Angry male in expensive car
Angry male in expensive car iStock

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas decided to pursue speculation that expensive car owners "felt a sense of superiority over other road users" and were less able to empathize with pedestrians. The study claims to reveal the likelihood that drivers will slow down decreases by 3% for every extra $1,000 that one's vehicle is worth.

In an article entitled "If you drive an expensive car you're probably a jerk, scientists say", CNN reports that the research was conducted by asking volunteers to cross a sidewalk hundreds of times, filming, and subjectively analyzing responses by car drivers.

The study made sure to involve race and gender as variables, and claims to find that that cars were more likely to yield for white and female participants. The authors say vehicles stopped 31% of the time for both women and white participants, compared with 24% of the time for men and 25% of the time for black volunteers.

The study theorized that "Disengagement and a lower ability to interpret thoughts and feelings of others along with feelings of entitlement and narcissism may lead to a lack of empathy for pedestrians" among costly car owners.

CNN cites as support for the University of Nevada research a Finnish study published last month that claims men who own flashy vehicles are more likely to be "argumentative, stubborn, disagreeable and unempathetic."

According to that survey of 1,892 drivers by the University of Helsinki, those judged by the researchers to have more disagreeable character traits were "more drawn to high-status cars."

"I had noticed that the ones most likely to run a red light, not give way to pedestrians and generally drive recklessly and too fast were often the ones driving fast German cars," Helsinki University's Jan-Erik Lönnqvist said in a press release.

He set out to discover what kind of person is more likely to buy an expensive car, creating a personality test of Finnish car owners.

"The answers were unambiguous: self-centred men who are argumentative, stubborn, disagreeable and unempathetic are much more likely to own a high-status car such as an Audi, BMW, or Mercedes," the press release states.

"These personality traits explain the desire to own high-status products, and the same traits also explain why such people break traffic regulations more frequently than others," Lönnqvist added.

In his article, Politics disguised as science: a 12-point checklist for when to doubt a scientific ‘consensus’, author Dr. Patrick Moore wrote about research where "scientists say" or "science says" is a common locution: "In Newsweek‘s April 28, 1975, issue, science editor Peter Gwynne claimed that 'scientists are almost unanimous' that global cooling was underway. Now we are told, 'Scientists say global warming will lead to the extinction of plant and animal species, the flooding of coastal areas from rising seas, more extreme weather, more drought, and diseases spreading more widely.' 'Scientists say' is hopelessly ambiguous. Your mind should immediately wonder: 'Which ones?'

“'Science', after all, is an abstract noun. It can’t say anything. Whenever you see that locution used to imply a consensus, it should trigger your baloney detector."

Moore also cautions against science "being used to justify dramatic political or economic policies," and warns of "when the 'consensus' is maintained by an army of water-carrying journalists who defend it with uncritical and partisan zeal and seem intent on helping certain scientists with their messaging rather than reporting on the field as objectively as possible."