Social Media Could be Fueling a Panic-Buying Response, Says Baylor Expert on Consumerism and Technology

Social Media Could be Fueling a Panic-Buying Response, Says Baylor Expert on Consumerism and Technology

March 24, 20203 min read

Photos and videos of empty grocery store shelves where toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer and more would typically be stocked have circulated after people responded to COVID-19 fears with panic buying, or bulk buying. Some stores are enforcing quantity limits on certain items and asking people to leave stock for the next person, explaining that their supply chain has not been disrupted.

During a time of stress and uncertainty, how do we ease our fears and avoid a counter-productive and potentially selfish bulk-buying response?

Baylor University’s Jim Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in the Hankamer School of Business, is an internationally recognized expert on consumer behavior and the effects of consumerism and technology on individual happiness.

During a brief Q&A, he gave insight to how panic buying content on social media can actually reinforce fear and gave advice on reducing anxiety.

Q: Do you see a connection here between consumerism and safety or perceived safety?

A: Yes, we call it mortality salience. When we are reminded of our own mortality, we search out products that give us comfort. We naturally buy more when we are threatened.

We often seek comfort in our spending particularly in times like these. Some products have practical value, but a shopping cart full of toilet paper is addressing some deeper existential fears as well.

Q: There have been a lot of photos floating around online of empty shelves in grocery stores. Is social media affecting panic buying?

A: The media benefits from creating hysteria — more people watch and listen when they are frightened. There is something called the availability bias that can explain why we are so fearful. We view things that we have been recently exposed to as more prevalent than they really are.

Q: How can people navigate social media during this time in a healthy way?

A: Step away from it. Cut back on media exposure and distract yourself by trying to ease others’ burdens.

If you turn off your TV and avoid social media you will reduce your anxiety level. Take the emphasis off yourself and you will reap psychological benefits. 


Jim Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, is a nationally and internationally recognized expert on consumer behavior and has been quoted extensively in the media. He has appeared on CBS’ Early Show, ABC’s World News Tonight, ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s The Today Show. He has been quoted and/or featured in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalUSA TodayNational Public RadioCosmopolitan MagazineGlamour and U.S. News and World Report, among many other newspapers, magazines, websites and television outlets.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 18,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


At Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, integrity stands shoulder-to-shoulder with analytic and strategic strengths. The School’s top-ranked programs combine rigorous classroom learning, hands-on experience in the real world, a solid foundation in Christian values and a global outlook. Making up approximately 25 percent of the University’s total enrollment, undergraduate students choose from 16 major areas of study. Graduate students choose from full-time, executive or online MBA or other specialized master’s programs, and Ph.D. programs in Information Systems, Entrepreneurship or Health Services Research. The Business School also has campuses located in Austin and Dallas, Texas. Visit and follow on Twitter at

Connect with:
  • James Roberts, Ph.D.
    James Roberts, Ph.D. Director, Centre for Nonprofit Leadership and Service, Professor - Marketing

    Expert on consumer behavior, human-computer interaction, compulsive buying, and effects of consumerism & technology on individual happiness.

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