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The personality traits of people who stockpile toilet paper

Hexaco Inventory

While many industries and workers faced uncertainty during the rising spread of Covid-19, companies in Europe and North America reported up to a 700% increase in toilet paper sales among many other commodities, and we’re all too familiar with the situation here in Australia.

A new study led by Theo Toppe at Middlesex University in March this year surveyed 1,029 adults from 35 countries who were recruited through social media completing HEXACO Inventory — which ranks six broad personality domains — and shared information on their demographics, perceived threat level of COVID-19, quarantine behaviors, 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.

  • Around 20% of this effect was also based on the personality factor of emotionality
  • People who generally tend to worry a lot and feel anxious are most 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.

Toilet Paper

As restrictions continue to ease across the states and territories here, people are wondering when they can return to work or open back up for business.  So what is the logic for this, and how might our local governments be making the decision to re-open industry sectors while imposing delays on others?

Massachussets Institute of Technology study uses a variety of data on consumer and business activity to tackle that question, measuring 26 types of businesses by both their usefulness and risk.

  • Vital forms of commerce that are relatively uncrowded fare the best in the study;
  • less significant types of businesses that generate crowds perform worse.

Analysis like these can help inform the policy decisions of government officials during the ongoing pandemic.

“Banks have an outsize economic impact and tend to be bigger spaces that people visit only once in a while,” says Seth G. Benzell, a postdoc at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) in which his study ranked banks first in economic importance, out of the 26 business types, but just 14th in risk.

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By contrast, other business types create much more crowding while having far less economic importance:

  • These include alcohol/liquor and tobacco stores;
  • sporting goods stores; cafes, juice bars, and dessert parlors; and gyms.

All of those are in the bottom half of the study’s rankings of economic importance.  At the same time, cafes, juice bars, and dessert parlors, taken together, rank third-highest out of the 26 business types in risk, while gyms are the fifth-riskiest according to the study’s metrics — which include mobile celluar phone location data from 47 million users, revealing how crowded certain businesses get.  Payroll, revenue and employment data from national taxing agencies also constituted the metrics used to assess their rankings.

“It’s not danger per visit, but it’s a cumulative danger,” Nicolaides explains. “If you look at movie theaters (17.6 million visits in February), they seem dangerous, but not that many people go to the movies every day … and restaurants (900 million visits in the same month) are a good counter-example.”

Colleges and universities were ranked eighth out of the 26 business types in economic importance, but just 17th in terms of risk.

“Colleges and universities actually have the potential to offer pretty good social contact tradeoffs,” Benzell says. “They tend to be places with big campuses, they tend to be [composed of] consistently the same group of young people, visiting the same places. When people are worried about colleges and universities, they’re mostly worried about dormitories and parties, people getting infected that way, and that’s fair enough. But [for] research and teaching, these are big spaces, with pretty modest groups of people that produce a lot of economic and social value.”

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As a result, businesses reposition along the retail axis for survival, as we see the rise of at-home and virtual experiences on offer.   Online shopping becomes the focus of a study led by Astrid Müller, MD, PhD, Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.  One third of a group of patients seeking treatment for buying-shopping disorder (BSD) also reported symptoms of addictive online shopping further shining a light on motivational cause.

Patients with BSD buy more consumer goods than they can afford, need, or use.  Their excessive purchasing serves to regulate emotions, e.g., to get pleasure, relief from negative feelings or cope with self-discrepancy. In the long run, the recurrent breakdown in self-control leads to extreme distress, psychiatric comorbidity, familial discord, clutter due to pathological hoarding of goods, and indebtedness and/or deception and embezzlement to enable continued spending despite insufficient finances.    Patients tended to be younger than the others in the study sample, experienced greater levels of anxiety and depression, and were likely to exhibit a higher severity of BSD symptoms.

Severe cases are characterised by extreme preoccupation with and craving for buying and/or shopping, as well as irresistible and identity-seeking urges to possess consumer goods.   The Internet offers a vast variety of shopping information and simultaneous access to many online stores, thereby meeting expectations for immediate reward, emotional enhancement, and identity gain.

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For the rest of us, The coronavirus pandemic’s life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences according to a joint paper by Yale School of Pubic Health, Brown University and Harvard University — particularly those of us from vulnerable populations.

“This pandemic is likely to have profound short- and long-term consequences for physical and mental health,” says Assistant Professor Sarah Lowe Lowe. “These impacts are likely to be even larger than what we have seen in previous disasters like [New Orleans’] Hurricane Katrina, given the distinctive qualities of the pandemic as a disaster.”

Inferences on today’s pandemic are drawn from surveys of survivors prior to, and at intervals (1, 4 and 12 years) after Hurricane Katrina since 2005 experiencing similar traumatic experiences such as bereavement, lack of access to medical care and scarcity of medications. The exposures most strongly associated with posttraumatic stress, psychological distress, general health and physical health symptoms were those most common to the current pandemic.

The pandemic continues to cause widespread death and sickness, as well as job loss and severe economic hardship for many.

Photography: Katerina Morozova
Videography: Straight Mind, 7 News Australia


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