A new analysis from the University of Texas at Arlington confirmed that people's decision making process changes during times of stress — like in the middle of a pandemic. They're less likely to rely on objective facts or data and more likely to trust an anecdote from a friend.
The study was a meta-analysis, meaning researchers analyzed the findings from about 60 previously published papers, over 30 years of research.
Traci Freling, associate professor of marketing at UT-Arlington, launched the research before the pandemic started. But she said it's even more relevant now.
"When things are uncertain and scary, these are conditions where you think you'd be extra careful and make really good decisions based on facts, and instead we revert back to our guts," she said.
Freling said that's a big reason why consumers started hoarding things like toilet paper.
"You see that other people around you are behaving differently and there's a little bit of a contagion affect," she said. "And you're then basing your decisions not on objective facts, which is that 'I have enough toilet paper at my house and there's no shortage of this product.'"
Freling said public officials could also use this research to craft messaging in a way consumers would be more inclined to believe.
"We don't need to throw a lot of statistics and hard facts at consumers. What we need to show is real people, and show them doing the things we are recommending that other people do," she said.