Computer game rewards players for shirking flu shots

Flu shots help stem the spread of flu, yet many millions of Americans don't get them. Economists have puzzled over the issue and came up with some interesting conclusions from their use of a computer game to study human behaviors related to protecting against disease.

The online computer game put players in a virtual pickle. Faced with virtual epidemics, players had to decide whether to spend on preventive measures or improve their game scores by shirking them. At the end of the game, they got real gift cards equal to the points earned in the game. The Wake Forest University researchers, clearly, rigged the game to study human behavior more than simulate the real world.

That said, they concluded that perks could help motivate people to get flu shots. They say that paid time off to get flu shots or on-site flu shots could boost vaccination rates. In a release, the group notes that more than half of Americans hadn't gotten flu shots despite widespread cases of the illness in 41 states in the U.S. And health officials have obviously failed to entice many people with easy access to vaccines at drug stores and other measures.

"When it comes to policies for disease control, one size does not fit all. Some people are very risk tolerant and some are super risk averse," Fred Chen, who studies the economics of disease control, stated in a release. "Our research shows that to prevent an epidemic, there is a need to tailor a menu of options for different kinds of people."

- here's the release