James S. McDonnell Foundation Invites Applications for Opportunity Awards Program

The James S. McDonnell Foundation was founded in 1950 by aerospace pioneer James S. McDonnell to "improve quality of life" and seeks to do so by contributing to the generation of new knowledge through support of research and scholarship, and by encouraging knowledge-based solutions to important societal issues, especially in the St. Louis region.

To that end, the foundation welcomes applications for its 2021 JSMF Opportunity Awards. In 2020, JSMF announced priorities for the foundation’s support for the fields of cognitive science, cognitive psychology, and developmental science, with the aim of launching a funding initiative that would be forward-looking and responsive to contemporary questions while building on the foundation’s history. The Opportunity Awards were initiated because the foundation believes the time is right to advance the understanding of human cognition and behavior via a developmental science approach.

According to the foundation, much of the current understanding of behavior is derived from experimental laboratory work that makes substantive conceptual and methodological assumptions during task selection and data acquisition. Cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience experiments are typically pursued in artificial environments with subjects drawn from narrowly defined populations performing tasks assumed to be valid proxies for real cognition and behavior. As a result, these experiments may not reflect the naturally occurring, free-flowing behaviors humans engage in in their everyday lives. It is reasonable to ask how much has been missed or ignored because researchers’ experimental designs are based on pre-selected and specific aspects of cognition and behavior deemed to be of interest prior to the study. What more might be learned by challenging preconceived notions and common assumptions about cognition and behavior by advancing new theories and by using methods where it is possible to observe what behavior looks like in every day, real-world, dynamic contexts?

With the Opportunity Awards, JSMF is seeking to fund projects leading to new conceptual and empirical studies of cognition and behavior that recognize the dynamic nature of cognition and behavior; are situated in real world contexts; cut across levels of analysis; unite traditionally separate domains of inquiry (e.g., vision and speech); embrace complexity; and take into account how behavior is influenced by interactions among individuals. JSMF encourages researchers to pursue important questions using conceptual and methodological approaches that take seriously the trajectories, biological and experiential, contributing to the ongoing development of cognition and behavior occurring across the lifespan. Individual projects need not cover the full human life span but the reasons for focusing on specific age ranges for study should be fully articulated.

Awards will provide researchers with up to $250,000 in seed funding over a flexible time period (between two and four years) for the design and implementation of new studies motivated by questioning, revisiting, or the re-examination of the current state of academic knowledge of human cognition and behavior through a dynamic, context-sensitive lens. This call for proposals is focused on applications from researchers who are not now using the approaches described in this call for proposals but who want to adopt such an approach as an experimentally coherent way of conceptualizing, designing, and pursuing an understanding of human cognition and behavior

Applications must be submitted by an eligible institution (501(c)(3), government instrumentality, or foreign equivalent) on behalf of researchers with full-time faculty positions or the equivalent.

See the James S. McDonnell Foundation website for complete program guidelines and application instructions.

View another RFP related to social science

Deadline: March 01, 2021