Researchers apply lessons of animal herd behavior to reduce alcohol-related traffic deaths

May 16, 2013, Polytechnich Institute of New York City

Maurizio Porfiri, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), is best known for his work on biologically inspired robots that mimic the movement of schooling fish so convincingly that real fish are enticed to follow them.

Watching the of animals made him wonder: Could his knowledge of herd behavior have any application in the world of ? So when he approached James Macinko, associate professor of public health and health policy in NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, to learn about the latest research in public health, the idea of collaborating on alcohol-related traffic fatalities readily arose.

With Diana Silver, NYU Steinhardt assistant professor of public health and health policy, they have launched the first national study ever to apply systems science—an interdisciplinary field that takes into account entire interwoven systems—to the issue. The National Institutes of and Alcoholism (NIAAA), one of the institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health, is funding their study.

Macinko and Silver had been studying how individual states develop public policies on a range of health topics, such as drinking and driving, and were exploring how different combinations of health laws and policies work in concert or at odds with one another. Their work asks how states' political and economic profiles affect the adoption and diffusion of policy, and the effect of state health policy variation on health over time. Seeking new ways to analyze their complex data, Macinko and Silver turned to Porfiri in the hope that his dynamical systems research could lead them to a major breakthrough.

"Gaining a detailed understanding of state policy-making around alcohol and traffic fatalities should be a priority", Macinko pointed out, "since are a leading cause of death and strong public policies can be powerful tools for ensuring and safety."

Porfiri hypothesized that perhaps just as the movement of one fish can determine the movement of other fish, one state could similarly affect the behavior of other states.

"In this project we want to discover which is more important: ideology or geography," Porfiri said. "Will one state pass a law similar to that in another state because they are geographically close to one another or because they share an ideology? How are effective public policies diffused from state to state, and how can we predict that?"

Explore further: Public opinion lights the fire for politicians to adopt anti-smoking bans

Related Stories

Public opinion lights the fire for politicians to adopt anti-smoking bans

January 26, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Citizens aren't just blowing smoke when it comes to anti-tobacco legislation—and they tend to copy what neighboring states do, new research shows.

Study reveals austerity's harmful impact on health in Greece

April 18, 2013
In one of the most detailed studies of its kind, a team of Greek and U.S. researchers have vividly chronicled the harmful public health impacts of the economic austerity measures imposed on Greece's population in the wake ...

Recommended for you

Best of Last Year—The top Medical Xpress articles of 2017

December 20, 2017
It was a good year for medical research as a team at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, found that dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. Any exercise helps, the team found, but dancing ...

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.