Science Jam #44: Disease avoidance may come at the cost of social cohesion: Insights from a large-scale social networking experiment


Science Jam is back! Thanks to the Young Complexity Researchers Utrecht (YCRU) group, they brought these biweekly sessions back to the CCSS for our researchers to discuss challenges in Complex Systems Studies.  Everyone is welcome!

Therefore, we cordially invite you to the Science Jam #44 on Thursday 13 April (12:30-13:30) at the Centre for Complex Systems Studies (CCSS) where you can:

  • Get a free gourmet lunch with the best sandwiches you can get at the Utrecht Science Park plus nice drinks;
  • Know one senior complexity researchers' work over one-hour lunch time;
  • Contribute your professional knowledge and experiences in a relaxing and informal setting;
  • Develop potential collaboration.

Leading complexity researcher: Prof. dr. ir. Vincent Buskens, Sociology

Vincent Buskens is professor of Theoretical Sociology at the Department of Sociology / ICS, Utrecht University. His current research focuses on formal and informal institutions to mitigate trust relations as well as the dynamics of social networks. To research these questions he applies a wide variety of theoretical and empirical tools including game theory, social simulation, laboratory experiments, vignette experiments, and survey research. Recently, he also did interdisciplinary work with psychologists and epidemiologists. For an overview of his publications see

It is known that people tend to limit social contact during times of increased health risks, thus leading to the disruption of social networks and changing the course of epidemics. It is, however, less known to what extent people show such avoidance reactions. To test the predictions and assumptions of an agent-based model on the feedback loop between avoidance behavior, social networks, and disease spread, we conducted a large-scale (2879 participants) incentivized experiment. The experiment rewards maintaining social relations and structures, and penalizes acquiring infections. We find that disease avoidance dominates networking decisions, despite relatively low penalties for infections; and that participants use more sophisticated strategies than expected to prevent infections, while they forget to maintain a profitable network structure. Consequently, we observe lower numbers of infections than predicted, but also deterioration of network positions. These results imply that the focus on a more obvious signal (i.e., disease avoidance) may lead to unwanted side effects (i.e., loss of social cohesion).

Everyone is welcome and please feel free to invite your colleagues/friends/classmates/students to join us. 

If you would like to have the lunch arrangement, please sign up before 15:00 Wednesday 12 April.


Start date and time
End date and time
Physical Meeting >> CCSS Living Room, Room 4.16, Minnaertgebouw