In my work as a social media psychologist with a speciality in human personality of celebrities, I’m perpetually intrigued by the relationship between all sorts of cars, from fast cars and their Celebrity owners to the ordinary guy on the high street with his Citroen 2CV custard and cream. So what is it that determines what sort of car we buy and how much we will spend on it? Psychological researchers and social scientists inform us that people innately attach human personality traits to cars. Besides the opulent interiors of the most expensive fast cars in today’s world of motoring, with soft Italian leather seats and under seat heating, the cabin is carefully designed to make driving behaviour much more safe, and with a more user friendly human interface communication with an array of controls similar to a Boeing airliner.
A recent press article in the Telegraph’s Science feature, pointed out that specific makes such as the Chrysler Crossfire , BMW645ci,and the VW Sharan were rated among the “angriest” cars. Whilst the Japanese Diahatsu, a small hatchback, was said to be the saddest. One would never think of an object most of us depend on as being attributed as “emotional” and having personality. But in reality they in fact do. These become symbols not only of our status and achievement in life, but are seen by society as how vertically mobile we have or have not become in an advanced industrial economy. The same press article rightly points to the Nissan Micra as the most submissive car whilst the Toyota Aygo the most childish car. The various social media sources see the Vauxhall Astra as the most popular friendly car for the average runabout person. Similarly, that German built war machine the classic Beetle has made a comeback with its femininity, matching the commonly ascribed “Hairdressers “car as the new BMW Mini Cooper. These models have been ascribed gender stereotypes and a seasoned personality as do their drivers. The human motivational system is constantly working in synchrony with our cognitve and social perception systems , If we decide to be modest in our choice of car, then we do what psychologists call, deindividuation, it’s all about blending into the crowd never to be noticed as Mr or Ms Average. This does little to raise our self esteem, and if we feel in a sense marginalized from our peer group or just settled a divorce, then there is a reaction formation where the brain goes into overdrive and we allow impulsivity to take control. Here , in our minds eye we can visualize the attention we will get if I make a major purchase with a top of the range Lexus Jaguar, Mercedes or BMW, but again this is modest compared to Hollywood and its lust for wealth and fast cars. I notice in my clinic that when I see these high end of the market luxury cars the client who walks through the door has many personality attributes that actually match the car they drive . Its’ part of their personal and group identity. An example is the client who parks his or her Ferrari, or BMW 645ci in the carpark will show personality traits of being high on dominance, aggression, vengeance and power, together with extroversion and control. Men and women who assume power or have in fact legitimately earned it over the years, are conscious of how this driving machine must fit with who they are and how they wish to be seen. Salespeople talk to me first about their job and market forces as a covert way for me to enquire about their sales or marketing success and they glow with delight to tell me in details about the significance of their car, their prized possession as being just right for them. Most commonly I listen to them explain how they see themselves sitting in a top of the range machine with amazing reviews. They believe society expects to see them in such a prized object of desire, their perception processes kick into action and once they catch that vision of pure delight, it connects to the motivational system and then into behaviour.
It would appear that in psychological research European scientific findings inform us that these Europeans take the personality of cars seriously, and why? Like interpersonal sexual attraction we are drawn first of all to the face head and shoulders whilst at the same time taking an overall view of the body, but the human brain brings us back to the face of the personality. The smile tells everyone in our vicinity that we are warm happy and want to attract. It’s part of our body image and so with our choice of car. Europeans assess cars in the way they read faces. More intelligently, we want to feel safe in our new car and want to turn heads so we must “individuate” or stand out from the crowd and get noticed. It’s about feeling safe with our company on nights out and weekends away, there has to be a relationship with the care and a bonding where we browse the manuals to understand all the features of this new found personality. Developmental psychologists like Helen Bee explains that as children we love the excitement of a new toy and play with it endlessly until we become bored with it. This is the exploration of novel stimuli, simply means that after one or two years car designers have to whet our appetite with new funky designs more sophisticated gadgetry to keep us amused but safe and secure in our cocoon. Sonja Windhager form the University of Vienna found that the personalities attributed to cars were also attributed to the drivers of those vehicles. However, this may not be so true across all nations . There may be strong correlations between low income workers and those in lower socio economic categories with limited budgets, but have a broad range of personalities. These masculine and feminine types will select highly coloured single and dual colour tones with vibrant colour coding to reflect fun carefree stages of teenage and young adult development. In an attempt to endorse their own personality they will wish to impress with sporty type sophistication that is chic and in vogue. The more electronic gadgetry the more they feel they will attract their peers. It’s what we call the primacy effect.
Celebrities such as your favourite Reality tv stars, film stars and pop group vocalists , premium league footballers all have agents and chauffeurs but prefer to drive their own cars. Jennifer Lopez drives her Aston Martin DB7 and a Lotus Elite and Piers Brosnan drives an Aston Martin Vanquish. Simon Cowell is seen around town in a Bugatti Veyron costing a million dollars. Charlize Theron moves around town in her Landrover. Its all about having mega watt smiles and the penultimate ego identity and we know that scientists inform us that people innately attach human personality traits to cars. Besides the opulent interiors of the most expensive cars on the planet , with soft Italian leather seats and under seat heating, the cabin is carefully designed to make driving behaviour much more safe, and with a more user friendly human interface communication with an array of controls similar to a Boeing airliner. Look at the most popular celebrities we see on the tv screens each week. They ooze power and endless wealth with powerful egos dominant and extrovert personality traits and control guys.
Above is what car enthusiasts call the “muscle car”. It attracts a very different type of personality, the well minted couple or young enterpreneur in his late twenties in the hedge fund market as his second car for weekend partying. This is the ego identity platform where he’s giving out the message I am virile masculine with the stamina of an ox and the elasticity of a young panther. The colour has to be bright orange or liquid Gold to make an impression that the stock market is your hobby so come on girls.The women who admire these guys know the meaning behind a Ford Mustang, not to be seen in the forecourt of your local Mc Donalds. But celebrities have to flash their cash and where do they find time to drive these wicked machines? Holly wives married several times over to cosmetic surgeons obsessively wealthy American or British lawyers, accumulate these emblems of status and power like smarties . It’s a world of competitiveness where “anything you can do I can do better”
My blog would not be complete if I didn’t look at the celebrity personality and cars owned by Kim Kardashian. This woman knows a thing or too about the right machine to be her fashion accessory down the boulevard. This Ferrari F 430 costs a cool 186,900 dollars but turns has to some extent. Kim has to be seen high up the Celeb pecking order in LA so the F430 fits the bill. The massive engine power torque and road holding reflects a high profile artiste that is top of the list and who will buy as many fast carts a is necessary to stay put. This shows very high levels of dominance and control she radiates with bespoke charisma. Kims reality tv career and a plethora of shows facilitates the purchase of her car fleet as does her endorsement of many car products.
Finally my selection concludes with the dynamic persona of Paris Hilton heir to the Hotel chain. Pais chose this Bentley GT Continental with diamond encrusted cockpit She always wanted a soft pink coloured car to remind her of her childhood, but there are softer personality traits emerging here. Paris presents a strong sense of femininity but note the strong curves as the bonnet rolls over the broad grill, The circular headlamps zoomed forward are symbolic of her Barbie doll years and her Barbie Corvette she owned as a child. A sleek strong but very feminine personality with strong romantic flair and risqué traits of extraversion and agreeableness.