Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Does your car look like you?
Does your car smile at everybody? Or does it return all glances with a don’t-mess-with-me glare?
Look at the front of your vehicle. Forgetting for the moment that it’s made of metal and glass, what do you see?
Some part of us wants to see faces similar to our own wherever we look, and vehicle manufacturers cater to that desire by giving specific “expressions” to the front ends of their products. The effect on buyers may be subconscious, but it’s real. We’ll choose a car that has an expression we like.
In an article in Scientific American Mind, Professor Helmut Leder says there’s a sound reason to believe that putting a “face” on a vehicle will help sell it. He and colleagues at the University of Vienna, Austria, discovered in a study that people observe the front end of a car with the same eye movements they use to register the features of a face: first they look at the headlights/eyes, then the grille/nose, followed by the lower air inlets/mouth. The sideview mirrors, of course, correspond to human ears. Because the eyes draw our attention first, some car designers are making headlights look as much like human eyes as possible.
It’s not just the “expression” on a car’s “face” that makes us like it. As in all things, most people are profoundly attracted to overall symmetry and rounded shapes. Scientists studying human preferences have discovered that sharp-edged objects activate neurons in the brain’s “fear hub” more strongly than rounded forms do. (Is it any wonder that cars with sharp, high fins didn’t last long?) Our love of symmetry shows up in everything we do, from the way we design and decorate our houses to the beauty contestants we crown. Symmetry may be bland, but it’s familiar and comforting. So are cars with faces that reflect our own personalities.
What kind of car do you drive? How would you describe the expression on its face?