The media is replete with COVID-19 stories about people clearing supermarket shelves – and the backlash against them. Have people gone mad? How can one individual be overfilling his own cart, while shaming others who are doing the same?
As a behavioral neuroscientist who has studied hoarding behavior for 25 years, I can tell you that this is all normal and expected. People are acting the way evolution has wired them.
The word “hoarding” might bring to mind relatives or neighbors whose houses are overfilled with junk. A small percentage of people do suffer from what psychologists call “hoarding disorder,” keeping excessive goods to the point of distress and impairment.
But hoarding is actually a totally normal and adaptive behavior that kicks in any time there is an uneven supply of resources. Everyone hoards, even during the best of times, without even thinking about it. People like to have beans in the pantry, money in savings and chocolates hidden from the children. These are all hoards.
Most Americans have had so much, for so long. People forget that, not so long ago, survival often depended on working tirelessly all year to fill root cellars so a family could last through a long, cold winter – and still many died.
Similarly, squirrels work all fall to hide nuts to eat for the rest of the year. Kangaroo rats in the desert hide seeds the few times it rains and then remember where they put them to dig them back up later. A Clark’s nutcracker can hoard over 10,000 pine seeds per fall – and even remember where it put them.
Similarities between human behavior and these animals’ are not just analogies. They reflect a deeply ingrained capacity for brains to motivate us to acquire and save resources that may not always be there. Suffering from hoarding disorder, stockpiling in a pandemic or hiding nuts in the fall – all of these behaviors are motivated less by logic and more by a deeply felt drive to feel safer.
Read the full article at The Conversation.