Two distinct herds of people have formed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Newcastle academic David Savage says.
"One group will base their behaviour and choices on the expertise of others, where another group won't," said Dr Savage, a behavioural economist at the University of Newcastle.
One group focuses on the rights of the individual, while the other group accepts government restrictions backed by science.
"They tend to form along political and ideological lines," said Dr Savage, an associate professor.
"The more people are seen to act one way or the other, the more people are likely to follow along with that."
The phenomenon behind this is known as herd behaviour.
Wearing a mask and following lockdown rules are real world examples of this trait, along with the toilet paper debacle.
"A lot of it has to do with your acceptance of information," said Dr Savage.
While people had generally acted in a rational way in Australia during the pandemic, the toilet paper issue stands out as a low point.
Dr Savage said the buying of extra toilet paper was irrational, but the human behaviour behind it had a rational explanation.
It was, he said, driven by the inherent traits of herd behaviour, loss aversion and regret. People tend to follow the group and don't want to miss out or lose things.
"We were never going to run out of toilet paper. We have two major manufacturers here," Dr Savage said.
"This is why information and knowledge are really important in changing the way people behave."
Dr Savage has examined risk-taking on Mount Everest and survival on the Titanic, as it sunk.
"A lot of the research I do is about exploring behaviour in unusual high-risk environments. COVID fitted perfectly into this," he said.
Dr Savage is co-author of a study released this month in Scientific Reports in Nature.
The study examined risk attitudes and human activity during the pandemic.
It looked at the average risk preferences of individuals in 58 countries.
It found behavioural responses to pandemics were more shaped by "perceived risk than actual mortality or hospitalisation risk".
The study compared activities such as grocery shopping, using public transport and visiting parks and residential homes before and during the pandemic and at its outset.
People react differently to risk based on factors such as their upbringing, culture, age and gender. Nature and nurture are factors.
"Women are really good at assessing risk. Men are particularly bad," he said.
People also perceive risk differently.
"If you're not a motorbike rider, you'd say that's a really risky thing to do. Whereas the person riding the bike would think, well, actually it's not really that risky," said Dr Savage.
At Everest base camp, he conducted research on climbers seeking to reach the summit.
"I originally assumed people climbing Mount Everest were risk seekers, but they're actually not," he said.
"That was a big eye-opener for me."
Often, people who willingly do dangerous activities like climbing Everest are good at perceiving risk.
"They are really good at analysing risk and taking chances that are proportional to the risk," he said.
"On average, most people in society are moderately risk averse."
In general, people become more risk averse as they get older. Florida, for example, has a large number of retirees.
Its population was more likely to stick to lockdown rules. Whereas some young people were having COVID-19 parties.
Reports had emerged that young people had a low probability of becoming severely ill or dying from the disease.
Some partied despite the concern that they could spread the virus to more vulnerable people.
Yet during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, "no one really knew what the true risks were".
Fears were heightened when relatively high death rates of 3 to 5 per cent were reported in China and Italy.
"The death rates were alarmingly high," he said.
"The mortality rate seems to have settled at about 0.7 per cent. The catch at the moment is we don't know the long-term effects.
"People who have had COVID-19 are having other issues like respiratory, heart, stomach and kidney problems."