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Panic Shopping for: The Psychology of Hoarding Bathroom Paper, Beans & Soup

Panic Buying: The Psychology of Hoarding Toilet Paper, Beans & Soup

There’s an excellent article by Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. Why Are Folks Hoarding Bathroom Paper? that dives into the psychology of this conduct. It’s an excellent query, as a result of what we’re seeing are American shoppers appearing in a seemingly irrational method in response to the unfold of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Panic shopping for is what individuals do when confronted with an imminent catastrophe, whether or not or not it’s pure — akin to a hurricane or snowstorm — or one thing else, just like the unfold of a virus for which there isn’t any efficient therapy or vaccine. And whereas it appears irrational on the floor, it truly has a rational foundation.

I feel one of many causes panic shopping for appears to make much less sense to some throughout this pandemic is the truth that it’s more likely to not simply final a number of days or perhaps weeks, however months to return. There’s little probability most individuals can top off on sufficient meals to feed a whole household, and even oneself, for months on finish.1

The Psychology of Hoarding in Instances of Disaster

Hoarding is a pure human response — generally rational, generally emotional — to shortage or perceived shortage. In response to well timed, just lately printed analysis (Sheu & Kuo, 2020):

Psychologically, hoarding stems from a human’s response, both rationally or emotionally, to shortage, and so could happen on both the availability or the demand facet. As argued by [other researchers], hoarding will be an total response that includes a mixture of a strategic, rational and emotional human responses (akin to nervousness, panic and concern) to perceived threats to provide.

Many individuals hoard throughout regular occasions, underneath the rubric of “bulk buying.” That is an instance of rational hoarding, as a result of individuals do that with a purpose to take pleasure in higher pricing on staple items, akin to paper merchandise (paper towels, bathroom paper, and so on.) and meals (akin to canned meals).

Folks additionally hoard throughout occasions of disaster or catastrophe, due to a perception — whether or not it’s true or not — of the approaching shortage of a product. In 2008, many Individuals panicked in regards to the rice provide resulting from a world rice scarcity throughout that point. Each hurricane season in Taiwan, the costs of seasonal vegetables and fruit reliably rise over 100%, no matter precise provide of those staples (Zanna & Rempel, 1988).

People understand actuality in two main methods: rationally and intuitively (or emotionally). A lot as an individual would possibly strive, it’s practically unattainable to divorce actuality out of your experiential and emotional connection to it. You can not simply be a robotic (though some individuals are significantly better at this than others) and act 100% of the time in a rational, logical method. This impacts our decision-making relating to catastrophe planning.

Folks Need to Reduce Threat

Researchers have discovered that hoarding resulting from an impending or ongoing catastrophe is “more likely to be self-interest-oriented and deliberate conduct that’s dominated” by individuals’s need to reduce danger (Sheu & Kuo, 2020). It’s much less dangerous to hoard meals (and bathroom paper) and be unsuitable in regards to the extent or period of the catastrophe, since most of it may be used anyway.

Persons are motivated largely by self-interest and to keep away from struggling (whether or not bodily or emotional, actual or perceived). We spend a lot time weighing attainable dangers and dealing to cut back them, as a result of it means we get to stay an extended life. Folks go in for an annual checkup to their physician’s workplace as they age to forestall sudden well being issues which might be extra more likely to happen as we age. Folks cross at a crosswalk to cut back their danger of being hit by a automobile on the road. We hedge our bets in a brand new relationship to save lots of ourselves from heartache later.

Whereas it could not make a lot rational sense to hoard cans of beans or soup, it makes us really feel like we’re taking affordable precautions to reduce danger. And bear in mind, totally different individuals have totally different danger tolerances. So whereas one particular person could really feel completely wonderful not stocking up on staple items, one other particular person could have to.

Persons are Pushed by Feelings

Persons are additionally extra more likely to interact in hoarding when their intuitive, emotional facet — pushed by nervousness, concern, and panic — believes there’s a purpose to take action, resulting from short-term components, like worth volatility or a provide scarcity (Sheu & Kuo, 2020). Regardless that rationally, most individuals know by way of historic knowledge that such shortages can be short-lived, emotionally we merely don’t consider that.

An emotional contagion can take maintain as we observe the actions of others, as a result of individuals will be simply influenced by seeing different individuals’s behaviors and emotions. The nervousness and fear about meals provide shortages is extra readily transmitted to others these days, as a result of immediacy and elevated attain of social media. Even when that nervousness and fear is misplaced or irrational, it spreads like its personal virus all through our social media networks.

So whenever you see photographs of empty retailer cabinets and listen to your folks all stockpiling bathroom paper, you assume to your self, “Effectively, possibly I must be doing this too.” It might make little sense to you, however you do it anyway. “Simply to be secure.”

Folks Really feel a Sense of Aid & Management

I’m unsure that hoarding could be as widespread if, after going in your panic shopping for spree, you get again to the home and really feel much more anxious. As a substitute, such conduct induces a way of calm and management. You’ve taken lively measures to cut back your danger (of hunger, of not having the ability to clear your self after utilizing the lavatory, and so on.), and it gives not less than a brief sense of aid. It helps alleviate a number of the concern and nervousness most of us are feeling.

An in an out-of-control scenario the place a world pandemic is going on, it’s not a stretch to grasp that folks wish to really feel that semblance of management (or not less than the notion of it). Taking motion, even within the type of one thing so simple as cleansing one’s home or shopping for canned items, gives not less than some aid for the low-level nervousness.


Hold your distance from others. Keep away from massive gatherings or shut social conditions. Wash your palms all through the day for not less than 20 seconds. And cease touching your face, or others. And for those who should hoard, please try to accomplish that in affordable quantities. Bear in mind there are a lot of individuals within the inhabitants — akin to our senior residents — who usually don’t have entry to the assets or area to hoard. Good luck and hold secure!


For additional studying:

Why Are Folks Hoarding Bathroom Paper?



Sheu, J-B. & Kuo, H-T. (2020). Twin speculative hoarding: A wholesaler-retailer channel behavioral phenomenon behind potential pure hazard threats. Worldwide Journal of Catastrophe Threat Discount, 44.

Zanna, MP & Rempel, JK. (1988). Attitudes: a brand new take a look at an previous idea, in: The Social Psychology of Data, Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 315–334.

My sincerest due to Elsevier’s ScienceDirect for offering entry to those analysis articles.


  1. COVID-19 is being in comparison with the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. That pandemic lasted practically a 12 months, with three distinct waves. Do you bear in mind the President of the USA claiming that the “warmth” would kill off COVID-19? Effectively, historical past reveals that whereas the warmth did certainly affect the Spanish Flu, it merely got here again within the fall and winter of 1918 into 1919 — with a vengeance. When it got here again, it killed off way more individuals than it did initially.