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Gaming the Flu: How We Decide to Get Vaccinated, or Not

Already, members of the Cornell community are beginning to come down with the flu, . A recent study at Rutgers by Gretchen Chapman examined the role of game theory in individuals’ decisions to get vaccinated against the influenza virus. The study focused specifically on the choices of young students, as these individuals are historically more likely to contract the virus, but less likely to suffer significant health effects from it, unlike older members of their community. The key to limiting the negative public health effects of the virus lies in maximizing the number of young people who become vaccinated against it.

Unfortunately, convincing the most prolific spreaders of the disease to act for the benefit of their community usually doesn’t work – unless the game incentives it. Each player started with a certain number of points, and had to strategize to maximize their payout at the end of the experiment. Players were divided into two groups, “young” or “old”. In one, the players were paid based upon the final healthiness of their community, while in the other, players were paid based upon the points they earned by themselves. “Old” people lost significant points if they got sick, and “young” people had to pay points, albeit less, to become vaccinated.

Players chose to maximize their end benefit, either by choosing to be vaccinated in the first group, or by not choosing to be vaccinated in the second group. In the group where people were paid based upon individually accrued points, “old” participants opted to vaccinate themselves more than “young” participants did, while the reverse was true in the group where participants were rewarded based upon a group score. These findings were representative of a Nash Equilibrium, where players are predicted to act in a way that maximizes their own benefit.

-4.5 Degrees


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