Fear amplified by the sight of empty shelves and brawling shoppers on social media has helped spark Australia's toilet paper buying frenzy, a leading psychologist believes.
Coronavirus is the first major global health crisis to take place in the era of social media and it has heightened a fear of missing out among Australians, Launceston-based clinical psychologist Lucy Wise said.
"Because Facebook and social media is so accessible it's feeding into that psychology of missing out or panic stations and our survival instincts are kicking in," she said.
"People are thinking 'well if I have to be locked up in quarantine for two weeks I must make sure I have enough toilet paper'."
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According to Ms Wise, a group mentality phenomenon had led masses of people to buy toilet paper.
"We've got something called deindividuation behaviour which is basically behind the idea of group mentality and lynch mobs," she said.
"We see others doing things and on one hand we might go with the flow, but then there's this other idea where we have a decreased awareness of our own behavior in this sort of environment.
"We see people who behave more impulsively and have a decreased regard for others."
Ms Wise likened the toilet paper situation to the Christmas retail rush, where consumers flock to the shops and battle it out for the best value gifts.
"We do see these mentalities ... we just see them in a much more diluted way," she said.
"This is something we're seeing worldwide."
Why people chose to buy more toilet paper specifically was not something Ms Wise could explain.
"It's very unexpected considering the coronavirus presents with cold and flu like symptoms, you're not getting diarrhea," she said.
"It baffles me as to why this has been something that has captured the popular attention. Perhaps because toilet paper is something that we're all using everyday, all of the time."
There were shortages of other items but people hadn't rushed to panic buy or stockpile those products, Ms Wise claimed.
"We're also witnessing massive shortages on antibacterial wipes and hand sanitiser, but perhaps that's more normalised given the circumstances," she said.
In response to Australia's toilet paper shortage, Coles temporarily banned customers from buying more than one pack per transaction. Woolworths has introduced a four pack limit.
- Access official coronavirus advice from the Australian Government via the Department of Health website.