The Psychology Of A Gas Run

Sep 7, 2017

State officials say the lines of cars snaking around the block of your local gas station is the result of panic and not an actual shortage of gas, but what is the psychology behind what leads to these mass “gas runs?”  

When you pull up to your local gas station, it may be hard not to notice the number of drivers in cars waiting to fill up their tank or that big “red tag” hanging from the pump handle.

But at a press conference in Austin Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters there is plenty of gasoline in the State and in an effort to boost consumer confidence and insure the state’s supply, his office has launched several initiatives.

“We have worked in the past 24 to 48 hours to alleviate concerns about gasoline and to ensure that more gasoline will coming or is already coming to the State of Texas," Abbott says.

The governor’s office is working with neighboring states to temporarily increase the state’s supply of gas.

Abbott acknowledged how the consumer panic led to some gas stations actually running out of gas.

Dr. Art Markman is a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and studies “decision making and consumer behavior.”  Markman says the concern over scarcity of some necessities is actually hardwired into human behavior.

“It starts with hearing reports that there might be gas shortages, but now you begin to look around and you say, ‘well, does the gas stations seem to be open, does there seem to be a line’, and then your goal in that situation ends up driven a little bit by what other people do," Markman explains.

Markman says in order to reverse this trend it takes a person in a position of authority to admit there could some shortages related to the storm but then encourage people to plan ahead, rather than consumers being surprised by seeing a gas run when they pass their neighborhood convenience store.