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.
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.