Everybody is talking about it - it's everywhere and it is scary and truly a deadly disease.
It is probably the first time after the World Wars since the whole human kind is threatened in this scale - this time by a common enemy.
It's not from the outer space - nor any nation against another - but an invisible enemy which is closing borders, schools and people from one another:
A virus originated from - I'd say at least a bit questionable animal trade. However to my knowledge it's mostly legal and Chinese government has set up a law which actually encourages the domestication and breeding of wild animals (where the virus is said to have it's origin). For private smaller farmers, catching and breeding wild animals provides a way to sustain themselves. Unfortunately this legalized wildlife farming supports also illegal animal trafficking.
We are affecting this planet more than we often think - one or a few single acts can eventually end up into a drastic outcome.
However this is not really the topic of the text this time but the focus is on things that has happen because of this threat and how do we act upon it. ...or more closely it's about some side effects upon our behavior.
I've worked professionally with the animals now almost for four decades. Animal behavior is my great interest. Therefore I'm interested in what lies behind animal behavior? What are the triggers that make animals behave the way they do in different situations? Is it hormonal or other chemical transmitters (inside body) or environmental stimulus (outside of the body) or forces that makes animals behave the way they do?
This time the animal in question would be homo sapiens.
Herd of lemmings
It's been a top story or joke in social media and I've also wondered it with many of my friends;
Why do people buy so much toilet paper because of this pandemic situation?
I have not found anywhere any suggestion that the symptoms of this disease would be diarrhea or any other similar "inconvenience" for the infected person. Therefore the consumption of toilet paper should be the least concern for us.
What is the trigger for this type of behavior?
Why do people run for toilet paper and lust after it?
It seems very irrational. (Some could even define it as; insane.)
I've heard or read a few explanations;
- it's any way in stock and all of it will be used.
- it is difficultly replaceable product in case it would not be available.
- it gives a false feeling of control of the situation - something has to be done.
- in case of quarantine it would be a necessity, at least for two weeks.
- some truly think that stores will run out of it.
- etc. etc.
...or maybe it is some other factor I am not aware of ?
Many of these are probably quite justifiable reasons.
... or are we after all just a punch of lemmings?
Because of this exploration of food and new habitats lemmings posses a very strong myth;
"Herd of lemmings commit a mass suicide by jumping off seaside cliffs because their instinct drives them to kill themselves whenever the population becomes unsustainably large."
This of course is not true. I cannot think of any animal species that would commit a suicide, whether it is a lemming, a dolphin or any other species.
All in the lives of animals strongly supports adaptation and coping, energy efficiency, reproduction and survival of the individual, local population and at the end the species. Therefore suicide in animal kingdom is to my opinion anthropomorphism and it supports irresistible metamorphism on human behavior. Therefore sometimes our behavior has been compared into a behavior of a herd of lemmings.
We all - at least animal keepers or owners - understand the basics of how a herd can behave. How one or a few animals in the herd can cause the whole herd to start for example an escape behavior. How the reaction escalates within the herd. It can lead eventually into a panic type of behavior. But all in all with animals the question is about survival.
This lead me to the question if we humans are just another heard and all this is some sort of sophisticated escape or survival behavior? ..or if it truly is falsely giving a feeling that we are prepared for the worst - which in this case unfortunately is far from diarrhea.
In the case on lemmings the trigger is obvious - too little space and food leads into a search of new habitat that can support the species or current population. On their way to new habitats they may come to cross i.e. a river. Lemmings can swim but some of them may drown because of a strong stream. This does not make them suicidal behavior wise.
The Bandwagon theory
One theory that I believe could possibly explain the phenomenon would be so called bandwagon theory.
The bandwagon term originates from USA, as in early 1800 when a circus entered the town it arranged a parade through the town's main street. The first wagon was the bandwagon which understandably had the band in it. Loud music attracted people to come, watch and join the parade. This was the best advertising for the circus and parade would lead people to the circus.
Obviously this was very successful way of attracting people, as it was soon expanded to get people involved in other activities as well. It was probably used for the first time also in the politics by a famous clown Dan Rice (1823-1900) - when he started to use the bandwagons to promote his political campaign.
Dan Rice was a circus entertainer of many talents, most famously well known (and the first notable) clown in USA but also obviously very talented animal trainer. He used at that time unique round stables that were especially build for training purpose (ref. modern round pen training with horses). He among other things created the act featuring the first ever trained rhino in the United States. According to some sources he is also said to be the model for Uncle Sam; with his favorite striped trousers, a star figured coat, top hat and the goat resembling beard - surely this is giving a strong hint to that direction.
( https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/famous-american-clown-was-probably-model-uncle-sam-180961852/ )
He could be considered to be the father for bandwagon theory. He was using this method for his short campaign for running to the presidency of USA but also for his friend in politics, the president Zachary Taylor. Rice invited Zachary to campaign on his bandwagon, it was the center piece of his campaign. The expression "Jump on the bandwagon" got started - in order to support Taylor, people were asked to jump in. This made his campaign more successful than his competitors. The idea was that by acting this way you'd be in the winning team because so many others are also doing the same. Later in the turn of 1900 bandwagons had become a standard in political campaigns.
What does it stand for ?
It's effects are risen from multiple areas of life; psychological, sociological and even economical factors. People want to be in the winning team, which is rather natural and in a way a primitive force in our lives. It is a survival instinct. Already in early human communes or tribes survival and staying alive was beneficial if one could get within a successful hunters group. The same can be seen in animal kingdom, when it is beneficial to all individuals and if we are not talking of solitary type of species.
The bandwagon effect covers many aspects and fields of our daily life, from stock markets to trending clothes. Even in the politics it can be seen and it may cause people to jump into a winning wagon even if they wouldn't support all the values of the political agenda in question. The effect of surveys or polls has been studied to rise the support of the most successful party or candidate, at least periodically after the publication of the results.
Or getting the top fashion clothes which are worn by "every one"!!
People just want to belong to the majority. The voice of the majority cannot be wrong!
The financial markets kind of rely on this effect; as if certain stock is getting a good reputation of being valuable and worth acquiring the more investor will "jump into" that wagon to get better benefit. On the other hand this is also making markets vulnerable. It will raise the value of the purchase and eventually someone wants to cash his or hers merchandise which then may create another wagon; the one which is going fast on downhill.
Finally getting into the consumer behavior.
Of course if a X-product has a good reputation that will increase the value of it in the eyes of consumers. It is studied that the more people are interested in it - the more it will draw interest from others as well.
This is studied in many occasions but first one to give a name or label for this type of behavior has been Solomon Asch (1907-1996), a Polish-American psychologist and a pioneer in studying social psychology. He is the most well known for his experiments in which he demonstrated the influence of group pressure on opinion of an individual. His conformity experiments showed how peer pressure can change opinion and even perception of a single individual.
The experience consisted a group of people who were true participants in the test but also of the participants who were fake "actors" forming a majority in the group, they knew what the purpose of the experience truly was. They were given clear guidance how to respond to each round of comparison questions.
The group was shown a card with a line on it, following by another card with 3 lines in it, they were labeled A,B & C. Then the participants were to identify which line would match the one in the first card and say it out loud. The "real" participant were to give the answer last in the group.
First two rounds of questions were easy as all participants gave the correct obvious answer. After that all fake participants started to give clearly wrong answers, the test consisted of 18 rounds of which in 12 all fake participants gave wrong answers. In those trials where fake participants gave clearly the wrong answer the "true" participant could choose to ignore the majority or go along with them.
Most of true participants ignored the decision of majority and stayed on their correct answers but approximately one third defined their answers according to the majority.
Even though they chose the wrong answer, still many of them didn't think that the opinion of the majority was a correct one. They wanted to adapt their decision because of the majority in order to be uniform with them. "Majority must know better.." was most likely some of theirs thoughts. This way they would get in the winning team.
The result clearly was that the power of majority influences the subjects opinion notably.
Long story short
I will rest my case.
These are just a few theories which may explain our lust for purchasing extended amounts of toilet paper. I don't really believe any of us would think that by having tons of toilet paper would make us look richer or better than our neighbors, nor it's because it would be some fancy product that would make us 'hip'. Neither I do think that suddenly the reputation of toilet paper would have gone sky-high - except maybe in our minds.
Maybe it truly is some sort of primitive reaction for survival of ourselves and to protect our closest family. In the case of quarantine it is naturally wise to have an adequate amount of essential necessity items and food.
Or maybe we are in the winning team with a significant storage of toilet paper? It would make our probability to survive higher in some primitive state of our thinking.
Or is it because the majority of people purchase so much toilet paper? So, I must do it also - because I would then be in the bandwagon team even though I kind of think it is obscure and irrelevant for the issue. "What if I don't know everything or enough and all the others know something I don't ?"
...or maybe people just wanted to belong to a social act ? ...and also to be part of a herd and honestly jumped into the bandwagon due to the power of virus threat.
One thing is obvious - the pressure of majority has a strong influence in behavior of many consumers.
All in all:
Let's be wise and jump on the bandwagon of common sense and wisdom; let's take care of us and our beloved one's safety and promote good hygiene, keep an adequate social distance to each other for the time being ... and try to find something good even from this ride.
Godspeed to all 💛
- Kai -
Ps. No toilet paper was harmed, misused nor purchased during the typing of this blog-text 😉
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