Chalmers Conferences, 9th European Conference on Mathematical and Theoretical Biology

Human Behaviour During Epidemics: Results of a Virtual Experiment
Adam Kleczkowski, Savi Maharaj, Susan Rasmussen, Lynn Williams

Last modified: 2014-03-31


Existing epidemiological models have largely tended to neglect the impact of individual behaviour on the dynamics of diseases. However, awareness of the presence of illness can cause people to change their behaviour by, for example, staying at home and avoiding social contacts. Such changes can be used to control epidemics but they exact an economic cost. We present results from a study that involved mathematical modelling, computing and psychology. in our model, disease spread is controlled by allowing susceptible individuals to temporarily reduce their social contacts in response to the presence of infection within their local neighbourhood. We ascribe an economic cost to the loss of social contacts, and weigh this against the economic benefit gained by reducing the impact of the epidemic. We designed and carried out a series of experiments involving participants playing a computer game in which they could respond to epidemic threats by changing their behaviour. These choices were fed into a simulation model which updated the threats in response to participant actions.

The results show that participants responded to increasing infection load in their local neighbourhood by reducing their social contacts, as they would be expected to do in reality. There was a large variability in their response, both among the participants and within each game. We used an agent based model to scale up from the individual to the population behaviour. We show that most common response was to maximise the individual gains by staying uninfected for a long period of time. However, this individual behaviour leads to a large levels of disease prevelance at the population level.