Risk for views: The psychology behind the Tide Pod challenge

American Association of Poison Control Centres


Shaheed Devji, YouTube vlogger, uploads weekly videos that revolves around him and his family.


Devji wanted a way to keep in contact with his wife when he moved away for work and says he engaged in YouTube challenges that pitted him against his wife.


“One of the challenges I’ve done was the Oreo challenge where you put an Oreo on your face and you try to slide it into your mouth without using your hands, but then there’s the other pranks that teens would do.”

While trends can at time be harmless, it can often be dangerous.


The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) released a statement last week, that on the first 2 weeks of 2018, there were 39 cases of teens intentionally eating liquid laundry packets.  


That number has since jumped to 86. This is due to the Tide Pod challenge that went viral on YouTube. The challenge dares participants to consume the product.

“I think the bigger part of it is certainly about views and in the end views in YouTube ends up in monetization.”


According to the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre (DPIC), almost half of all detergent ingestions done by teens is intentional, either as suicide or substance abuse.


AAPCC reported to have received over 10,000 calls of people eating laundry packets by the end of 2017.

DPIC has not yet released the total number of laundry packet-related calls in BC.


However, the centre received a total of 467 calls, and issued 150 hospital visits in a span of 3 years (between 2012 – 2015) for laundry detergent-related incidents.

Social media has changed the behaviour of kids

Eric Li, UBC assistant professor specializing in social media, believes that part of the reason to the increase in dangerous challenges is due to the easy access of internet videos.


“One of the missing components is how kids will differentiate between seeing something good and something bad when watching popular videos.”


Li’s feels that social media leaves the younger generation in an independent or isolated situation, making them more vulnerable to material from social media.


“The internet provides a lot of information and because they often have their own tablets, it becomes difficult to monitor what they’re watching on their own devices, compared to 30 years ago.”

Social media has changed the types of media children consume (Working Home Guide)

A premature brain results in impulsive behavior

Diagram of the human brain (Mad Fitness)

“Tide Pod challenge as silly as it is, it's really not that much different from the many activities that teenagers engage in regularly that are hazardous.” 


 According to Cory Pedersen, psychology professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, the prefrontal cortex in the brain is not fully developed.  This is the part responsible for creating hypothetical consequences for actions. 


The limbic system, the area that controls the reward system, takes over in turn.  This then pushes teenagers to engage in activities like cliff jumping, drinking and driving, or drinking to the point of passing out and vomiting.


“There’s a disconnect between the reward and pleasure centers of the brain in the limbic system that are highly active in the teenager, and the part of the brain that is responsible for sound decision making.”


Still, Pedersen says decision making also relies on social behaviors, not just the prefrontal cortex.


“If you see everybody running or looking up at the sky, you run and look up at the sky…it’s also not only based on informational sources, but the desire to not be excluded, to not stand out, to not be different.”

YouTube star’s rise to fame

“When you create good videos, people start to share the link.  The more people that hear about your video the better.” – Eric Li, Assistant professor in social media and digital consumption


Li argues that monetization and the personal branding had something to do with Tide Pod videos popping up on YouTube.


Partaking in a challenge could help increase the recognition of their personal brand and attract more subscribers, but he said promoting these types of challenges would eventually do more harm than good.

Logan Paul shoots a ball of fire at YouTuber Mark Dohner (Logan Paul / Youtube)

Logan Paul was the most recent person to feel this effect.  Widely known as one of the biggest YouTube stars in the world, his videos often revolve around pranks like firing fireballs at his friends, turning his brother’s pool into slime, or shooting a fake dog from a cannon.


He recently came under fire for a controversial video that showed a dead body in the Aokigahara forest, a chosen spot for suicides in Japan.


He apologized on twitter, quoting that his intention was to raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention following the release of his latest video.


Li says this is something YouTube stars will often come across, and forget that they face the same challenges as a real-life celebrity.


“People will keep an archive of what they did in the past and will always bring this back to the public’s attention…but people might gradually forget and say ‘let’s move on and recognize his contributions to the world or the future.”

Tide will continue to sell their pods

Petra Renck, Communications for Procter & Gamble said they are concerned about the intentional and improper use of liquid laundry packets, and stated they will continue to send a message that laundry pods are meant only to be used for laundry.


Post-secondary students will be educated by the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association and Tide on how to properly use laundry detergents, as P&G will not be removing their Tide Pods from the shelves.


“Tide Pods are used safely by millions of households across the United States and Canada every day.  We will continue to offer liquid laundry packets, together with other detergent forms.”

Tide Pods (Dennis Arellano / BCIT News)

Tide will also be adding a large ‘caution’ sticker to the top of the tub lid, the color and graphics placement on the tubs will also be changed to reduce visibility of the pods.


Renck commented that pods should not be played with, whatever the circumstance, even if meant as a joke.

Preventing YouTube challenges

Pedersen believes that everyone is subjected to positive illusory bias, which is the belief that one is so important that bad things couldn’t possibly happen to oneself.


“If you ask people if smoking is bad for your health, everyone agrees it is, even if you ask a smoker.  But then if you ask the smoker of their chances of getting lung cancer he'll say, ‘Oh I probably won't die of lung cancer.’"


She says the first step to fight situations where children put themselves in danger, is to have open conversations where a lecture is not the only solution.


“It needs to be a bidirectional conversation that teaches them about how to resist conformity, and the hazard of those types of actions.  The exact same way that we have conversations with our kids about not drinking, wearing seat belts, and not texting while they drive.”


Pedersen says parents should be having open, honest, warm conversations with their children.


“The earlier we can start that the better it will be, with respect to them actually listening to what adults have to say.”

If you experience self-inflicted or accidental poisoning, please call the British Columbia Drug and Poison Information Centre (DPIC) at 1-800-567-8911.  In an Emergency call 911.

Dennis Arellano / BCIT News

© 2018 Risk for Views by Ryan Lehal & Dennis Arellano

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