People see faces in cars and ascribe them human characteristics

Washington: People attribute facial features and humanlike traits to automobiles, based on factors such as the shape of the headlights and the size of the windshield.

The findings are additional evidence that humans are evolutionarily predisposed to see faces in everything, said study researcher Sonja Windhager, an anthropologist at the University of Vienna.

This tendency likely would have protected our ancestors, Windhager told LiveScience.

Windhager and her colleagues asked a total of 89 rural Ethiopians and another 40 Austrians to rate 46 different renderings of cars on 19 different human traits, including gender, friendliness, arrogance and other personality and emotional states.

The research revealed that both Austrians and Ethiopians looked at cars in the same way. One Ethiopian man, when asked whether he associated a human face, an animal face, or no face with cars, even said, I do not know what to answer. Cars have their own faces!

But humans judge those car faces by similar standards as human faces, the researchers found. Cars with slit-like, wide-set headlights were judged as male, adult and dominant, by both Austrians and Ethiopians, as were cars with smaller windshields.

Typically, wider faces and smaller eyes and foreheads (the human equivalent of a car windshield) are considered to be more masculine features in human faces.

Most car features considered childlike were also considered more feminine, the researchers found, including closer-set headlights and larger windshields.

Just as humans associate bigger noses with older age, the study participants judged cars with bigger grilles as older, Windhager and her colleagues found.

Wider lips are likewise associated with age; for cars, this translated into cars with wider air-intakes (below the grille) being seen as older.


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