What explanation is behind the compulsive purchase of toilet paper in the coronavirus crisis?

One of the most striking reactions that has occurred since the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis emerged, is compulsive toilet paper buying. Supermarket shelves looked empty in their personal hygiene sections while consumer carts were overflowing and we always saw a batch of this product in all of them. But why this article and not another that could be considered more necessary?

Reactions in emergencies

Although routine and normality is the general trend of the majority of humanity, when it is broken in the face of a situation that can also imply danger to life, then human behavior can take on many nuances. According to the document Emergency psychology: a new profession, by María José Ochoa Cepero, “an emergency is a situation that arises when an eventual, unexpected and unpleasant phenomenon or event appears due to its power to cause damage or alterations to people, goods, services or the environment. The emergency represents a break with the normality of the system, but it does not exceed the response capacity of the affected community. «

In this situation described, the reaction of humans is complex. One of the first things that is usually done has to do with orientation, that is, attention is paid to what is happening and the global reaction is explored. This leads to behaviors of all kinds such as approaching, attacking, fleeing or avoiding. Depending on each individual, emotions of all kinds can develop such as fear, anxiety, panic, phobia … The range of reactions to these circumstances can also be very diverse and It ranges from the search for protection, the flight of avoidance behaviors, to aggressiveness, depression, etc., comments the psychologist Manuel Fidalgo Vega in Human behavior in emergency situations: process analysis in individual behavior.

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Massive purchases

Within these reactions that arise in an emergency situation, uncontrolled actions can be triggered, such as compulsive shopping. The panic or fear that the coronavirus crisis has unleashed has generated this reaction, because, as has been observed through different channels, it has caused massive purchases of thousands of citizens They have accumulated in their shopping carts a large amount of products, and in some cases there were people who even took up to two full of food mainly.

In this whirlwind of feelings and purchases without rhyme or reason, toilet paper became the star product of consumers. Expert responses to this curious acquisition are diverse. On the one hand, it must be taken into account that the human mind often acts by imitation and especially in situations of insecurity, alarm, disorientation and uncertainty. In other words, there is a tendency to think that “like everyone else does, will be good or necessary”. Therefore, if suddenly people en masse buy toilet paper in an emergency situation, by imitation the rest do it and that is how a chain reaction.

At the same time, it must be borne in mind that in today’s society there are a large number of media that can encourage people to act in this way. Social networks have spread many images and videos of people in supermarkets queues with this good among their purchases, which in turn has led to this copycat effect. This way of acting has spread more rapidly, in turn reaching more people.

Shelves without toilet paper

Empty shelves

Another phenomenon that has induced this behavior is that since they are products that take up a lot of space on store shelves, they immediately become empty, giving rise to large voids, which naturally attract our attention. Given this fact, the idea arises that «if many people have taken it, there must be some reason behind it and I am not going to stay on the sidelines», then I buy it just in case. And at the same time another idea appears, is that if we see that people take a massive article we think we are going to run out of it and to avoid it we proceed to buy it.

But why toilet paper, which is not a basic necessity, at least for survival, and not another product that could be? At this point, the answer lies in what this article implies. Really is related to the state of well-being in which we are immersed, and that is why we do not want to get rid of it. Its use is common and is so normalized in our daily lives that it prevents us from reflecting and seeing that this element can be replaced by others in the event that we lack such as kitchen rolls, napkins or even if we have it, by the bidet.