New ‘Short Talks’ explores fear and food insecurity during a pandemic


Sociology professor Kevin Fitzpatrick

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (News Release) – In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, when news of its potential economic and social impact spread, Kevin Fitzpatrick was shopping for toilet paper at Sam’s Club.

“I was doing like everyone else was doing, gathering up my toilet paper and paper towels,” Fitzpatrick says in the new episode of Short Talks From the Hill, a podcast of the University of Arkansas. “And I was shut out. I didn’t get any of either. … I guess I was surprised. … While things were clearly developing both here in the country and around the world, in terms of the supply chain, I had not expected that.”

For sociologists like Fitzpatrick, observing group behavior can be both a burden and a boon. Instead of shaking his fist at the world, he started asking questions. Why toilet paper? Maybe sociologists hadn’t looked at such behavior close enough.

“Is there a level of fear that’s creating what we might consider maladaptive behavior,” Fitzpatrick says in the podcast. “Like hoarding, for example. Anecdotally we’d heard about it. We just hadn’t lived it.”

Fitzpatrick returned to work and discussed the phenomenon with colleagues in his department. Within weeks they had received a special grant from the National Science Foundation to study several sociological aspects of the pandemic, including fear and food insecurity.

To listen to Fitzpatrick discuss this project with Sarah Brown, communications assistant in the office of Research and Innovation, go to, the home of research news at the University of Arkansas, or visit the “On Air” and “Programs” link at

Short Talks From the Hill highlights research and scholarly work at the University of Arkansas. Each segment features a university researcher discussing his or her work. Previous podcasts can be found under the ‘Short Talks From the Hill’ link at

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