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Can a car make you more attractive?
The American political satirist and author P.J. O’Rourke famously quipped, “There are a number of mechanical devices that increase sexual arousal, particularly in women. Chief amongst these is the Mercedes-Benz 380L convertible.”
At first, O’Rourke sounds condescending, using a sexist stereotype. But like all stereotypes, it is right…until it’s wrong.
Let’s go to the science!
The Dunn-Searle Experiment
In 2010, researchers Michael J. Dunn and Robert Searle experimented with cars and sex appeal. They used two cars: a silver Bentley Continental GT and a red Ford Fiesta ST. The Bentley is a very expensive, high-status car. The Ford Fiesta is neither. A man and a woman (of “matched attractiveness”) were photographed – individually – seated in each of the two cars.
Dunn and Searle then questioned the study participants – 240 men and women between the ages of 21 and 40 – and asked them to rate the attractiveness of the opposite sex in either the Bentley or the Ford Fiesta.
The psychologists discovered that, on the whole, women rated the same man more attractive when he was in the Bentley than when he was in the Ford. Conversely, men did not rate the same woman more attractive just because she was in a higher-status car! "Males...are oblivious to such cues" is how the study reported it.
To quote psychologist Gad Saad: Drive a hot car and you’ll be perceived as hot, but only if you are a man.
The Hot-or-Not Experiment
The Hot or Not website (HotOrNot.com) lets people upload pictures so that each photo can be rated for its “hotness.” In a 2010 study, psychologists Greg Shuler and David McCord also wanted to test the connection between cars and sex appeal. Would a man’s “hotness” vary depending on his vehicle? The researchers tested four photos of the same man – but in each photo he was either by himself alone or photographed beside one of three vehicles of varying status and price. The man was rated as more “hot” when he was next to a Mercedes C Class C300 – the most expensive of the vehicles in the study – than when he was alone or next to the Dodge Neon.
Again to quote Gad Saad: hot cars translate into hot men.
Or do they?
Why the Car Does Not Make the Man
The glib conclusions I quoted above are from a book entitled “The Consuming Instinct” by Gad Saad – a noted psychologist and blogger. I do not drive a “high status” car, and I have to admit I was dejected after the reading.
But Saad’s conclusions weren’t the whole story.
When I actually read the paper by Dunn and Searle, I noticed something else. When I looked at Figure 3 in their published paper I saw a graph of their data results.
Women who saw the picture of the man in the Ford Fiesta rated him as roughly a 6 (on a 10-point scale) in attractiveness. In the Bentley, he was rated roughly a 7.
The male was only “hotter” by one point! Not much, especially when you consider the staggering price of a Bentley at about $150,000 (₤60,000)!
I think Gad Saad sacrificed scientific accuracy in an attempt to appear…glib.
The more accurate conclusion would be: most women rate a man only one notch higher if he’s driving a very expensive car.
Is it worth a hellish car payment on a rapidly depreciating asset to be one notch better looking?
I’m sure more money can get you more things like cars, admirers, lovers, sycophants, etc. I’m also sure that if you had more corn you could attract more pigs. Question is: why do you want pigs?
So remember, you don’t need an expensive car to go up one meager notch in a someone's estimation. Improve your confidence. Polish your manners. Exercise. Learn to dance. Do interesting things. Volunteer. Or ask them what they want in Life.
You’ll probably go up one more notch in their eyes….and you’ll avoid an awful car payment.
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Dunn, Michael J. and Robert Searle. “Effect of Manipulated Prestige-Car Ownership on Both Sex Attractiveness Ratings.” British Journal of Psychology 101 (2010): 69-80. Accessed 26 August 2017 via semanticsscholar.org.
Saad, Gad. The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal about Human Nature. Prometheus Books, 2011.
Shuler, Gregory A. and David M. McCord. “Determinants of Male Attractiveness: ‘Hotness’ Ratings as a Function of Perceived Resources.” American Journal of Psychological Research 6 no. 1 (2010): 10-23. Accessed 26 August 2017 via mcneese.edu.
Despite increased global consumption, global reserves are not shrinking – they are getting bigger!
In 1980, Isaac Asimov wrote How Did We Find Out About Oil?, a children’s science book. He ended the book with a somber prediction. In 1980, world oil reserves stood at roughly 648 billion barrels. Since the world was consuming 23 billion barrels a year, the world would run out of oil in about 30 years.
Thirty years later, we didn’t run out of oil. There must not be too much oil left, right? Well – that’s the crazy thing. In 2010, world oil reserves stood at more than 1.3 trillion barrels! Not only hade we used up all of Asimov’s doomed 648 billion barrels of oil, but now we have over twice as much oil as what we had in 1980!
The World Oil Supply
Global proven oil reserves stood at 640 billion barrels in 1980. By 1990 they were at 1 trillion barrels. By 2010, global proven oil reserves stood at 1.35 trillion barrels. By 2013, that number had increased to 1.64 trillion barrels. That’s an increase of about 300 billion barrels – almost half of the world’s supply in 1980 – in just three years!
In 1980, Iran’s oil reserves were estimated to be 58 billion barrels, but today they stand at 158 billion barrels. In thirty years, Iran’s reserves have almost tripled! In 1980, Iraq’s oil reserves stood at 30 billion barrels. And today? Iraq’s reserves contain 140 billion barrels! Kuwait’s oil reserves have almost doubled in the last 30 years. Don't get me started about Canada!
Global supply increases despite increased oil consumption. In 1980, the world consumed 23 billion barrels annually. Today the world gobbles oil at a rate of 32 billion barrels a year.
Yet the world oil supply doesn’t get any smaller – it keeps getting bigger!
The Mystery of Oil
How does that work? We’ve been told all our lives that oil is a finite resource doomed to run dry. The clock is ticking. The end is near! But instead of oil supplies diminishing, oil supplies just keep getting bigger. The giant oil fields of legend are all declining, true. But for every giant on the way out, there are numerous new fields being discovered and tapped.
The truth is that no one is sure just how much oil the Earth has.
The most famous modern example is the oil-rich Bakken Formation, centered in North Dakota (USA). In 1995, Bakken’s oil potential was assessed at about 151 million barrels of recoverable oil.
But in 2013, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a press release. The Bakken Formation now had potential for 3.65 billion barrels of recoverable oil! You read the word billion, all right. That’s one enormous jump! It’s not like someone just forgot to “carry the one” when they did the math. But with more thorough explorations, greater data, and newer drilling technologies, new oil is being found all the time.
In short, the more we look for oil, the more oil we find. This does not mean that oil is an infinite resource. Nothing is infinite on Earth. Nor are increasing oil supplies an excuse for wasteful consumption. Waste costs money; efficiency makes money. But the cries of a doomed oil future are far from the real picture. We’ve given pessimism enough airtime. Do we dare to be optimistic? Realistically, we have every reason to be!
Asimov, Isaac. How Did We Find Out About Oil? New York: Walker, 1980. Print
International Energy Outlook 2016. U.S. Energy Information Administration. May 2016. Web. Accessed 12 August 2017. <https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/ieo/pdf/0484(2016).pdf>
International Energy Statistics. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Web. Accessed 12 August 2017.
USGS Releases New Oil and Gas Assessment for Bakken and Three Forks Formations. U.S. Dept. of the Interior. 30 April 2013. Web. Accessed 17 Nov. 2014
Technology-Based Oil and Natural Gas Plays: Shale Shock! Could There Be Billions in the Bakken? U.S. Energy Information Administration. November 2006. Originally published on EIA site, now stored as pdf in the link below. Accessed 12 August 2017.
There are many rewards if you’re the sexiest beast in town! But there is also a price.
In 2008, Daniel Kruger released a paper that showed that the more sexually active a man was – thus “successful” in evolutionary terms – the more likely he had large credit card debt. The group tested was comprised of men between the ages of 18 to 45, from different zip codes, incomes, and marital status. But the results were the same. The men who admitted to the largest number of sexual encounters also admitted to having the smallest savings and higher debt.
Higher mating success correlated directly to higher financial consumption.
Mating Needs Money?
Psychologists Glenn Geher and Scott Kaufman wrote a book entitled “Mating Intelligence Unleashed.” Despite the goofy title, the book is filled with scientific studies on the subject of evolutionary psychology (“mating intelligence”).
It has been well established that the greater the display of success – called “wealth signals” – the greater the mating success. But Geher and Kaufman pointed to Kruger’s study for a reason: to show that deceit can be a successful mating strategy.
Kruger’s study showed that “wealth signals” – expressed as higher consumption – were not the same as truly having wealth. By definition, someone who spends everything doesn’t have “wealth,” they have the opposite – called “debt.”
You don’t own a car or house until you make the last payment. You can lose your job. Debt can ruin your credit score. But high financial consumption still “signals” wealth and so is a successful mating strategy.
Women Do It Too?
Yes, women can be guilty of deceitful mating strategies as well!
For starters, women spend much more money than men on makeup and clothing. Creams and moisturizers can hide wrinkles and smooth skin. Hair dye conceals the gray. Makeup can enhance sensuality. Provocative clothing (high heels, short skirts, décolletage, etc.) are ways of provoking a sexually exciting response…even when she herself isn't in a sexually aroused state.
In another study, researchers found that women could lie about other things to provoke male desire. For example, she could lie about wanting a short- or long-term relationship, about wanting children, or even how much she likes sex!
Deceiving Is Believing?
There’s an old maxim: Fake it till you make it. Sometimes there are emotional and biochemical advantages to spending lots of money. In a study - by researchers Saad and Vongas (2008) - male subjects were given two cars to drive: a “clunker” and a Porsche. Their testosterone levels were measured afterwards. After driving the Porsche, the subjects’ testosterone levels were boosted!
Higher financial consumption not only attracts, you can genuinely feel sexier too!
Just because a strategy is successful doesn’t mean that it’s for the best. Debt is poison to long-term finances. You need savings to build wealth. Deceiving people with a false sexual allure is not going to be successful in the long-term either. That’s why we have reputations. Is such deceit a sound basis for a relationship?
The mating instinct drives us. What price are we really willing to pay?
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Buss, D.M. The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. Basic Books, 2003.
Geher, Glenn and Kaufman, Scott. Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love. Oxford University Press, 2013.
Haselton, M. G., Buss, D.M., Oubaid, V., & Angleitner, A. (2005). Sex, lies, and strategic interference: The psychology deception between the sexes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 3-23.
Kruger, D.J. (2008) Male financial consumption is associated with higher mating intentions and mating success. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 603-612.
Saad, G., & Vongas, J. (2008). The effect of conspicuous consumption on men’s testosterone levels. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 110, 80-92.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.