The Game Theory on Health and Wellness

In game theory, let’s pose a question, if we were all better people the world would be a healthier place? Ask yourself whether this statement is true or false? In fact, this statement is false. Let’s examine the premise; just because a statement applies to an individual, it doesn’t necessarily apply to a group of people. And just because people are better doesn’t apply to any specific behavior. Yet, game theory can give precise meaning to the statement of both what it means to be a better person and what it means for the world to be a healthier place, and so making it possible to accurately assess the statement. The key to game theory and to understanding why good people may make the world an unhealthy place is to understand the delicate balance of equilibrium.

Game theory is what psychologists call the theory of social situations. Both concepts are focused on how a person or group interacts in a given situation. Your health represents an analysis of strategic choices. The details of your current health situation and timing of your lifestyle choices are crucial to determining the outcome of your overall health and wellness. Then of course branches of game theory can be compared to ones belief system having varied assumptions. A central assumption in many variants of game theory as in real life is that we are rational. A rational person is one who always chooses an action that offers a preferred outcome, given what that person believes to be true. Of course, in today’s world a rational health assumption tends to be relaxed, and the result can be assessed through our observable behaviors such as obesity, alcoholism, drug addiction, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. This type of thinking tends to generally be more descriptive than prescriptive in the context of a time sensitive health situation. We have a tendency to be short sided in our approach to wellness by looking at the immediate payoff of a health strategy measured by choices which result in the outcome most preferred and aligned with our belief system. The dominant strategies like those of weight-loss and the abstaining from alcohol or prescription drugs are rarely a priority. As players in life we randomly select from the newest, latest, and greatest invalidated thinking found in popular health magazines, which hold a small probability of effectiveness.

The payoffs in making healthy choices mimic our consistent willingness to achieve health against certain odds. Healthy choices should boil down to quality choices that provide a specific outcome or change of behavior that leads to the desired goal. This can involve such goals as maximizing one’s gains, maximizing the probability that a specific goal can be reached or minimizing one’s risks or losses.

The Value of Assessments

As it relates to game theory the more information you can have the better the strategy. Health risk appraisals are now widely validated and used to measure health and wellness status as well as change readiness, commitment and barriers to change. Individuals track probabilities, such as associations between events in their environments, but less is known about the degree to which these experiences influence behavioral choices in real time. Extended research reveals that both children and adults pay attention to probabilistic information across many situations. For example, a child might notice that certain actions are highly associated with making friends (e.g., sharing), whereas other actions are less likely to foster friendships (e.g., being bossy). However less is known about the processes whereby that child uses those experiences as a probability-learning tool. What is known is that all animals, including humans, are instinctual, and we may or may not be able to change behavior. So how do you increase the odds of change or compliance?


If you want to change your odds when it comes to changing a behavior, researchers have shown that people are 2 to 3 times more likely to stick with a habit if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. It could be as easy as saying to yourself, “I will schedule 30 minutes every Monday-Wednesday-Friday from 1:30-2:00PM to work out on the rowing machine at LA FITNESS.” Psychologists call these specific plans “implementation intentions” because they represent a statement defining the when, where, and how you intend to implement a particular behavior. However. research as revealed implementation intentions only work when you focus on one thing at a time. In fact, researchers found that people who tried to accomplish multiple goals were less committed and less likely to succeed than those who focused on a single goal.


When you begin practicing a new behavior it requires a lot of planning, focus and actually doing it. But like every behavior the more you practice the pattern of behavior the easier and more automatic it becomes. This new habit becomes a normal part of your routine and the process becomes automatic. This adaptation is called “automaticity.” Automaticity is ability to perform a behavior without thinking about each step, which allows the pattern to become automatic which takes several months for it to take root in the brain.


The counterintuitive response from all my research boils down to one thing, the best way to change you entire life is by changing one specific habit until you master it. Then move on to the next habit.


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