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The Windhager Experiment:The Psychology of Motoring

September 26, 2013

At the Car Loan Warehouse, we don’t just offer affordable finance deals for you to find the car you desire, we also like to educate. You may already know that attributing human qualities to animals is to ‘anthropomorphise’ or to inanimate objects is known as to ‘personify’, yet the human tendency to do so is also sometimes known as ‘pareidolia’. Social researchers have long been interested in this process, the reasons why we do so and whether or not those attributions are consistent across different cultures. One such anthropologist recently piqued by this comes from the University of Vienna – home to perhaps one of the most famous people of all who was fascinated by human behavior – Sigmund Freud.

Sonja Windhager (no sniggering at the back) wanted to investigate whether people from different cultures would attribute similar ‘personalities’ to vehicles, following her previous findings that people believed there to be an overlap between the perceived ‘personalities’ of cars and those of their owners.

Windhager asked 129 people from Austria to Ethiopia to compare images of 46 cars and rate them in terms of human traits. Ethiopian subjects were chosen because it was expected they would have been exposed to less car advertising and so would be less influenced by how those cars had been marketed as a brand.

Interestingly, respondents from both countries reported highly similar car shapes that were perceived as ‘mature’, ‘male’ and ‘dominant’. Decreases in windshield size, headlights that were more slit-like, bigger grilles and wider air slits contributed to the claims from both cultures that the cars seemed ‘mature’. This corresponds to smaller foreheads and eyes and bigger noses and mouths which are associated with humans advancing in age.

Quick test: which of the following vehicles, therefore, would you describe as neurotic, dominant, masculine, sad, angry and happy?

  • VW Beetle
  • BMW 645ci
  • Kia Picanto
  • Honda Civic

If you perceive the Kia Picanto as sad, the VW Beetle as happy, the Honda Civic as neurotic and the BMW 645ci as dominant AND masculine AND angry, then – congratulations, you are a true pareidolic. You might even have what it takes to be a car psychologist, if such a job exists.

So, consider this: do the vehicles your friends or colleagues drive match their personalities or are they wildly incompatible? Does friendly Jim drive around in a trusty old Fiat or is Colin from accounts compensating for something with his bright red Porsche Carrera? And what about you? Is your true personality reflected or hidden in the car you drive?

Windhager suggested the implications of this are far reaching; ascribing ‘personalities’ to cars could have an impact on pedestrian and driving behaviour. Do we, for example, change lanes sooner when we spy an ‘aggressive’ vehicle behind us in our rearview mirror? One thing is for certain, though, securing affordable car finance from the Car Loan Warehouse will definitely ensure you’ll be driving away with a big VW Beetle smile rather than a BMW 645ci frown on your petrol face!

About The Author

Jon Le Roux is co-founder and company director of The Car Loan Warehouse. Being a mad engineering and motorsport enthusiast, I spend more hours than is healthy, watching, reading or talking about cars, boats, motorbikes…..basically anything with an engine.