What Angry Headlights You Have: Humans Don’t Like “Happy” Cars

By Nina Bai | October 16, 2008 2:41 pm

bmwWe make snap judgments about strangers based on their faces. We even do this with inanimate objects, conjuring up human-like faces in furniture, appliances, and office supplies. A new study finds that when it comes to cars, we like their “expressions” angry and mean.

Researchers in Vienna asked people to rate “headshots” of 38 cars using a list of 18 traits, including childlike, hostile, happy, and neurotic. The participants were also asked to draw the facial features they saw in the cars. Vehicles with wide stances, tapered windshields, and wide-set, angled headlights were the most liked (Lightning McQueen from Cars seems to qualify—as does Stephen King’s Christine) and scored high on traits associated with power, such as adult, dominant, arrogant, angry, masculine, and hostile. A typical “power” car was the scowling BMW 5 Series, while a smiling Toyota Prius ranked the fourth lowest on the list.

The researchers suspect the participants weren’t just judging the cars by their grilles, since the angry-faced cars also tended to be more expensive and prestigious. That’s why they’re planning on extending their study to Ethiopia, where people have little exposure to modern car models.

The authors also noted that what a customer “likes” might not be the same as what they “buy”—think of it like choosing someone as a one-night stand, versus choosing someone as a spouse. Or drooling over a BMW versus buying a Prius.

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Image: flickr/ Hello Kit

MORE ABOUT: cars, faces
  • Solomon

    “Ethiopia, where people have little exposure to modern car models.”

    This is untrue statement, Ethiopians are well aware of modern car models and I have no idea where you get this to generalize on 80 million people.

  • p3ngwin

    there was a car released in i believe Japan that was a western made/designed car. sometime over the last decade.

    when initially shown, the natives didn’t like the “angry” grill and lights setup, so the auto maker had to make adjustments to make it more neutral and acceptable.


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