Social and Behavioral Sciences

Social and behavioral sciences are concerned with the mental, emotional, and social well-being of a population, which is equally important to public health as physical well-being. Indeed, the health of a person’s mind has a direct effect on the health of their body. Therefore, this dimension of public health revolves around those psychological, social, and cultural factors that contribute to societal health. The logic is that maintaining and improving these factors will have positive results for the physical health of a population.

Traditional social sciences include anthropology, sociology, criminology, and the behavioral aspect is concerned with cognitive science and psychology. The study of a culture may determine how certain belief systems and perspectives shape the practices and habits of a particular population. The study of how people interact with one another may shed some light on how emotional bonds and human relationships affect health, and of course, the mental health of a population can either hinder or encourage healthy living. Public health approaches these sciences from the standpoint of researching their implications and making an effort to promote a healthy mindset for healthy living.


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Social and behavioral sciences in public health study systems of racism, sex discrimination, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice that have tangible repercussions on a group’s health. Professionals in these fields study psychological disorders and their effects on people’s’ bodies, and societal values and structures that shape people’s views on their own health practices. Poverty comes into play, as does the dissemination of information and resources.

In identifying Social and Behavioral Sciences as a core competency, the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) says, “the social and behavioral sciences in public health address the behavioral, social and cultural factors related to individual and population health and health disparities over the life course. Research and practice in this area contributes to the development, administration and evaluation of programs and policies in public health and health services to promote and sustain healthy environments and healthy lives for individuals and populations.” Upon graduation with an MPH degree, students should be able to:

  • “Identify basic theories, concepts and models from a range of social and behavioral disciplines that are used in public health research and practice.”
  • “Identify the causes of social and behavioral factors that affect health of individuals and populations.”
  • “Identify individual, organizational and community concerns, assets, resources and deficits for social and behavioral science interventions.”
  • “Identify critical stakeholders for the planning, implementation and evaluation of public health programs, policies and interventions.”
  • “Describe steps and procedures for the planning, implementation and evaluation of public health programs, policies and interventions.”
  • “Describe the role of social and community factors in both the onset and solution of public health problems.”
  • “Describe the merits of social and behavioral science interventions and policies.”
  • “Apply evidence-based approaches in the development and evaluation of social and behavioral science interventions.”
  • “Apply ethical principles to public health program planning, implementation and evaluation.”
  • “Specify multiple targets and levels of intervention for social and behavioral science programs and/or policies.”

Working as a public health professional in the fields of social and behavioral sciences opens you up to an entire world of possibilities. Careers in these fields are extremely varied: from advocacy groups and mental health facilities, to education and research. Social and behavioral science professionals help develop policies and programs that implement a change in the intangible factors that have tangible effects on public health. Political scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists are just a few of the jobs in this sector, each of which are projected to experience a growth between 5% and 30% in employment rate from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. For more specific information regarding career paths, visit our Public Health Jobs page!