Panic buying over the coronavirus is leading to a widespread toilet paper shortage as big box shops and grocery stores struggle to keep up with demand.
On Amazon, most of the most popular brands are either out of stock or backordered.
Mike Huckabee reacted to the phenomena with a hilarious dig a the NY Times., tweeting:
If this toilet paper shortage continues I might be forced to subscribe to home delivery of The NY Times!
Per CNBC, panic buying has been rife amid the global spread of the new coronavirus, with consumers around the world stockpiling goods like hand sanitizer, canned foods and toilet paper.
The trend has seen stores ration products, with U.K. retailers limiting sales of hand hygiene products while Australian shoppers have seen restrictions on the amount of toilet paper they can buy.
Psychologists spoke to CNBC to weigh in on why our brains push us to panic buy — even when authorities are assuring the public there’s no need to.
According to Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist at the University of the Arts London, the short answer can be found in the psychology of “retail therapy” — where we buy to manage our emotional state.
“It’s about ‘taking back control’ in a world where you feel out of control,” he said. “More generally, panic buying can be understood as playing to our three fundamental psychology needs.”
Those needs were autonomy, or a need for control, relatedness, which Marsden defined as “we shopping” rather than “me shopping,” and competence, which is achieved when making a purchase gives people a sense that they are “smart shoppers.”
Meanwhile, Sander van der Linden, an assistant professor of social psychology at Cambridge University, said there were both generalized and coronavirus-specific factors at play.
“In the U.S., people are receiving conflicting messages from the CDC and the Trump administration,” he said. “When one organization is saying it’s urgent and another says it’s under control, it makes people worry.”
President Donald Trump downplayed the impact of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak on Twitter this week, with a disconnect reportedly widening between the administration and U.S. health authorities. The virus is now present in at least 35 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
More generally, a “fear contagion” phenomenon was taking hold, van der Linden added.
“When people are stressed their reason is hampered, so they look at what other people are doing. If others are stockpiling it leads you to engage in the same behavior,” he said. “People see photos of empty shelves and regardless of whether it’s rational it sends a signal to them that it’s the thing to do.”
“Sometimes there can be a lot of value in social knowledge — from an evolutionary perspective when we don’t know how to react to something, we look to others for guidance,” he added. “If you’re in the jungle and someone jumps away from a snake you automatically do the same thing. But sometimes that gets highjacked and you’re told to do something that’s not the right thing to do.”