Reflections on a virtual experiment addressing human behavior during epidemics

Delaney, Liam and Kleczkowski, Adam and Maharaj, Savi and Rasmussen, Susan and Williams, Lynn (2013) Reflections on a virtual experiment addressing human behavior during epidemics. In: Summer Simulation Multi-Conference 2013, 2013-07-07 - 2013-07-10.

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Abstract

We report on preliminary results from a pilot study using a virtual experiment to analyse human behavior during epidemics of an infectious disease. The experiment used a two-dimensional computer game representing an epidemic scenario, linked to an agentbased simulation of an epidemic spreading through a large population. 230 participants played the game and completed questionnaires about their characteristics in relation to a psychological model of health behaviour, Protection Motivation Theory. 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. However, there was no correlation between the strength of this response and a number of psychological factors that are known to be associated with health protective behavior in the real world. This suggests that participants might not have responded to the game in the same way they would respond to a real epidemic. We discuss possible explanations for this mismatch, drawing on ideas from experimental behavioral economics, psychology, computer game design, and the study of virtual worlds, and suggest ways in which our experimental methodology could be improved to produce a more realistic response.