No, science hasn’t (yet) given us talking cars a la vintage shows like Nightrider. Yet studies show that our cars do, in fact, have personalities. Including yours.
According to Florida State University, cars not only have personalities, but facial features. In a survey of 40 people that were charged with describing 38 different cars, a third of the participants could identify a face in each vehicle. That might not seem like a large number, but of those who could identify faces, there was an overwhelming consensus of what each face represented. For example, 96% of the qualifying participants could agree on whether each car was dominant or submissive. It goes to show that while not everyone can see a face on a car, the personality that face conveys is consistent from person to person.
This may sound like amusing pseudo science at a glance, but it does show that a car might tell us a lot more about a person than we think.
If it sounds silly to see a car’s headlights and grille as a face, consider that this might subconsciously dictate what vehicles we’re attracted to. After all, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the brains of car experts react the same to the front of a car as they do to another human face. So yes, on a biological level, we can react to a car’s face as we would another human’s face… as long as we know what to look for. If you just had a gut feeling about a certain car when you saw it, you might want to look at its “face” and see if there’s some connection there.
Of course, it’s not just the front of a car that has personality. The make and model of a car can also reflect a personality, albeit more straightforwardly. For example, the sleek design of a luxury car can indicate class or dominance next to other cars on the road. The quiet engine of a small car can convey gentleness and caution. Even a car’s color conveys personality to a certain extent. For example, it’s a longstanding rumor that red cars get pulled over more for speeding. Even though the data on the subject shows this isn’t the case, the fact that the rumor exists to begin with shows that we perceive red cars to be more daring and adventurous than other cars on the road.
The art of perceiving human-like features and personalities on inhuman entities is known as “anthropomorphism.” This may be a term you’ve heard in descriptions of, say, talking animals in cartoons, but it does apply to inanimate objects like cars as well. In truth, evidence of anthropomorphism can be traced back to early human history, so it’s not weird at all to see personalities in vehicles. After all, we spend at least as much time with our vehicles as adults as we did with our teddy bears as kids. We see personalities in our vehicles because they become a part of our lives in their own way, and assigning character traits to them helps us put into words why we’re so attached to our vehicles to begin with.
All of this is to say that yes, cars do have personalities. It’s certainly okay if you can’t see it, but now there’s a chance you can’t “unsee” car faces now that you know to look for them. And if you can see personalities in cars, you know you want a car that fits your disposition. The next time you’re in the dealership, let your salesperson know what kind of expression you want your vehicle to be wearing. Not only is this a perfectly valid reason to want a certain vehicle, your salesperson will be happy to know that there’s someone else out there who sees car faces the way they do.