Men who are jerks and who break traffic laws prefer high-status cars, study says

Sven Gustafson



If you drive an expensive luxury car, this might make you squirm: A new study out of Finland finds not only that drivers of expensive cars are more likely to break traffic laws, but they’re more likely to be self-absorbed jerks — and overwhelmingly male.

“The answers were unambiguous: self-centered 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 researchers at the University of Helsinki wrote in a press release. To put a finer point on it, the study was published in the Journal of International Psychology under a surprisingly unscientific headline for an academic journal: “Not only assholes drive Mercedes.”

Social psychology professor Jan-Erik Lönnqvist said he had long noticed that people who drove fast German cars were most likely to be the ones who ran red lights, failed to give way to pedestrians and generally drove too fast. Previous research has shown that drivers of expensive cars were more likely to break traffic laws, but he wondered whether it was the car that made them aggressive, or whether certain types of people were drawn to them.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki’s Swedish School of Social Science asked 1,892 Finnish car owners about their cars, consumption habits, wealth and personality traits. They then analyzed the answers using the Five-Factor Model of Personality, a taxonomy of personality traits used by psychologists also know by the acronym OCEAN, which stands for openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, extraversion and agreeableness.

The researchers found that the aforementioned personality traits — plus money, obvi — explained why drivers of expensive cars were more likely to drive like a-holes. “But we also found that those whose personality was deemed more disagreeable were more drawn to high-status cars,” Lönnqvist said. “These are people who often see themselves as superior and are keen to display this to others.”

But not all who drive high-end cars get painted by the same brush. Researchers found that conscientious consumers, defined as being respectable, ambitious, reliable and well-organized, were also drawn to high-status automobiles. That’s likely because such people attach importance to high quality and sending a message to others that they themselves are reliable.

Interestingly, the latter finding applied to both conscientious men and women, whereas the connection between self-centered people and prestigious cars applied only to men. Lönnqvist suggested that could be because women don’t see cars as status symbols in the same way men do.

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