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The Science of Car Faces And Why We Love – Or Hate – Them

Posted in Bizarre, Car Branding, Car Tech, Design, Popular Cars, Science by Vito Rispo | September 23rd, 2008 | Leave a Reply |

Have you ever looked up into the sky and seen a face on the moon, or in a cloud; or looked at a tree and seen a face in the bark? It happens all the time, all around the world, people see religious figures in their toast or in a woodgrain pattern. It’s because the human brain is hardwired to see faces. In fact, we have a whole section of the brain devoted specifically to it, the Fusiform gyrus, we’ve talked about that before.

Humans can look at a persons face for a tenth of a second and know what their intentions are. To see if that facial recognition reflex extends to automobiles, a team of researchers led by Karl Grammer of the University of Vienna asked 40 young adults — half women, half men — to rate the front ends of 38 recent-model cars, all of the same color.

The researchers first classified the “expressions” on the cars using a computerized system of standardized measures for human faces that indicate degrees of masculinity or femininity, and different emotions, based on the size and position of facial features.

Then they asked participants to rate each car’s “face” for 19 different factors. For example, they asked if the face was more child-like or adult-like, friendly or hostile, male or female, etc. They were also asked if the car’s front end even looked like a face at all. Finally, they picked the vehicles they liked.

More than a third said that 90 percent of the cars reminded them of a face, and all of the participants indicated headlights for the “eyes” and a radiator grill for the “mouth.”

Their ranking of emotions matched the ones generated by computers in most cases, according to the experiment, reported this week in the journal Human Nature, published by Germany’s Springer group.

As for preferences, both men and women showed a clear liking for cars they described as mature, dominating, masculine, arrogant and angry — characteristics the researchers bundled together under the heading “power”.

These cars had a low-slung bonnet and wide front, associated with with the square jaw and prominent chin of stereotyped masculinity. Topping the list of “power” cars were top-of-the-line BMWs and the Chrysler 300C, 340-horsepower alpha-male of an auto with a V-8 under the bonnet.

At the submissive, friendly and childlike end of the spectrum were Nissan’s New Micra, Volkswagen’s New Beetle and the Kia Picanto.

(via AFP News)

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