June 12 (UPI) -- People who stockpiled toilet paper as the COVID-19 pandemic reached U.S. shores in March likely felt more threatened by the virus and emphasize preparedness in other facets of their lives, according to a study published Friday by the journal PLOS ONE.
Using the Brief HEXACO Inventory, which ranks six broad personality traits, people who tend to worry more and feel anxious -- characteristics that fall under the category of "emotionality" -- were more likely to stockpile supplies like toilet paper, the researchers found.
Similarly, those with personalities high in "conscientiousness" -- which includes traits like organization, diligence, perfectionism and prudence -- also were more likely to hoard the product, they said.
"The perceived threat by COVID-19 was an important driver for toilet paper stockpiling," study co-author Theo Toppe, a doctoral student in the Department of Comparative Cultural Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, told UPI.
"This finding hints to the importance of the reduction of people's perceived threat in a pandemic, which might be achieved by clear communication of governments as also a predictor of stockpiling," he said.
Following the fast spread of COVID-19 across Europe and North America in March, toilet paper sales skyrocketed, in some places by as much as 700 percent, according to Toppe. This came despite calls from governments worldwide to refrain from "panic buying," he said.
Toppe and his colleagues surveyed 1,029 adults from 35 countries, recruited through social media, between March 23 and 29. Participants completed the Brief HEXACO Inventory and shared information on their demographics, perceived threat level of COVID-19, quarantine behaviors and toilet paper consumption in recent weeks, the researchers said.
The most robust predictor of toilet paper stockpiling was the perceived threat posed by the pandemic, the researchers found.
Older people -- or those considered at increased risk for serious illness with COVID-19 -- stockpiled more toilet paper than younger people and Americans stockpiled more than Europeans, they said.