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WHYY: In Anxious Times, Stocking Up on Stuff Is Just a Natural Human Response

This need to stock up — resulting in exhausted inventories known as stockouts — can be annoying, even scary in their own right. But it’s a pretty natural response, said Deborah Small, a professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. “Anxiety, panic, fear are functional. We have them for a reason — as human beings, they motivate protective action,” Small said. If something appears to be in short supply, people fall into a vicious cycle. As Small described it, “the initial panic, desire for control, and then panic not about the original issue, but panic that everybody is else is going to buy everything.” Especially when we’re faced with a virus too small to see and the thought of contagion all around, buying things can make us feel in control, she said. Staying home and washing our hands doesn’t offer tangible rewards in the same way that buying a 24 pack of Lysol wipes does. Other activities, like cooking, can help. But shopping, “having stuff — stuff makes you feel in control,” Small said. “Knowing that, that [it] won’t be uncertain, you’re not going to run out of toilet paper this week.” But especially with things like hand sanitizer, it’s best to try not to panic: “I’m not the first to point out if you have all of it, and other people can’t get it, then they’re going to be more likely to spread something to you if they don’t have access. The best outcome for all is if everybody has access,” Small said. Read more on WHYY.

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