Cars’ Personalities Could be a Link to Drivers’ Road Rage, Colorado State Researchers Find

More than half of drivers in a recent survey identified their vehicle by a gender, and more than a third have given their vehicle a name, according to researchers at Colorado State University. The research indicates that drivers who attribute human qualities to vehicles such as a gender and a name are more likely to be aggressive drivers.

The researchers surveyed 204 auto-owning college psychology students at Colorado State to determine how many and to what degree they gave their cars human characteristics, as well as querying about their personalities and likelihood for aggressive driving. With their curiosity piqued by results from an earlier study, the researchers also asked participants of the study about the personality of their cars.

"People didn’t even question the fact that cars can’t have a personality," said Jacob Benfield, a graduate student in psychology at Colorado State who collaborated on the project. "We found that people’s personalities still account for most of the aggressive driving behavior, but the car’s ‘personality’ does have an influence."

Drivers who engendered their cars scored significantly higher than those who didn’t in verbal aggression, physical aggression, driving with anger and pejorative labeling of others. However, personalities of drivers and personalities of their cars were not a perfect match, and sometimes the personality of the car was a better indicator of people’s tendencies to drive angry than their own personality test.

"Essentially, if you perceive your car to be a jerk, your more likely to drive like a jerk," Benfield said, noting that simply assigning a name to your car provides no indication of your driving tendencies.

Benfield said the research can be applied to treatment methods and educating aggressive drivers that cars do not have personalities. For the team’s next research project, they plan to explore whether people assign their cars a personality to make up for perceived deficiencies in their own personalities.