How social learning shapes the efficacy of preventative health behaviors in an outbreak

Simon Carrignon*, R. Alexander Bentley, Matthew Silk, Nina H. Fefferman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The global pandemic of COVID-19 revealed the dynamic heterogeneity in how individuals respond to infection risks, government orders, and community-specific social norms. Here we demonstrate how both individual observation and social learning are likely to shape behavioral, and therefore epidemiological, dynamics over time. Efforts to delay and reduce infections can compromise their own success, especially when disease risk and social learning interact within sub-populations, as when people observe others who are (a) infected and/or (b) socially distancing to protect themselves from infection. Simulating socially-learning agents who observe effects of a contagious virus, our modelling results are consistent with with 2020 data on mask-wearing in the U.S. and also concur with general observations of cohort induced differences in reactions to public health recommendations. We show how shifting reliance on types of learning affect the course of an outbreak, and could therefore factor into policy-based interventions incorporating age-based cohort differences in response behavior
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0262505
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


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