Planning horizon affects prophylactic decision-making and epidemic dynamics

Nardin LG, Miller CR, Ridenhour BJ, Krone SM, Joyce P, Baumgaertner BO


The spread of infectious diseases can be impacted by human behavior, and behavioral decisions often depend implicitly on a planning horizon—the time in the future over which options are weighed. We investigate the effects of planning horizons on epidemic dynamics. We developed an epidemiological agent-based model (along with an ODE analog) to explore the decision-making of self-interested individuals on adopting prophylactic behavior. The decision-making process incorporates prophylaxis efficacy and disease prevalence with the individuals’ payoffs and planning horizon. Our results show that for short and long planning horizons individuals do not consider engaging in prophylactic behavior. In contrast, individuals adopt prophylactic behavior when considering intermediate planning horizons. Such adoption, however, is not always monotonically associated with the prevalence of the disease, depending on the perceived protection efficacy and the disease parameters. Adoption of prophylactic behavior reduces the epidemic peak size while prolonging the epidemic and potentially generates secondary waves of infection. These effects can be made stronger by increasing the behavioral decision frequency or distorting an individual’s perceived risk of infection.