Following the fast spread of COVID-19 across Europe and North America in March 2020, many people began stockpiling commodities including toilet paper. Some companies reported an increase of up to 700 percent in toilet paper sales, despite calls from the government to refrain from “panic buying”.
In the new study, researchers surveyed 1,029 adults from 35 countries who were recruited through social media. Between 23 and 29 March 2020, participants completed the Brief HEXACO Inventory – which ranks six broad personality domains – and shared information on their demographics, perceived threat level of COVID-19, quarantine behaviors, and toilet paper consumption in recent weeks.
The most robust predictor of toilet paper stockpiling was the perceived threat posed by the pandemic; people who felt more threatened tended to stockpile more toilet paper. Around 20 percent of this effect was also based on the personality factor of emotionality – people who generally tend to worry a lot and feel anxious are most likely to feel threatened and stockpile toilet paper. The personality domain of conscientiousness – which includes traits of organization, diligence, perfectionism and prudence – was also a predictor of stockpiling.
Other observations were that older people stockpiled more toilet paper than younger people and that Americans stockpiled more than Europeans. The researchers pointed out that the variables studied explained only twelve percent of the variability in toilet paper stockpiling, which suggests that some psychological explanations and situational factors likely remain unaccounted for. “Subjective threat of COVID-19 seems to be an important trigger for toilet paper stockpiling. However, we are still far away from understanding this phenomenon comprehensively”, concludes Theo Toppe, co-author of the study.