The analogy between cars and facial shape is not a new one. Car advertisements and the entertainment media (e.g. Pixar's "Cars" or Disney's "Herbie") utilise our tendency to anthropomorphise objects. Windhager et al. (2012) assume that if there is a biologically determined overgeneralsisation from faces to cars, there would be a generalisation across cultures. The authors tested differences between Ethiopia, a culture that is not exposed to car marketing, and Austria.
Consistencies between the attributions child-adult, female-male, and submissive-dominant to cars were examined through changes in design, e.g. a manipulation of the grille (e.g. the wider and taller the grille, the more maleness, dominance and higher age were attributed). Despite differences in street scenery in Austria and Ethiopia, a high cross-cultural consisteny in child-adult, female-male and submissive-dominant attributions to cars was found which might be due to a common psychological mechanism.
However, the authors found differences between Austrian and Ethiopian ratings in items with emotional valence. In Austria, there was a high differentiation between cars ranging from negative to positive descriptions (e.g. "angry", "afraid", "happy") while in Ethiopia, all cars were judged positively (e.g. "happy", "friendly", "open"). Various reasons could explain this finding. For instance, Ethiopians are very polite and could wish to avoid negative attributions. Another explanation could be that interactions with real cars are generally positive in Ethiopia. Or: The missing traits are not perceived as they are lacking in local marketing strategies (Windhager et al., 2012). In general, it is considered as crucial to integrate cultural aspects in the design of products (Syed Mohamed et al., 2013).
Steve McQueen, "King of Cool", (1930-1980) was a motorcycle and racecar enthusiast - he even considered a professional career in race car driving. His motorcycle licence from 1964 was sold at an auction in 2009 (via).
Syed Mohamed, M. S., Shamsul, B. M. T., Rahman, R. (2013) Cultural Model in Predicting Car Center Stack Design Preferences. International Journal of Education and Research, 1(6), 1-12
Windhager, S., Bookstein, F. L., Grammer, K., Oberzaucher, E., Said, H., Slice, D. E., Thorstensen, T. & Schaefer, K. (2012) "Cars have their own faces": cross-cultural ratings of car shapes in biological (stereotypcial) terms. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33, 109-120
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