Why do people panic buy amid crisis?

So many people are rushing to supermarkets and stockpiling items like toilet paper — but why do we do this?

Overwhelming the supermarkets

People flocking to supermarkets and stockpiling items like toilet paper – it’s called panic buying. Brut spoke with Dr. Wendy Dickinson, a licensed psychologist, to discuss why panic buying occurs.

Fueled by fear

“Panic buying is the idea that people out of fear, out of the unknown are buying more than they would normally buy, or maybe they're buying different things.”, Dickinson tells Brut. Fueled by fear, panic buying combines several psychological phenomena including herd behavior and loss aversion. People often think if someone else is doing something, they should be doing it too. Therefore, panic buying is driven by herd behavior. It can also be loss aversion. “That idea that we're worried about missing out or something, not having what we need, which is again, really driven by fear. And it can also be about comfort. So wanting to stock up on the things that bring you some security and some sense of control during a time that feels largely out of control or uncertain.”, she continues. While panic buying helps people feel in control of the situation, the phenomenon is deeply rooted in our survival mechanisms. “At the end of the day, we're hardwired for survival. Our sort of lizard brain, if you will, the most primitive part of our brain is programmed to keep us alive. And so when you think about the things that go into keeping us alive, we think about food, water, shelter, like all those basic things.”

Devastating consequences

But stockpiling can have devastating consequences – leading to price gouging and low supplies for high-risk individuals. With videos of empty shelves and shoppers stocking up going viral, the key to slowing down the widespread panic is good information, according to Dickinson. “The challenge that we're facing right now is we've gotten a lot of different messages about how much food or preparations to make. And so there are a number of different messages that have come from official sources. And there's also a lot of different information that's coming from the rumor mill and the urban legend. “, she reveals. She concludes, “If you can become aware of the anxiety and the fear motivating some of your decision making, then you can choose to make a different choice or engage in a different behavior.”