Prosocial behaviour as a tool in the fight against antibiotic resistance


Antibiotic resistant bacteria are directly responsible for more than 1 million deaths annually, posing a significant global health concern. Even though we cannot prevent bacterial evolution, we have the power to slow down the development of antibiotic resistance through behavioural changes. A study recently published in Patient shows that more altruistic people tend to care more about their contribution to antibiotic resistance, suggesting that prosocial messages could help to decrease the demand for antibiotic treatments.

According to the authors, individuals with a stronger sense of altruism are generally more concerned about their role in contributing to antibiotic resistance. Encouraging a sense of prosocial responsibility can effectively encourage individuals to consider the broader implications of their antibiotic use. Prosociality is defined as 'actions that benefit others, often at a personal cost to the actor'. It plays a vital role in health systems, particularly in cases where the well-being of the community is directly affected by the health and behaviours of individuals.

Building awareness about the consequences of antibiotic resistance and instilling trust in healthcare can contribute to a more responsible approach to antibiotic use. In a universal and overtly non-discriminatory healthcare system, the individual burden of postponing or withholding antibiotic treatment for the sake of others is arguably more acceptable than in others. But people engaging in prosocial behaviour for the common good requires an adequate grasp of antibiotic resistance and awareness of the problem.

“We all need to understand the relationship between our own potential contribution to the problem and the consequences of a decrease in antibiotic effectiveness. If people become aware of what they themselves can contribute, they are not only able to act but also more likely to engage in this prosocial behaviour and trusting that others will do the same – which will have a positive effect in and of itself as positive expectations on others increase the likelihood that we will act prosocially ourselves,” says Mirko Ancillotti, post-doc researcher at the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics at Uppsala University.

By Märta Karlén

Ancillotti, M., Huls, S.P.I., Krockow, E.M. et al. Prosocial Behaviour and Antibiotic Resistance: Evidence from a Discrete Choice Experiment. Patient (2023).

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Last modified: 2022-01-10