Can You Judge a Driver by His Car?

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"Don't judge a book by it's cover;" that's how the old expression goes. Roughly meaning, we shouldn't prejudge value on outward appearance.

The saying is complete rubbish of course. Humans judge people and objects on outward appearance all the time, and in some contexts, we're actually pretty good at it. For example, a study conducted in 2006 by researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of California at Santa Barbara found that women were very adept at judging a man's interest in children simply by looking at a photo of the man.

One setting where people often form preconceived notions about others is when driving. We take one look at the car's make and model, quickly observe driving style, and form our own rapid assumptions about the person behind the wheel. I often catch myself doing this. For example, I can't help but notice that the people who ride my rear bumper and blaze by on the freeway often drive BMWs, Mercedes, Lexuses, or other pricey vehicles, and those who are put-putting along at ten miles below the speed limit often drive minivans. From these observations, one (not me, of course!) might hastily deduce that the first category of drivers is comprised of rich, impatient snobs and the second category is made up of overly cautious wet blankets.

Lotus_Evora_-_Flickr_-_The_Car_Spy_(1).jpgNice car. (Photo by The Car Spy, Wikimedia Commons)

Personal anecdotes certainly aren't enough to make any definitive conclusions, yet I still wonder, can you really judge a person by the car they own and how they drive it?

One study, conducted in 2011 by researchers at Temple University, seems to indicate that its possible. By conducting over 400 behavioral surveys of men and women with an average age of 23.5, the researchers gleaned the following:

    • People who perceive their car as a reflection of their self-identity

      are more likely to behave aggressively on the road and break the law.

    • People with compulsive tendencies are more likely to drive aggressively with disregard for potential consequences.
    • Increased materialism, or the importance of one's possessions, is linked to increased aggressive driving tendencies.
    • Young people who are in the early stages of forming their

      self-identity might feel the need to show off their car and driving

      skills more than others. They may also be overconfident and

      underestimate the risks involved in reckless driving.

    • Those who admit to aggressive driving also admit to engaging in more incidents of breaking the law.
Professor Ayalla Ruvio, the study's chief author, concluded that their findings support the notion of a strong link between cars and identity. Thus, our prejudgements of a person based upon their car and driving style may have some measure of legitimacy. 

This doesn't mean that we should be judging a driver by their car (because, let's be honest, it really isn't very nice), but it does mean that you don't have to feel quite so guilty when you crack a smile after watching this driver crash their Lamborghini.



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