Spontaneous social distancing in response to a simulated epidemic: a virtual experiment

Adam Kleczkowski, Savi Maharaj, Susan Rasmussen, Lynn Williams, Nicole Cairns

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34 Citations (Scopus)
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Studies of social distancing during epidemics have found that the strength of the response can have a decisive impact on the outcome. In previous work we developed a model of social distancing driven by individuals’ risk attitude, a parameter which determines the extent to which social contacts are reduced in response to a given infection level. We showed by simulation that a strong response, driven by a highly cautious risk attitude, can quickly suppress an epidemic. However, a moderately cautious risk attitude gives weak control and, by prolonging the epidemic with out reducing its impact, may yield a worse outcome than doing nothing. In real societies, social distancing may arise spontaneously from individual choices rather than being imposed centrally. There is little data available about this as opportunistic data collection during epidemics is difficult. Our study uses a simulated epidemic in a computer game setting to measure the social distancing response.
Original languageEnglish
Article number973
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2015


  • epidemics
  • social distancing
  • agent based models
  • participatory simulation
  • virtual experiments


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