With over thirty published articles, chapters, and book reviews since 2008, Dr. David Berube, a professor at North Carolina State University, is currently editing the first book coming out on panic communication and public resilience.
First, I asked Dr. Berube to tell me a little bit about his research and what interested him in the project. When he was asked to edit a book by Springer NATURE, he wanted to write a chapter on panic buying and had many options to choose from: masks, protective equipment, antibiotics and toilet paper — yes toilet paper.
“The wildest stuff I found was on toilet paper”, he said. “I thought it’d be different, less serious. There’d be a high entertainment value and as a consequence of this I found a lot of serious research on it — it’s pretty bizarre.”
While toilet paper can be a “cheeky” subject, the most surprising thing that Dr. Berube found during his editing is how herding behavior can play into people’s actions and decision making. “People see people do other things and they sort of follow it as well. It’s also amplified by social media so that sort of segues into that.”
During his research symposium on March 3, 2021, Dr. Berube discussed the origins of toilet paper and items people have used before toilet paper was invented. He also talked about how panic buying is not hoarding, but that it is associated with emergencies, and that he selected toilet paper because it’s not all that critical and difficult to rationalize and there’s never really a “TP” shortage.
“We make all of it mostly in the USA, stores don’t put a lot out because they’re hard to stock – bulky. It looks like it’s worse than it is. Stores don’t stock much of this stuff and generally have lots of it in the back. It looks more irrational than it is, which made it an interesting write.”
Lastly, I asked Dr. Berube what the one thing he wanted people to take away from his presentation and research, to which he replied, “Anybody can be a panic buyer. You don’t look at people as if they’re nuts, this can happen to anybody. It’s all about coping and trying to do something about something that’s out of control.”