- Sep 29, 2004
- Reaction score
An interesting article from today's NY Times:
June 13, 2006
With That Saucy Swagger, She Must Drive a Porsche
By BENEDICT CAREY
Some people seem a perfect fit for the cars they drive, like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his Hummer, Michael Jordan and his Ferrari. Yet most drivers' faces and bearing give away clues that tip off their favored model, a new study has found.
Psychologists at Julius-Maximilians University in Wurzburg, Germany, report in a recent issue of the Journal of Individual Differences that students correctly matched photographs of male and female drivers to pictures of the cars they drove almost 70 percent of the time.
The drivers' age and wealth were the most helpful cues, the researchers reported.
Psychologists had shown in previous studies that people can accurately gauge some personality traits, like extroversion, from photos of strangers, and from personal effects, like a CD collection or bedroom decorations. The German study is the first to demonstrate that clues from both sources can be combined to match owners to their cars, the authors say.
The finding demonstrates how nuanced our habitual, often stereotype-based, judgments can be, said Samuel Gosling, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, who did not take part in the research.
"It is possible that when the traffic light turns green, the tan minivan will race away and the red Corvette will move away slowly, but people don't buy cars randomly, and usually we make accurate assumptions about them," he said.
He added, "We don't just make inferences about the drivers but about their behavior, their music collection, whether they're more likely to listen to jazz or rock, their movie preferences, whether they like romantic comedies or action films."
In the study, the psychologists took photographs, from the waist up, of 60 men and women at a rest stop who agreed to participate in the study. Their cars, also photographed, included luxury models, modest family sedans and compact cars, from BMWs and Audis to Opels, Fords and Volkswagens.
The students looked at 60 sets of three photos, matching one of a driver to one of two car pictures "” either the correct one, or one belonging to another driver.
In matching experiments like this, early choices often alter later ones: if you have already found someone to match with a black-cherry Porsche Boxster, you are less likely to pair it with another person later. But because many of the cars were similar in color and model, students' early matches were not likely to alter later ones, the authors said.
The researchers found that 41 pairs, or about 68 percent, were correctly matched by more than half of the students. "Interestingly, it seems to be easier to match people with cars than people with animate beings like dogs. Or people with their babies," concluded the authors, Georg W. Alpers and Antje B. M. Gerdes.
A nearly 70 percent accuracy rate is very high, and partly reflects the significance of two clues in particular "” age and apparent affluence, the authors report. Matching older, wealthy-looking drivers to luxury cars and young ones to compacts almost certainly proved a good strategy.
But there is more to the matching than that, other experts said. Scratches, dings and dents in a car suggest one thing about a driver, while a factory polish reflects another. A four-wheel-drive Subaru with a ski rack suggests an active owner "” unless the racks appear unused. And people choose cars, within their budget or not, partly to project a public identity, and the public well knows it, Dr. Gosling said.
Moreover, in making judgments, people soak up dozens of clues unconsciously, noting the emotional cast of a person's face in a photo, say, or the style of the hair, the texture of the clothing, the tilt and quality of the eyeglasses.
"We are constantly trying to make sense of the world by picking up clues from the physical and social environment, in order to predict what's going to happen," Dr. Gosling said.
Given the necessity, value and danger of cars "” and the cultural connotations of particular models "” it is hardly surprising that people are attuned to their social meanings.