NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Giving your car a name and assigning it a personality may not be as offbeat as it seems, with researchers finding a scientific reason for this.
A U.S.-Austrian study found many people see human facial features in the front of cars and ascribe them various personality traits, which is backed up by designers and filmmakers giving cars faces and personalities.
Researchers from Florida State University and the University of Vienna said this was consistent with our prehistoric psyches in which our brains were designed to extract information from faces to identify people, relationships and assess danger.
This "reading" of faces had become so important to human development and identifying predators that people were tempted to see and read faces everywhere, in cloud, stones -- and even cars.
"The study confirmed with some rigour what many people have already felt -- that cars seem to have consistent personality traits associated with them, and that this is similar to the way people perceive facial expressions," said Dennis Slice, from Florida State University's Department of Scientific Computing.
The researchers said this was the first study to systematically explore the phenomenon.
"The most unique aspect of the study was that we were able to quantitatively link the perception of cars to aspects of their physical structure in a way that allows us to generate a car that would project, say, aggression, anger or masculinity or the opposite traits," Slice said in a statement.
The study, to be published in the December issue of the journal Human Nature, involved asking 40 people to view high-resolution, 3-D computer reconstructions and printed images of 38 car models from 2004 to 2006 from 26 manufacturers.
They found that 32.5 percent of respondents associated a human or an animal face with at least 90 percent of the cars.
Generally, the headlights were deemed to be eyes, the nose tended to be the grill or emblem, and the additional air intake slots were seen to be the mouth.
All the participants were also asked to rate each model on 19 traits, including dominance, maturity, gender and friendliness, and if they liked the car.
Slice said 96 percent agreed on whether a car was dominant or submissive.
"There must be some kind of consistent message that is being perceived in car fronts," he said.
Cars that scored highly in the so-called power traits had horizontally elongated hoods, pronounced lower car bodies relative to the windshields and more angular headlights that seemed to suggest a frown.
Cars perceived as childlike, submissive, female and friendly, had headlights with their upper edge relatively close to the midline and an upward shift of the car's lateral-most points, almost giving a smile.
The most popular cars were the ones seen as high powered -- the most mature, masculine, arrogant and angry-looking ones.
Slice said people do not necessarily buy the kind of car they say they like but this did raise questions for further studies about whether these perceptions of a car also influenced how people viewed the driver.
"And does that affect how drivers interact with other cars on the road?" he said.
Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy