Unraveling 2020’s Paper Chase

Understanding TP Hoarders

Could we be headed for another national TP shortage?

By John Salak –

Ever wonder outside of that dysfunctional sister, high-anxiety friend or nebbish uncle, what type of person feels the need to hoard toilet paper in a global emergency? The answer: the fearful, the anal and the older, at least according to the venerated Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

The institute came to this conclusion after surveying over 1,000 people across 35 countries last spring as the COVID-19 pandemic gained steam. As a reminder, the Great Toilet Paper Panic became a frightening reality on March 12 when TP sales surged an astronomical 734 percent over that day in 2020.

Americans alone were buying almost twice as much toilet paper as they could use under any circumstances during this time and within weeks almost 75 percent of retail outlets had none left to offer.

Yes, almost everyone wants to be ready for emergencies. But what is anyone really preparing for by hoarding hundreds of rolls of toilet paper? A self-destructive nosedive into a bottomless pool of molten ex-lac?

Well, it’s complicated, according to the Max Planck researchers. Their work had participants completing the Brief HEXACO Inventory, which ranks six broad personality domains. The respondents also shared information on their demographics, their perceived threat level of COVID-19, quarantine behaviors and toilet paper consumption.

Not surprisingly, the most robust predictor of toilet paper hoarding was seen in people who felt particularly threatened by the pandemic. Around 20 percent of this effect was also based on the personality factor of emotionality, which is seen in people who tend to worry a lot and feel anxious in general. Another predictor was the personality domain of conscientiousness, which includes traits of organization, diligence, perfectionism and prudence.

Other factors? Older people stockpiled more toilet paper than younger people and Americans tended to hoard more than Europeans.

“Subjective threat of COVID-19 seems to be an important trigger for toilet paper stockpiling,” the study’s co-author Theo Toppe concluded to absolutely no one’s surprise. “However, we are still far away from understanding this phenomenon comprehensively.”

Speed maybe of the essence. With a second surge in COVID-19 cases expected by many in the coming weeks, understanding and controlling hoarding instincts is likely to be increasingly important if communities and individuals are to avoid be caught short again.

 

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