One of Volkswagen’s promotional billboards for the latest version of their popular Beetle proclaimed, “It’s a boy!” in reference to the new styling of their 2012 model. Their promotion suggests that prior models were not as boyish as the 2012 model. Why would Volkswagen think that?

First, it is important to know that, over the course of our evolutionary history, people who were best at quickly and accurately determining whether a face was familiar or not, a friend or foe, or was angry or ecstatic, would fare better in the game of life.

It is also the case that faces change with age, and the way faces change with age is universal. Children have relatively larger foreheads and eyes compared to adults; however, they have less prominent brows, noses, and cheekbones. Prior to sexual maturity, it is often difficult to distinguish the sexes based on their faces, but as people reach sexual maturity (when the difference between the sexes begins to matter biologically), the differences become more pronounced.

So, what does evolutionary theory have to do with your car? Well, look at the front end of cars as you drive around today. They are built along a symmetrical design pattern similar to that of a simplified human face (hood/ windshield = forehead; rear-view mirrors = ears; headlights = eyes; grill = nose/mouth). Because cars appear to have a simplified human face, scientists in Austria, the U.S. and Ethiopia teamed up to examine if people “see” age, gender, and status in cars. That is, does a big roundish hood and big headlights make a car seem childlike, or does having wide-set eyes, a broad hood, and a downward curled grill make a car seem like an angry man? The crucial test was if people who were not normally exposed to car marketing saw the same “car faces” as people who are constantly exposed to car marketing.

Read more at Psychology Today.

Published On: August 11, 2012

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