Reflections on a virtual experiment addressing human behavior during epidemics

Liam Delaney, Adam Kleczkowski, Savi Maharaj, Susan Rasmussen, Lynn Williams

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


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
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013
EventSummer Simulation Multi-Conference 2013 - Toronto, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Jul 201310 Jul 2013


ConferenceSummer Simulation Multi-Conference 2013
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • health psychology
  • epidemics
  • participatory simulation
  • virtual experiments
  • behavioral economics


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