Auto-Admiration?

by Dish Staff

Jesse Bering reviews research suggesting that not only can people accurately match dogs’ faces to their owners, but also that “our faces also bear an uncanny resemblance to the frontend views of our automobiles.” Participants in a study were given a picture of a car and asked to rank its possible owners on a scale of 1 to 6:

[T]he authors suspected that the judges in their study would be able to match cars dish_carfaces3 with their correct owners above chance levels. And that’s what they found. “The real owner was in fact assigned rank 1 most frequently,” they write, “and rank 6 least frequently.” This proved true regardless of the subjects’ sex and age. There were an equal number of male and female judges, and they ranged widely in age—from 16 to 78 years. In case the sheer bizarreness of these data hasn’t quite registered, let me put it to you more bluntly: The average person can detect a physical similarity in the “faces” of cars and their owners. …

Implied in these results is the startling fact that most car owners are unwittingly purchasing cars that look like them. If that’s the case, figured [researchers Stefan] Stiegar and [Martin] Voracek, then is it possible that judges can even take it one step further, matching dogs to their masters’ cars? After all, we know now that it’s not a myth: dogs really do look like their owners. And since we choose both cars and dogs that physically resemble us, shouldn’t our dogs and our cars look alike too? Here, frankly, the data just get weird. Nevertheless, they’re genuine. In their third and final study, the authors added 36 portraits of dogs into the mix. Half of these were of purebreds, and the others were mutts. In a twist to the previous studies, a new group of judges saw an image of a car (again, either the front, side, or rear view) and beneath that, six individual dogs. Subjects ranked each dog on the likelihood of its master being the owner of the car shown. Amazingly, the participants were able to pull this feat off as well.

Meanwhile, Laura Bliss considers the oddly human attachments people form to their vehicles:

To many of us, [cars] are beloved, person-like companions. More than 70 percent of respondents to a recent AutoTrader survey were at least “somewhat” if not “very attached” to their cars, with 36 percent describing their vehicle as “an old friend.” In another study, nearly half of all drivers assigned a gender to their cars, and about one-third actually name them.

For many car-owners, emotional attachment can also come hand-in-hand with socio-economic mobility. For example, there’s research that suggests for certain low-income families, owning a car is linked to the ability to live in neighborhoods with lower poverty rates and lower health risks, as well as higher neighborhood satisfaction and stronger chances of employment.

Car-owners often assign human-like attributes to our cars, too. A 2006 study found significant differences between how participants understood their own personality and how they described their cars’.  And in that same AutoTrader report, more than a quarter said they felt “sad” when they thought about parting ways with their internally combusting pal.