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How Understanding The Psychology Behind Isolation Fatigue Could Save The Economy

Can understanding consumer behaviors give us clues as to how to safely reopen the economy?...
How Understanding The Psychology Behind Isolation Fatigue Could Save The Economy
Written by Brian Wallace
  • Watching the effects of people’s psychological reactions to the pandemic can give us clues as to how to save the economy. Early on people were stockpiling toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but why? As the pandemic has worn on, the things people are stocking up on have changed. From toilet paper to guns and ammo, why are people choosing the things they are choosing and what can that tell us about how to save the economy?

    When the pandemic first reached the United States, people were buying up things they thought they would need immediately – toilet paper and hand sanitizer. The hand sanitizer is somewhat obvious – officials announced early on that it was effective against the novel coronavirus when soap and water were not available, such as when you are grocery shopping. 

    But why toilet paper? Think about it this way – we went from spending the majority of our days outside of our homes at work and school to spending all day, every day in our homes. That means more of our, er, daily business is being done at home than usual. Hence the need for more toilet paper. And as the supply chain failed to keep up, it caused people to panic even more about whether they would be able to meet this most basic need for their families.

    Within a few weeks, flour and baking yeast were flying off shelves. As yeast became scarce, everyone you know began baking sourdough bread because of the ability to capture and propagate wild yeast. As people began to settle into the idea they might be stuck at home for a while they started to look for creative outlets that also might turn into useful information for future survival. Baking bread fit the bill.

    Later came spikes in beverage alcohol sales and hair dye. People wanted to escape reality with a new hair color or cover their gray roots so they didn’t have to think about the fact they are aging. And of course imbibing has long been a staple for people bored at home wanting a diversion.

    Soon that diversion turned to panic, however, and people began to stock up on freezers, meat, guns, and ammo. The threat of running out of meat in the stores became real as meat processing plants began to shut down because of massive Covid-19 outbreaks. People needed a place to store their stockpile, so freezers sold out across the country. The threat of fights in grocery store parking lots became real, and people began to plan for the worst.

    Then came chickens and vegetable plants. People decided they were probably going to be on their own for food soon and they stocked up on whatever kind of food they could produce themselves.

    This all took place within the first several weeks of the pandemic. Over time compliance fatigue grew and people became restless. They began to demand the government allow the country to reopen, which led to a spike in coronavirus cases. Now hospitals are reaching capacity in heavily populated areas, mainly because people were tired of being afraid and wanted to get back to their daily lives.

    Understanding this psychology could help us reach a point where it is safe to reopen the economy again. Wearing masks is probably the biggest thing we can do to make it safe to reopen the economy, so encouraging people to wear masks is the first step toward reopening the economy.

    Learn more about how human psychology is affecting the economy and how we can move forward from the infographic below.

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