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Gaming the Flu

Modern research revolving around medicine has made it possible for many different vaccines, especially the Flu vaccine. Although the Flu vaccine presents a positive externality and is relatively inexpensive or even free for some people not everyone receives a Flu shot. In many cases people are too lazy or do not think that the total cost of time and money to get the Flu shot is worth it. In response to the problem Rutgers psychologist Gretchen Chapman, employed game theory to understand how people decide wether or not to receive a Flu shot.  Game theory properly addresses this study because it is “designed to address situations in which the outcomes of a person’s decisions depend not just on how they choose among several options, but also on the choices made by the people with whom they interact.”

In order to find a way to influence people to get a Flu shot Chapman used a game theory set up where she and her colleagues divided 287 undergraduate students into groups described as “young” and “old.” Everyone started the game with 4,000 points and after either losing points for getting a Flu shot, or taking the risk and sometimes losing points to “getting sick,” the students were paid at the end based on the number of points they finished with. Therefore the two groups had a strategy to either get the Flu shot or not to get the Flu shot.  Additionally the game was divided by telling the young people they would receive points based on the total group’s points and the elderly would receive individual points. As a result, the Nash equilibrium settled with every “young” person getting a Flu shot and zero “elderly” people receiving a Flu shot.

As discussed in class, the Nash Equilibrium is the choice of strategies when the players choose strategies that are best responses to each other and no player has incentive to deviate to an alternative strategy. As a result even when there are no dominant strategies we should expect players to use strategies that are best responses to each other. In the case of Chapman’s game theory the Nash Equilibrium settled with every “young” person getting a Flu shot and zero “elderly” people receiving a Flu shot. Chapman points out that “Young” people who had been told they would be paid according to the group’s point total were much more likely to get vaccinated than “elderly” people who were paid according to their individual point totals.” As a result of this Nash Equilibrium it is evident that in order to get all members of society to take flu shots, especially the young members, people must be properly incentivized to care about more than just themselves.

Although with proper motivation all members of society will receive Flu shots, Chapman’s research highlights that when people only care for themselves (which  is often the case) zero people will get Flu shots. While Chapman points out that “the behavior results are a lot less extreme than the theoretical model,” her research compiled using game theory demonstrates that in order to increase the percentage of society that recieves Flu shots we must “make it worth peoples while,” and provide more incentive than just not getting sick. This research exemplifies why there is a large push around the country to decrease the cost of Flu shots and make them easily excessible to society. Due to the sad truth behind the game theory of Flu shots, that the majority of people will not think of society as a whole but rather just themselves  and not receive Flu shots, there must be an increase in incentives regarding Flu shots in the future.




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