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In COVID-19 Fight, Toilet Paper is No More Useful Than a Teddy Bear

Hoarding TP makes us feel better…but that’s it.

By now, most Americans have heard or seen stories regarding the chaos at the supermarket.  The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the entire nation into Atlanta, Georgia in the days preceding a possible snowstorm.  Panicked buyers are cramming into the grocery and big box stores in order to stock up on supplies.

For inclement weather, Americans tend to buy milk and bread reflexively, despite their less-than-ideal value as survival foods.  In the case of coronavirus, Americans are for some reason fixated on toilet paper, despite the fact that COVID-19 is not that kind of illness.

So, why are Americans hoping T.P. like it’s going out of style?  Well, because it makes them feel better.

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Australia has also suffered from panic buying of toilet paper despite plentiful domestic supply. A risk expert in the country explained it this way: “Stocking up on toilet paper is … a relatively cheap action, and people like to think that they are ‘doing something’ when they feel at risk.”

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This is an example of “zero risk bias,” in which people prefer to try to eliminate one type of possibly superficial risk entirely rather than do something that would reduce their total risk by a greater amount.

And that’s not all:

Hoarding also makes people feel secure. This is especially relevant when the world is faced with a novel disease over which all of us have little or no control. However, we can control things like having enough toilet paper in case we are quarantined.

It’s also possible we are biologically programmed to hoard. Birds, squirrels and other animals tend to hoard stuff.

There’s good news in all of this, however.

There is no shortage of toilet paper in the nation, and stores will continue to restock.  The amenity doesn’t hold some special value in a time like this, other than the aforementioned comfort of being in control of something, anything, as we face this outbreak.

So, leave some for the next person; you never know when you might need a clean helping hand.

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