Making sure there’s paper handy

It’s one of the burning questions of 2020. What makes someone want to hoard toilet paper, of all items, during a crisis? And is there any way of determining someone who is likely to do so?

Well, German and Swiss researchers say they have built up a profile of the archetypal loo paper hoarder.

They have found that people who feel more threatened by COVID-19, and who rank highly on scales of emotionality and conscientiousness were most likely to stockpile toilet paper.

The researchers surveyed 1029 adults from 35 countries who were recruited through social media.

Between March 23 and March 29, 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 behaviours, 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.

Partly, this effect was based on the personality factor of emotionality—people who generally tend to worry a lot and feel anxious are more likely to feel threatened and stockpile toilet paper.

The personality domain of conscientiousness—which includes traits of organisation, 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 12% of the variability in toilet paper stockpiling, which suggests that some psychological explanations and situational factors likely remain unaccounted for.

The authors added: “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.”

The research was published in June, in the journal PLOS ONE.

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