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Bridging disciplinary divides for behaviorally modulated mathematical models in human epidemiology

Held May 6 - 7, 2021

This was an interdisciplinary conference to bridge disciplinary divides for behaviorally modulated mathematical models in human epidemiology. View the full conference report.


Infectious diseases alter the United States’ economy, society, and culture in complex ways, and these economic and social changes influence the way a pandemic develops.  For example, the on-going COVID-19 pandemic is having substantial economic, educational, social, and societal consequences, including changes in work and housing habits, labor markets, and social justice dialogues. Similarly, the HIV epidemic had a major impact on our society in the 1980's, far beyond those immediately impacted by the virus.

Mathematical models help make sense of these complex interactions. Constructing models of such complex socio-economic-epidemiological systems requires experts from the constituent fields to work together.  This conference brings together some of the world’s leading mathematics, epidemiological, and social science scholars who will chart a research agenda to enable policy makers to understand how infectious disease, economics, and society shape each other.  We anticipate the research agenda developed in the workshop will facilitate the discovery of new mathematical methods to jointly forecast epidemiological patterns, as well as new directions for future research in the behavioral, social, and economic sciences.

The conventional approach to the modelling of infectious diseases is to collect basic life-cycle data on the disease, and to overlay that onto structured population data to predict prevalence patterns, health outcomes, using differential equations, networks, agent-based simulation, or other relevant modelling approaches. These approaches are quite successful at day-ahead prediction, but aside from largely ad hoc parametric adjustments, these standard approaches have almost no ability to connect to behavioral based interventions. As a result, the models are not helpful to measure the benefits and costs (broadly defined) of behavioral interventions, which are critical when novel pathogens emerge.

There is expert knowledge and modeling work, related to epidemics, in economics and social behavioral sciences that can be used to better describe transmission, while providing internally consistent connections to society and the economy. But the disciplinary divides are difficult to bridge.  There are also limits in data collection, including scale, precision, and representativeness. This difficulty has been amplified by the fast growth of the scholarly literature over the last few years.  Bringing together a diverse group of scholars, scientists, and modelers will help everybody interested in the field to better understand what has been accomplished so far and produce a research agenda to improve mathematical models in human epidemiology in the future.

Pre-conference videos for all sessions are available for public view.

Plenary Sessions

Access the conference program for details outlining keynote speakers, moderators, and panelists. A folder containing all videos from the conference is available online. 

Thursday, May 6

Epidemic modeling and behavior
Panel discussion  | |  Report

Behavioral phenomena and their connection to epidemics
Panel discussion  | |  Report

Measuring response to policy changes and pathogen risks
Panel discussion  | |  Report

Network structure in epidemic models with behavior
Panel discussion  | |  Report

Friday, May 7

Rational epidemic theory and game theoretic models
Panel discussion  | |  Report

Connecting epidemic modelling to society
Panel discussion  | |  Report

How communication and information lead to learning and behavior
Panel discussion  | |  Report

Thank you to the many attendees for sharing your expertise, making the conference informative and engaging. 

Event Partners and Organizers

This is an NSF-sponsored interdisciplinary conference bringing together people with overlapping research interests in mathematical infectious disease modelling, economics, psychology, and the social sciences, to collectively access the current state of the field, exchange ideas on subjects ripe for interdisciplinary synthesis, and identify knowledge-gaps for future research.

Additional Information

For questions or additional details about the conference, please contact Dolores Albarracin at or 217-840-2383, or you may view the Bridging disciplinary divides for behaviorally modulated mathematical models in human epidemiology information document.