G-Computation and Agent-Based Modeling for Social Epidemiology: Can Population Interventions Prevent Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

Stephen J. Mooney, Aaron B. Shev, Katherine M. Keyes, Melissa Tracy, Magdalena Cerdá

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agent-based modeling and g-computation can both be used to estimate impacts of intervening on complex systems. We explored each modeling approach within an applied example: interventions to reduce posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We used data from a cohort of 2,282 adults representative of the adult population of the New York City metropolitan area from 2002-2006, of whom 16.3% developed PTSD over their lifetimes. We built 4 models: g-computation, an agent-based model (ABM) with no between-agent interactions, an ABM with violent-interaction dynamics, and an ABM with neighborhood dynamics. Three interventions were tested: 1) reducing violent victimization by 37.2% (real-world reduction); 2) reducing violent victimization by100%; and 3) supplementing the income of 20% of lower-income participants. The g-computation model estimated population-level PTSD risk reductions of 0.12% (95% confidence interval (CI): -0.16, 0.29), 0.28% (95% CI: -0.30, 0.70), and 1.55% (95% CI: 0.40, 2.12), respectively. The ABM with no interactions replicated the findings from g-computation. Introduction of interaction dynamics modestly decreased estimated intervention effects (income-supplement risk reduction dropped to 1.47%), whereas introduction of neighborhood dynamics modestly increased effectiveness (income-supplement risk reduction increased to 1.58%). Compared with g-computation, agent-based modeling permitted deeper exploration of complex systems dynamics at the cost of further assumptions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)188-197
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican journal of epidemiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022


  • agent-based modeling
  • g-computation
  • mathematical models
  • posttraumatic stress disorder
  • social epidemiology
  • violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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