A narrative review of the use of agent-based modeling in health behavior and behavior intervention


Studies of health behaviors and behavior intervention have begun to explore the potential of agent-based modeling (ABM). A review of how ABMs have been used in health behavior, behavior intervention, and corresponding insights is warranted. The goal of this study was to provide a narrative review of the applications of ABMs in health behavior change and intervention. I will focus on two perspectives: (a) the mechanism of behavior and behavior change and (b) ABMs' use for behavior intervention. I identified and reviewed 17 ABMs applied to behaviors including physical activity, diet, alcoholic drinking, smoking, and drug use. Among these ABMs, I grouped their mechanisms of behavior change into four categories and evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of each mechanism. For behavior intervention, I evaluated the use of ABMs on levels of individual, interpersonal, and neighborhood environment. Various behavior change mechanisms and simplifications existed because of our limited knowledge of behaviors at the individual level. Utility maximization was the most frequently used mechanism. ABMs offered insights for behavior intervention including the benefits of upstream interventions and multilevel intervention, as well as balances among various factors, outcomes, and populations. ABMs have been used to model a diversity of behaviors, populations, and interventions. The use of ABMs in health behavior is at an early stage, and a major challenge is our limited knowledge of behaviors at the individual level.

Publication Title

Translational Behavioral Medicine