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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sex and its impact on car choice

By Dick Hirsch

Women find men more attractive if those men drive luxury cars. Of course I realize that could be considered an inflammatory statement, certainly not typical of the calm and measured tone with which articles of this nature usually begin. I recognize that by writing that sentence I make myself vulnerable to allegations of gender insensitive or worse. I deny that. Calm down ladies, it’s just an assertion, not an accusation.

As you might have suspected, there is a point to be made here. It has little or nothing to do with the women who may or may not be familiar with the various automotive status symbols. Furthermore, it doesn’t focus on cars and the men who drive them.

The subject at hand is academic research and how it often conducts serious studies delving into some of the damnedest subjects. Off in the research centers and the laboratories, experts spend their days and nights analyzing data, making computations, attempting to uncover and explain many of the major questions that confront the rest of us.

I suppose they have an occasional coffee break and take time out for lunch, but the image I’ve always had is of those men and women being tireless practitioners, relentlessly probing some of the issues that have traditionally perplexed the general public. They are dedicated to the task, determined to find the answers that will enlighten and perhaps add to that great inventory of human knowledge.

Some of those investigations end in uncertainty and disappointment for the participants, but others yield results of public interest. Those findings are normally first published in scholarly journals and later they are often reported by the mainstream media. Such reports always attract attention for the revealing material they include as well as the statistics that support the conclusions.

I’ve always been attracted to such news reports. Perhaps you’ve had the same experience, but I’ve often wondered about who decides which issues to study, which mysteries need solving. For example, many of the studies deal with health and fitness, foods, medications and vitamins, and they often produce information that contradicts earlier studies. Some of those results may even contribute to progress, an important goal for those involved in research.

However, there are other studies dealing with seemingly less important topics. What percentage of pizzas contain pepperoni? Why don’t some people like mushrooms? How often do people have oatmeal for breakfast during August as compared to February? Among males in the 25-35 age group is the market share of boxer shorts increasing compared to briefs?

Those are just a few that come immediately to mind, topics about which, at considerable expense, much research time has been devoted. The question frequently asked in the real world is this: Does it really matter?

Sometimes the result of all the research tells us what we already knew and have known for years. That is where the well-known “duh” factor becomes apparent with the question of luxury cars and the appeal of their male drivers to women. For those who may be unaware of its meaning, “duh” is an expletive that need never be deleted. It is often uttered in response to statements regarded as uninformed or obvious.

A recent study published in the venerable and widely respected British Journal of Psychology reported that “men who drive luxury cars are found to be more attractive than those who drive subcompacts.” Duh. Guys, how old were you when you first became aware of that fact?

As part of the study, participants were shown pictures of a model, a person of the opposite sex, sitting in two different cars. One was a silver Bentley, the other was a red Ford Fiesta. While the men participating found the female model equally attractive in both settings, the women in the study rated the male model “significantly more attractive” when he was seated behind the wheel of a Bentley. We don’t encounter many Bentley’s in our neighborhood, but I believe that silver sedans or convertibles by Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar or Cadillac would produce similar responses.

My first car was a seven year old Dodge, dark green, with an automatic transmission, a sluggish pickup, four doors and the lingering aroma of cigar smoke from the previous owner. It took me from here to there, but it did nothing to enhance my social life. I always blamed the Dodge for that condition and now that feeling has been confirmed by this recent study. Duh.


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