; child cognitive and motor development in childhood; and healthy growth in children, and of adiposity and cardiometabolic health in children and adults.

Knowledge exchange and capacity building for biosocial research

We recognise the need for social scientists to have the skills and training to engage with the biosocial research agenda. We aim to build capacity to ensure social scientists have the skills required to exploit our biosocial data resources. Our investment in our Future Research Leaders has created the opportunity for early career social scientists to develop their biosocial research skills and we have invested in our Research Seminars and Networks to build networks at the biosocial interface.

The ESRC has been reviewing the skills and capacity that need to be developed within the social science research community to enable the exploitation of Big Data and research that is at the interface between the social and biological sciences. As such, biosocial data analysis was identified as a priority theme for new methods development through our National Centre for Research Methods and we have commissioned a Biosocial Centre for Doctoral Training, with BBSRC.

An article on the ABCDE of Biosocial, written by Professor John Hobcraft, has also been published in issue 24 of Society Now (PDF, 2.8Mb).

We are also publishing a series of biosocial blogs, with contributions from the ESRC, ESRC-funded researchers and others within the biosocial community.