You are what you drive? Study shows people tend to drive cars that resemble their own faces
Mazda Mx-5 Miata front grille (Autofocus/G.R. Whale)
Nicholas Maronese, Autofocus.ca
Published Friday, September 5, 2014 2:44PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 5, 2014 3:19PM EDT
People tend to buy cars whose grilles and headlights resemble their own faces, according to a new study by two Austrian researchers.
Many studies have been done to show that people see cars' fronts like human faces and assign them personalities based on these "faces." However, a new study by psychologists Stefan Stiegar and Martin Voracek of the University of Vienna takes things a step further and says that people also tend to buy cars that look like they do.
The study, titled "Not only dogs resemble their owners, cars do, too" and printed in the Swiss Journal of Psychology, was built around black-and-white photos of 30 people and their cars. The researchers made sure only to use cars that the owners had somehow selected themselves, rather than cars received as gifts, prizes or through inheritance.
Using these images, Stiegar and Voracek made up image sets with the car at the top and six possible owners, including the real one, beneath it. The image sets were handed out to 160 participants, who were asked to rank each of those six possible owners as the most to least likely to own that car (on a scale of one to six, one being most likely).
Stiegar and Voracek suspected the participants – split equally between men and women and across all ages, from 16 to 78 – would be able to tell with better-than-chance odds which car belonged to whom—and they did. The real owner was invariably ranked '1' most frequently, and '6' least frequently.
"The average person can detect a physical similarity in the 'faces' of cars and their owners," summed up research psychologist Jesse Bering in his evaluation of the study.
The authors of the study controlled for the possibility that participants were working off of gender or status stereotypes by conducting the same test using photos of the car from the rear or side, as well as the front. Their findings showed that a participants' odds of choosing correctly were better-than-chance only when the image set included the cars' grilles.
Stiegar and Voracek tried one final test, too, based on the results of a recent study that showed people can match owners to their dogs. They showed participants image sets with a car and six dogs, and asked them to rank each dog "on the likelihood of its master being the owner of the car shown."
When the image set included the car's grille, again the odds were way better than chance. "Implied in these results is the startling fact most car owners are unwittingly purchasing cars that look like them," explains Bering. "To top it off, our dogs’ mug shots apparently bear an objective similarity to our cars’ 'faces' as well."
The study is the latest in a series that shows we tend to subconsciously treat their cars like people, and not just because we give them names and sometimes pamper them. In 2012, research showed car enthusiasts use the same part of the brain to remember cars' looks as they do human faces.