Impulsive Fatalists, who make up approximately 17% of the Canadian population, are the most personally concerned about epidemics


When I left Canada on a trip to South Asia on January 20, China had reported three deaths from the condition then known as the new coronavirus. No one on my full flight from Montreal to Doha wore a mask.


While I was away, new deaths were reported daily and news coverage increased. China built a hospital in six days, the WHO declared the virus a global emergency, and countries across the globe started reporting their first cases.


As I prepared to return home in mid-February, the virus had a new name, COVID-19, and the world’s understanding of its dangers had shifted dramatically. Demand for surgical masks skyrocketed, driving up prices and leading the U.S. Surgeon General to implore people to stop buying them.


Connecting through the airport in Doha, I saw a broad range of travellers. On some flights from Asia, large majorities wore masks. Other travellers seemed oblivious to pandemic fears; they sneezed or coughed in crowded waiting rooms with little apparent concern for those around them.


Observing all these phenomena got me thinking: how were people’s values shaping their behaviour? What kind of values lead one person to frantically hoard masks, another to follow recommended precautions, and a third to proceed as though no risk existed?


Our PatientConnectTM segmentation, a social values-based tool that allows us to segment Canadian patients into five distinct groups based on their opinions and perceptions toward health and wellness, sheds some light on these questions.

Among many other measures, our system captures agreement with the following statement:

The results indicate that Impulsive Fatalists, who make up approximately 17% of the Canadian population, are the most personally concerned about epidemics. This group is generally not very proactive about maintaining good health, and some of their behaviour (such as smoking, drinking and being sedentary) puts them at higher risk for chronic diseases. Notably, they tend to be confident that treatments will be available if they get sick, which may put their minds at ease about the potential consequences of their lifestyle choices.

As pandemic concerns grow and new border restrictions are put in place, there’s no reassurance of an easy, doctor-provided solution. There is neither a cure nor a vaccine for COVID-19. It’s likely that Impulsive Fatalists are overrepresented among the consumers snapping up surgical masks. Public health officials have explained that masks are best for preventing infected individuals from passing on the virus – not for protecting healthy people from infection – but the Impulsive Fatalists’ values lead them to reach for immediate solutions instead of thinking holistically about the conditions that support good health over time.

The two segments that are least alarmed about the prospect of epidemics are the Doctors’ Disciples and the Responsible Proactives, who make up 31% and 17% of the Canadian population, respectively. Although equally moderate in their concern about epidemics, these segments see the issue through different lenses.

Doctors’ Disciples tend not to be proactive in seeking out health information, or in taking steps to promote their own health. They think of health as something that belongs to, and is controlled by, doctors. They’ll do exactly as their doctor says, but tend not to explore diverse sources of information or seek opportunities to promote their own health. If they’re aware of the COVID-19 virus as a phenomenon in the news, they may not be thinking actively about how it could affect them – or the role they can play in protecting others through handwashing, social distancing and other simple practices.

The Responsible Proactives have expressed similarly low levels of epidemic concern in our research. This is not because their heads are in the sand, but because they believe in their own ability to take key precautions and actively manage their own health. I’ve personally been segmented as a Responsible Proactive. Thinking back on my own choices during my trip, as COVID-19 moved across the globe, I did not wear a mask, but I did disinfect my airplane seat, tray table and television. I also used hand sanitizer like it was hand lotion. In other words, I acted more or less in line with the recommendations of public health authorities – and in line with what my colleagues might predict based on my social values profile.

As the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and more and more serious measures are put in place to prevent its spread, it’s important to understand that the behaviours of all Canadians will not change uniformly. Our research continually shows that the best way to drive behaviour is to create targeted communication strategies based on the values of the individuals you’re speaking to.

  • Ahsan Sadiq
    Ahsan SadiqDirector of Market Insights - Health and Wellness

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