MECHANISMS Study: Using Game Theory to Assess the Effects of Social Norms and Social Networks on Adolescent Smoking in Schools-Study Protocol

Ruth F Hunter, Felipe Montes, Jennifer M Murray, Sharon C Sanchez-Franco, Shannon C Montgomery, Joaquín Jaramillo, Christopher Tate, Rajnish Kumar, Laura Dunne, Abhijit Ramalingam, Erik O Kimbrough, Erin Krupka, Huiyu Zhou, Laurence Moore, Linda Bauld, Blanca Llorente, Olga L Sarmiento, Frank Kee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This proof of concept study harnesses novel transdisciplinary insights to contrast two school-based smoking prevention interventions among adolescents in the UK and Colombia. We compare schools in these locations because smoking rates and norms are different, in order to better understand social norms based mechanisms of action related to smoking. We aim to: (1) improve the measurement of social norms for smoking behaviors in adolescents and reveal how they spread in schools; (2) to better characterize the mechanisms of action of smoking prevention interventions in schools, learning lessons for future intervention research. The A Stop Smoking in Schools Trial (ASSIST) intervention harnesses peer influence, while the Dead Cool intervention uses classroom pedagogy. Both interventions were originally developed in the UK but culturally adapted for a Colombian setting. In a before and after design, we will obtain psychosocial, friendship, and behavioral data (e.g., attitudes and intentions toward smoking and vaping) from ~300 students in three schools for each intervention in the UK and the same number in Colombia (i.e., ~1,200 participants in total). Pre-intervention, participants take part in a Rule Following task, and in Coordination Games that allow us to assess their judgments about the social appropriateness of a range of smoking-related and unrelated behaviors, and elicit individual sensitivity to social norms. After the interventions, these behavioral economic experiments are repeated, so we can assess how social norms related to smoking have changed, how sensitivity to classroom and school year group norms have changed and how individual changes are related to changes among friends. This Game Theoretic approach allows us to estimate proxies for norms and norm sensitivity parameters and to test for the influence of individual student attributes and their social networks within a Markov Chain Monte Carlo modeling framework. We identify hypothesized mechanisms by triangulating results with qualitative data from participants. The MECHANISMS study is innovative in the interplay of Game Theory and longitudinal social network analytical approaches, and in its transdisciplinary research approach. This study will help us to better understand the mechanisms of smoking prevention interventions in high and middle income settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377
JournalFrontiers in public health
Publication statusPublished - 4 Aug 2020


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