How Personality Type Can Explain Why We’ve Been Panic-Buying Toilet Paper

For some of us, panic-buying all the goods in the supermarket is logical, for others? Not so much.

Were you one of the people sitting at home watching the news and scrolling through social media observing the panic-buying of toilet paper with incredulity or were you one of the people out in the stores stocking up?

Both of these patterns of behavior are rational in their own ways, but if (like me) you were the former, observing the chaos with confusion, you have probably been stuck on the question, why?

  • What makes some people more prone to panic-buying antics than others?
  • And why toilet paper of all things?

I can’t really offer an answer to that last question but psychology may have some answers for us with the first question.

Understanding Personality Types

At the best of times, a lot of our behavior might not be entirely rational, and during times of crisis and global pandemics? Even less so.

There are many factors that influence how we behave including our habits and interruptions to them, our situational contexts, and our personality.

While our general personality and core character traits tend to be stable over time and within various contexts, many psychologists believe that the key to changing our behavior comes from better understanding our personality and keeping it in check when we need to (for example, by not having a punch-up in the supermarket over the last pack of toilet paper).

During times of uncertainty, understanding your personality could be key to ensuring you’re practicing the best possible behaviors to keep yourself — and those around you — safe.

The Big Five

You may have already come across what is commonly referred to as The Big Five Personality Traits, also known as the Five Factor (FFM) Model and the OCEAN Model. Essentially, this group of personality theories posits that there are five basic dimensions for personality. We each display characteristics within these five dimensions, but to different degrees, and the degree to which we land in specific dimensions informs our general personality. The five traits are:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

Within each of these dimensions, are lists of other associated personality traits and characteristics. There are heaps of online tests you can do to uncover your basic personality type (Something I highly encourage you to do if you haven’t already. I like this one from Truity as it’s well presented, and gives a good starting point from which to explore further).

So, How Is This Related to Panic-Buying Toilet Paper?

Each of the big five personality traits sits on a spectrum, so for example:

  • Neuroticism can range from aspects of withdrawal, anxiety, and defensiveness to volatility and aggression.

You can probably guess why I chose to highlight that particular trait in this article.

During a crisis, such as the current pandemic and it’s unprecedented consequences on our local and global communities, many of our behavioral cues will be driven by our personality, and so far these are bridging across five core themes:

  • Anxiety
  • Social Distancing
  • Stockpiling
  • Community Support
  • Micro Aggressions

So, for example, for an individual who is more naturally disposed towards neuroticism and withdrawal, the concept of social distancing might feel more natural to them than those who are closer to the aggression end of the spectrum. Individuals at this end might see social distancing as removing their sense of control or their rights to conduct certain activities. In turn, this could lead to micro-aggressions.

If volatility feels more natural to your personal disposition, then seeing others stockpiling could lead to feelings of needing to “get your share” and not wanting to “miss out.” Despite all logical information available saying that excessive stockpiling is not necessary, these scenes could trigger strong feelings that lead to behaviors you might otherwise resist.

Even for people who are, in normal circumstances, calm, collected and polite, these external cues, when strong enough, can overwhelm more logical thinking. It is not to say that this is “wrong,” but that your innate personality type is being triggered. Unacknowledged and unchecked, this could lead to more troubling behavior. Such as panic-buying toilet paper and getting into fights about it in the supermarket.

Just to be fair, it’s not just those who exhibit strong neurotic tendencies that are prone to stockpiling. At one end of the spectrum for “Conscientiousness” is the need for order and being prepared. An individual with this disposition, when faced with scenes of panic-buying, might feel the need to be ready for “worst-case scenarios” and avoiding the temptation to hoard could be very difficult.

Can You Change Your Personality Type?

A lot of the research suggests that our personality types are pretty fixed, but with conscious self-awareness, we can make changes to the way we respond and react to them.

Knowing your personality type and spending some time reflecting on how it shows up and influences your behavior in given situations is the best possible start to being able to make the positive changes we want.

We cannot control what happens around us but we can control how we react — both emotionally and behaviorally. Now, perhaps more than ever, this is something we should all be consciously practicing.

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