The fast and the furious: Research shows that owners of high-status cars are on a collision course with traffic

Jan-Erik Lönnqvist[1], professor of social psychology, had made the same observation in traffic as many others: Audi and BMW drivers seemed much more likely to ignore traffic regulations and drive recklessly.

“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,” says Lönnqvist of the University of Helsinki’s Swedish School of Social Science.

Previous research has also confirmed that the drivers of expensive cars are more likely to break traffic regulations. This phenomenon has been explained with the common assumption that wealth has a corrupting effect on people, resulting, for example, in high-status consumption and unethical behaviour in various situations.

Lönnqvist approached the question from a different angle by asking whether specific types of people are drawn to high-status cars regardless of their financial assets and also have a tendency to break traffic laws.

To gain answers, researchers carried out a study of Finnish consumers. A total of 1,892 car owners answered not only questions about their car, consumption habits and wealth, but also questions exploring personality traits. The answers were analysed using the Five‐Factor Model, the most widely used framework for assessing personality traits in five key domains (openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness).

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.

“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,” says Lönnqvist.

He points out that money is, of course, necessary to buy high-status products, which is why rich people are more likely to drive high-status cars.

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