Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cars and Public Image

From the Department of Obvious comes this never-before-known fact: People generally buy cars to fit their lifestyles. Amazing!
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.

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. [...]

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.

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