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Study shows 'older organised worriers' scared of COVID-19 most likely to panic buy loo roll

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More conscientious people, rather than the irrational, were more likely to stockpile toilet paper during the coronavirus lockdown, a new study reveals. 

As the deadly virus took hold of Europe and North America in March, panic buyers forced toilet roll sales to surge by up to 700 per cent, companies reported.

Despite the public uproar against people buying more than they needed and pleas from governments and supermarkets to stop, the panic buying continued. 

A new study of 1,000 adults by Saint Gallen University, Switzerland, found that fear of catching the virus was the main reason people gave for buying loo roll in bulk. 

As the deadly virus took hold of Europe and North America in March, panic buyers forced toilet roll sales to surge by up to 700 per cent, companies reported

As the deadly virus took hold of Europe and North America in March, panic buyers forced toilet roll sales to surge by up to 700 per cent, companies reported

The Swiss researchers say that those consumers with anxious and conscientious personalities were more likely to cave in to panic buying than more placid shoppers.

The cutting-edge research, conducted across dozens of countries, also found Americans were more likely to stockpile toilet paper than Europeans.

They also found the habit was more common among older people than the young.

‘Older people are more prone to a severe course of the disease and, thus, may be more eager to prepare for strict self-isolation,’ the authors wrote.

‘In addition, in some countries, older people were asked to self-isolate before more comprehensive lockdowns were put in place which might partly account for the age effect.’

Despite the findings, that give an insight into the personality of a panic buyer, the full extent of what triggered the phenomenon remains a mystery, authors say.

Lisa Garbe, a doctoral researcher at Saint Gallen University in Switzerland said the subjective threat of COVID-19 was a major trigger in toilet paper stockpiling.

‘However, we are still far away from understanding this phenomenon comprehensively,’ she said.

More than 1,000 adults from 35 countries were recruited through social media for the comprehensive study run by a team of psychologists and anthropologists. 

The participants completed a test measuring their personality over six broad domains in the final week of March.

They also shared information on their demographics, perceived threat level of COVID-19, quarantine behaviours, and recent toilet paper consumption.

The strongest predictor of toilet paper stockpiling was individuals’ perceived threat of the pandemic, the team discovered from the survey.

‘Given that stockpiling is objectively unrelated to saving lives or jobs during a health crisis, this finding supports the notion that toilet paper functions as a purely subjective symbol of safety,’ the authors wrote. 

Despite the public uproar against people buying more than they needed and pleas from governments and supermarkets to stop, the panic buying continued

Despite the public uproar against people buying more than they needed and pleas from governments and supermarkets to stop, the panic buying continued

This effect was partially linked to those participants who scored highly on the emotionality measure of the assessment. 

Anxious people were more likely to fear the spectre of the virus and stockpile toilet paper, the team explained.

Another personality domain – conscientiousness – whose traits include organisation, diligence, perfectionism and prudence also predicted stockpiling.

The researchers stressed that their study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, could only explain 12 per cent of the variability in toilet paper stockpiling.

Other psychological and situational factors remain unaccounted for but could include a lack of trust in government or local authorities.

Researchers say communication campaigns aimed at reducing fears about a pandemic could change shopping habits and reduce the chance of stockpiling.

‘For instance, research on communication strategies suggests that clear communication aiming to increase awareness of a disease and providing simple behavioral instructions reduces people’s threat perception’, they wrote. 

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