Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Does your car look like you?

Sandra Parshall

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?

A face.

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?


Sheila Connolly said...

Interesting stuff! I drive a VW New Beetle (since it's a '99 it's no so new any more), and obviously that's "round." But one of the things that I like about the car (besides the ample leg room and head room, and the surprising storage space that I once filled with the entire contents of my daughter's college dorm room) is that the "round" design carries through all parts of the car, inside and out--it's all curves.

Sandra Parshall said...

The designers of the Aston-Martin car driven by James Bond have tried to maintain the "rakish smile" of the original as the design has been modified through the years. Now that I'm aware of it, I can see the different impressions made by the front ends of various cars. It's a form of subliminal salesmanship.

Diane said...

Now I'm going to be checking out the car 'faces' when driving:) Maybe not such a good idea...

I have a 2000 Camry which I bought new, and love it. Never thought about the 'face', though. I know I don't like the newer design that came out a couple of years later, though. But I've always thought that is because it seems smaller - smaller trunk. This old girl suits me just fine. It has required very little upkeep. Mostly tires, batteries, oil/fluid changes. Going to get new brake pads for the first time Monday. Not down to the nubins yet, but getting close. I think comfortable, roomy and reliable are what attract me. Could be wrong, though.