Cars at Face Value

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The concept of making the world over in our image, as brought up in McCloud’s piece reminded me of an article that I read some time ago, published in the journal, Human Nature. For many years, car companies have been spending copious amounts of time in researching the way people react to the fronts of cars, as if they were indeed human faces. Carmakers used to strive for an inviting face, but in recent years they’ve been pushing for an edgier look: Car faces that look meaner, angrier and, at times, even downright evil. This can be seen with the ‘bubble’ cars of the nineties, which put an emphasis on aerodynamic, clean lines and rounded features. The mid-nineties Ford Taurus is a prime example, as is the New Beetle.

Today, cars have taken on a more angular, boxy and sleek look with more emphasis on broken lines. Cars like the Chrysler 300 and Cadillac STS were designed under the doctrine of this new design philosophy and such cars seem to even echo the design of cars from the seventies.

Slightly unrelated, but I wonder if this interest in boxy, angular cars with ‘angrier’ faces says anything about the global mood or climate. Round, friendlier-looking cars seem to gain prevalence in mainly peaceful and decadent times, such as the early sixties and nineties, then during times of war or economic turmoil, it seems we prefer the boxier, more aggressive looking cars, as during the Vietnam/Iraq wars and during the recessions both then and now. Perhaps it’s a subconscious need or desire to vent that alters our taste in the aesthetic and stylistic elements of the automobile?

…Getting back to my point: The study that was done about a year ago concluded that about a third of all people found a 90% correlation between human faces and the fronts of the cars that they were shown. The theory is that through evolution, human brains have been wired to “infer a great deal of information about another person such as, age, sex, attitudes, personality traits and emotions—from just a glance at their face. As a result, people are tempted to see faces anywhere they look, whether it be in clouds, stones or cars (ANI).”

According to Dennis Slice, the conductor of the research from FSU, “The fact that we can so easily see faces in inanimate objects may tell us something about the evolutionary environment in which this capacity arose. Seeing too many faces, even in mountains or toast, has little or no penalty, but missing or misinterpreting the face of a predator or attacker could be fatal.”

The original and very jovial-faced concept for the New Beetle

The original and very jovial-faced concept for the New Beetle

The agressive-faced new Camaro concept.

The agressive-faced new Camaro concept.

A news article discussing the study can be found here.

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One Response to “Cars at Face Value”

  1. Jonah Says:

    I liked this artical. Something that I never really considered, yet subconsciously was aware of. To me, the meaner the look of the car, the more of ‘facade of strength and courage’ I see.

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