Enlarge /. People who felt more threatened by COVID-19 and ranked high in emotionality and conscientiousness were most likely to hoard toilet paper when the coronavirus shutdown began in March.
As early as March, we reported the strange phenomenon that people keep toilet paper in stock as the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread adoption of protective measures and social distance. According to a new publication in the journal PLOS ONE, German scientists have now identified some important personality traits that seem to be related to this type of hoarding behavior.
Consumer behavior researcher Kit Yarrow told Ars in March that hoarding toilet paper is at least partially an attempt to gain a sense of control when the world feels insecure and dangerous. "When we feel anxious about what we're all doing right now – it would be unusual not to feel a little anxious – the antidote to fear is always control," she said. "And since we can't really control the course of this disease, we turn to what we can control and that's why people shop. It's like: & # 39; Well, I feel like I'm doing something I feel like I'm & # 39; I'm preparing. I feel like I'm taking control of what I can control, what is filling up. & # 39; "
According to Yarrow, why people hoarded toilet paper, this type of panic buying could be a case for our primate social brains to respond to news feeds that are full of eye-catching but sometimes disoriented visual cues – like pictures of store shelves without paper products. "Toilet paper became a kind of thing that the media in particular really focused on, and then made people think about it," she said.
German researchers set out to find solid empirical evidence to support the hypotheses offered by Yarrow and others. They found that in some cases, the demand for toilet paper rose a whopping 700 percent, leading to widespread bottlenecks in supermarkets. In addition, "the resulting shortage of toilet paper has led to problematic consequences in some households, such as clogging drain pipes after people use products other than toilet paper," they wrote.
The team used social media to recruit 996 adults in 22 countries and had them create an online personality inventory that assessed six areas: emotionality (fear, fear, dependence, sentimentality); Conscientiousness (organization, diligence, prudence, perfectionism); Honesty-humility (sincerity, fairness, modesty); Extraversion (social self-esteem, social boldness, sociability); Tolerability (patience, forgiveness, gentleness, flexibility) and openness to experiences (curiosity, creativity, unconventionality).
Enlarge /. All your toilet paper is mine.
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Participants provided information about their demographics, quarantine behavior, and perception of COVID-19 as a threat. They were also asked how often they had bought toilet paper in the past two weeks, how many packages they had bought, how many rolls were currently stored in their homes and whether this was a typical amount. The data collection period ran from March 23 to 29.
An earlier study had examined this behavior in the light of the dimensions of honesty and humility among UK residents and found preliminary evidence that hoarding was being driven by "lack of solidarity". However, this study was not international and did not examine the other personality areas "that leave the role of the personality, which is more generally defined, unanswered," wrote the German authors. Her own results contradicted the British study: honesty and humility did not appear to be a strong predictor of hoarding toilet paper in the PLOS ONE study.
"Toilet paper acts as a purely subjective symbol for security."
The researchers found that the strongest predictor of inventory behavior was how much people felt threatened by COVID-19. The more anxious they were, the more likely they were to hoard the product. In turn, a person's emotional state predicts how threatened they feel, whereas people with a high level of conscience are more likely to have toilet paper in stock. Older people store more toilets than young people – perhaps because they are more at risk from the disease and therefore choose strictly self-isolation – and the Americans did this more than the Europeans.
As Yarrow Ars said, toilet paper trays are not really bad, selfish people; You are only afraid. The German team agreed. "Even the most humble and moral people could store toilet paper as long as they feel they are sufficiently threatened by the pandemic," they wrote. "Given that stockpiling is objectively unrelated to saving lives or jobs during a health crisis, this finding supports the view that toilet paper acts as a purely subjective symbol of security."
However, the authors warn that the variables that they included in their analysis account for only 12 percent of the variability seen in heaping toilet paper. "This suggests that the extent of the personal threat from COVID-19 also depends on psychological factors that were not considered in our study, or on mouldable external factors such as risk management and trust in local authorities," they wrote. "We are still far from fully understanding this phenomenon."
DOI: PLOS ONE, 2020. 10.1371 / journal.pone.0234232 (About DOIs).