Lots of people think their cars have a specific personality. A new study has discovered that many people see human facial features in the front end of automobiles and ascribe various personality traits to cars?a modern experience driven by our prehistoric psyches.

Researchers, product designers and, of course, animated filmmakers have long toyed with the idea that cars have faces, but this study is the first to investigate the phenomenon systematically.

Researcher Dennis Slice says, “The study confirmed with some rigor what many people have already felt?that cars seem to have consistent personality traits associated with them, and that this is similar to the way people perceive facial expressions?[such as] aggression, anger or masculinity or the opposite traits?In our study?96% agreed on whether a car was dominant or submissive. Thus, there must be some kind of consistent message that is being perceived in car fronts.”

Cars scoring high in the so-called power traits had horizontally elongated hoods, pronounced lower car bodies relative to the windshields and more angular headlights that seemed to suggest a frown. Conversely, cars on the other end of the power scale?that is, those perceived as childlike, submissive, female and friendlyfriendly?had headlights with their upper edge relatively close to the midline and had an upward shift of the car?s lateral-most points (“In this way, the car gives us a big smile,” Slice says).

No matter what kind of car you have, you won’t be able to drive and talk on the phone much longer. Many states are passing laws against using a hand-held cell phone while driving. Researchers have discovered that drivers make more mistakes when talking on a cell phone than when talking to passengers.

New cell phone research addresses the common question about whether driver distraction comes from cell-phone use specifically or conversation generally. Even when drivers used a hands-free cell phone, driving performance was significantly compromised. Researcher Frank Drews says, “Cell phone and passenger conversation differ in their impact on a driver?s performance; these differences are apparent at the operational, tactical, and strategic levels of performance.”

The researchers found that drivers talking by cell phone drove significantly worse than drivers talking to passengers. The cell-phone users were more likely to drift in their lane, kept a greater distance between their car and the car in front, and were four times more likely to miss pulling off the highway at the rest area. Passenger conversation barely affected all three measures.

They said the problems could have stemmed from inattention “blindness,” or insufficient processing of information from the driving environment. Cell-phone users may also have found it harder to hold in working memory the intent to exit at the rest area. Drivers actually talked MORE when using cell phones, perhaps because they were trying to control the conversation to avoid using the mental resources required to really listen to the other person.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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