Why do we do it and where does it stem from?

Author: Ideja Bajra

Last night I went out with my camera to capture the coronavirus pandemic. I'll upload more later.
Photo by Wesley Tingey / Unsplash

Coronavirus seems to be the only headline on every news outlet all over the globe. With the number of cases of the virus and deaths increasing at a rapid speed daily, COVID-19 is instilling fear in people across the globe.

With a rise of misinformation and panic surrounding the length of international lockdowns, many people are expressing their fears in different ways. A phenomenon that has recently become popular amid the outbreak of Covid-19 is panic buying. Local stores are immediately selling out of items such as toilet paper, hand sanitisers and certain food products such as canned goods, pasta and frozen items.

Heart-breaking images arose on social media of NHS workers and elderly pictured next to empty shelves in local supermarkets. However, people still cannot seem to stop the impulsive shopping and are willing to wait in hour-long queues to get what they "need". Is there a scientific reason for the boom of panic buying?

Currently, there is no systematic review of panic buying however, Psychologists have found that people have begun to stockpile specific products for their future consumption if there is an uncertainty that the product will be available in the future or because product prices have become unusually low – on clearance or sale for example. With around 20% of the global population under lockdown, consumers are worried that the economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 will make it difficult to survive in isolation in the future.

The concept of ‘hoarding’ that people deem necessary to survive at home could be an individual’s inability to tolerate distress, but also, in part, could stem from a lack of trust that authorities are doing enough to support locals in dealing with stores closing. Panic buying for some people is also a method of ‘preparation’ in the event of a worst-case scenario whereby the production and restocking of specific items will stop.

People may choose to panic buy with the belief that, if shops do close, they will not be as negatively affected in terms of running out of food. However, masses of people have had the same idea, meaning that necessities have run out faster than supermarkets have been able to restock them, and many people – such as healthcare workers who are in long shifts and the elderly who aren’t as able to leave their house and people on benefits, those relying on cheap products – who can’t go out to buy daily essentials often, have been left with nothing.

The best way to stop yourself from panic buying and hoarding items like toilet paper is to get to the root of the panic. Think realistically; buying 100 rolls of toilet paper are useless if it takes at least a year to use them all. It also isn't helpful for you financially buying food that has a short expiration date or food that you may not even use. Be considerate, as there may be people who need the necessities more than you do. Think about how long each item will last and remember, the pandemic will not last forever.


  1. Norberg, Melissa, and Derek Rucker. 2020. "Psychology Can Explain Why Coronavirus Drives Us To Panic Buy. It Also Provides Tips On How To Stop". The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/psychology-can-explain-why-coronavirus-drives-us-to-panic-buy-it-also-provides-tips-on-how-to-stop-134032.
  2. Sibthorpe, Clare. 2020. "Coronavirus: Why Are People Panic Buying And Why Toilet Paper?". Sky News. https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-why-are-people-panic-buying-and-why-toilet-paper-11952397.
  3. "The Science Of Panic Buying And How To Stop It". 2020. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/evidence-based-living/202003/the-science-panic-buying-and-how-stop-it.

Biography: Ideja Bajra is a 16 year old student from Greater London, England, studying at Drapers’ Academy Sixth Form. She enjoys reading, writing and performing science experiments and is currently studying Biology, Chemistry and Physics at A Level with the ambition of becoming a Biochemist.