If you stockpiled toilet paper and other commodities during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, you aren’t alone. You’re also probably not crazy, according to recent research. It turns out that certain personality traits may actually predict your likelihood of being a “TP hoarder.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic reached it’s peak this spring, many cities, states and nations instituted lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. “Non-essential” businesses were closed or had their activity greatly reduced. Commercial supply chains for everything from meat to cleaning products were put under stress.
But nothing was swept off shelves faster than the humble toilet tissue, with the possible exception of hand sanitizer. People panicked about the cleanliness of their bottoms more than about the food in their pantries, or so it seemed.
People seemed completely unable to surmise how much toilet paper they would need for whatever period of time they might be unable to go out. It spurred a shopping frenzy in the toilet paper aisles of virtually every grocery and household goods store across the world. Some companies in Europe reported a 700% increase in sales of toilet paper.
A German website even created a calculator to help people determine exactly how much toilet paper they’d need to keep their hineys pristine during quarantine. If you’d like to see how much you’d need for a quarantine or how much you really needed during the shutdown, check it out here: blitzrechner.de/toilettenpapier.
You can tell it how many rolls you have and enter your individual “usage behavior” and it will spit out the estimate of the number of days your keister is covered. In “expert mode,” you can even predict your hoarding needs. Enter the length of your quarantine and the average number of sheets you use in a wipe and it will tell you how many rolls you’ll need.
Prefer your toilet paper hoarding predictions in English? Try Howmuchtoiletpaper.com for a similar experience.
But who hoards toilet paper, exactly? What drives such a seemingly bizarre behavior in the face of all available logic?
It turns out that how likely you are to stockpile toilet paper can be predicted by science. A group of researchers including Theo Toppe (the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany,) Lisa Garbe (University of Saint Gallen, Switzerland) and Richard Rau (Westfalische Wilhelms-Universitat Munster, Germany) have just published a paper on this very topic.
According to their research, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, those most likely to stockpile toilet paper are have specific traits in common. They tend to feel more threatened by COVID-19 and also rank highly on scales of conscientiousness and emotionality.
How did researchers determine this? They recruited 1,029 adults across 35 different countries through social media. They had the participants complete the HEXACO Inventory, which ranks six broad personality domains. They also got information on the participants perceived level of COVID-19 threat, demographics, quarantine behaviors and, of course, recent toilet paper usage.
The single most significant predictor of toilet paper stockpiling was the perceived level of threat posed to each person by the pandemic. Those who felt more threatened by COVID-19 were those who tended to stockpile more toilet paper.
This was driven, in part, by emotionality. If you tend to worry a lot and feel anxious over things, you are more likely to feel threatened and more likely to stockpile toilet paper. Conscientiousness was the next biggest factor. This trait carries with it the traits of diligence, prudence, organization and perfectionism.
The team also observed that Americans stockpiled more than Europeans and that older people tended to stockpile more than younger people. They also acknowledged that the variables they studied weren’t the whole explanation for the variability in stockpiling. That would suggest that some situational factors and psychological explanations are still left out of the picture.
The authors add: “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.”
For most thinking people the idea of stockpiling toilet paper is ridiculous. That is, until you see everyone else doing it. Who hasn’t seen pictures and video of fights breaking out over toilet paper, hand sanitizer and household cleaners? The images of empty supermarket aisles where stacks of toilet paper once sat are hard to forget.
Largely, our leaders weren’t of much use in quelling the toilet paper insurrections. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, exhibited a rare moment of leadership back in March, however.
Merkel was photographed doing her weekly shopping. In her cart was just one pack of toilet paper. She did, however, have four bottles of wine.
Ms. Merkel clearly has priorities.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
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Journal Reference – Garbe L, Rau R, Toppe T, Influence of perceived threat of Covid-19 and HEXACO personality traits on toilet paper stockpiling, PLOS ONE (2020). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234232