Jan-Erik Lönnqvist, professor of social psychology at the University of Helsinki, started work to understand luxury car buyers after observing anti-social behaviour in traffic.
“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,” he said.
Lönnqvist’s team surveyed nearly 1900 drivers, asking them about their car preferences, wealth, personality traits and other social factors.
They reported that “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”.
As Lönnqvist puts it, “those whose personality was deemed more disagreeable were more drawn to high-status cars”.
“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,” he says.
“But we also found that those whose personality was deemed more disagreeable were more drawn to high-status cars.
“These are people who often see themselves as superior and are keen to display this to others.”
Researchers found that the link between anti-social personality traits and an attraction to luxury cars was only found in men, not women.
The team discovered a second type of person was attracted to high-end cars – conscientious men and women often described as respectable, ambitious, reliable and well-organised.
“The link is presumably explained by the importance they attach to high quality,” Lönnqvist says.
“All makes of car have a specific image, and by driving a reliable car they are sending out the message that they themselves are reliable.
“It would be great if consumers had other, sustainable ways of showing their status rather than the superficial consumption of luxury goods that often has negative consequences.
“We are already seeing that driving an electric car is becoming something of a status symbol, whereas SUVs with their high emissions are no longer considered as cool.”