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 Individuals Hoarding Bathroom Paper? that dives into the psychology of this habits. It’s a superb query, as a result of what we’re seeing are American customers performing in a seemingly irrational method in response to the unfold of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Panic shopping for is what folks do when confronted with an imminent catastrophe, whether or not it’s pure — corresponding to a hurricane or snowstorm — or one thing else, just like the unfold of a virus for which there isn’t a efficient remedy 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 prone to not simply final a couple of days or perhaps weeks, however months to come back. There’s little probability most individuals can fill up on sufficient meals to feed a complete household, and even oneself, for months on finish.1

The Psychology of Hoarding in Instances of Disaster

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

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

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

Individuals additionally hoard throughout instances of disaster or catastrophe, due to a perception — whether or not it’s true or not — of the upcoming shortage of a product. In 2008, many People panicked in regards to the rice provide on account of a world rice scarcity throughout that point. Each storm 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 major methods: rationally and intuitively (or emotionally). A lot as an individual may attempt, it’s almost unimaginable to divorce actuality out of your experiential and emotional connection to it. You can’t simply be a robotic (though some persons 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.

Individuals Wish to Reduce Danger

Researchers have discovered that hoarding on account of an impending or ongoing catastrophe is “prone to be self-interest-oriented and deliberate habits that’s dominated” by folks’s need to reduce threat (Sheu & Kuo, 2020). It’s much less dangerous to hoard meals (and bathroom paper) and be improper 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 doable dangers and dealing to cut back them, as a result of it means we get to reside an extended life. Individuals go in for an annual checkup to their physician’s workplace as they age to stop sudden well being issues which are extra prone to happen as we age. Individuals cross at a crosswalk to cut back their threat 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 threat. And keep in mind, completely different folks have completely different threat tolerances. So whereas one particular person might really feel completely positive not stocking up on staple items, one other particular person might have to.

Persons are Pushed by Feelings

Persons are additionally extra prone to have interaction in hoarding when their intuitive, emotional facet — pushed by anxiousness, concern, and panic — believes there’s a motive to take action, on account of short-term elements, like value volatility or a provide scarcity (Sheu & Kuo, 2020). Though rationally, most individuals know by way of historic knowledge that such shortages will probably be short-lived, emotionally we merely don’t imagine that.

An emotional contagion can take maintain as we observe the actions of others, as a result of folks might be simply influenced by seeing different folks’s behaviors and emotions. The anxiousness 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 anxiousness and fear is misplaced or irrational, it spreads like its personal virus all through our social media networks.

So if you see photographs of empty retailer cabinets and listen to your pals all stockpiling rest room paper, you suppose to your self, “Nicely, possibly I needs to be doing this too.” It could make little sense to you, however you do it anyway. “Simply to be protected.”

Individuals Really feel a Sense of Reduction & Management

I’m unsure that hoarding can 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 habits induces a way of calm and management. You’ve taken energetic measures to cut back your threat (of hunger, of not with the ability to clear your self after utilizing the toilet, and so on.), and it supplies at the least a brief sense of reduction. It helps alleviate among the concern and anxiousness most of us are feeling.

An in an out-of-control state of affairs the place a world pandemic is happening, it’s not a stretch to know that individuals wish to really feel that semblance of management (or at the least 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, supplies at the least some reduction for the low-level anxiousness.


Preserve your distance from others. Keep away from giant gatherings or shut social conditions. Wash your fingers all through the day for at the least 20 seconds. And cease touching your face, or others. And if you happen to should hoard, please try to accomplish that in affordable quantities. Keep in mind there are a lot of folks within the inhabitants — corresponding to our senior residents — who usually don’t have entry to the sources or area to hoard. Good luck and hold protected!


For additional studying:

Why Are Individuals 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 Danger Discount, 44.

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

My sincerest because of 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 almost a yr, with three distinct waves. Do you keep in mind the President of the US claiming that the “warmth” would kill off COVID-19? Nicely, 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 much more folks than it did initially.