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Ask Dr. Helen: Are Hybrid Owners All That…?

Do our choices in cars really reflect our true personality traits? That's what they say, but Dr. Helen Smith isn't sure.

by
Helen Smith

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March 17, 2008 - 1:30 am

Today, instead of taking a question from a reader, I have my own question I have been toying with as of late. Do our choices in cars really reflect our true personality traits? I wondered about this after reading a “psychographic profile” of hybrid-car owners that found the following:

… people who drive hybrid cars are 78% more likely than the general population to be highly creative. … That is, they are inventive and imaginative and also tend to be emotionally sensitive and intellectually curious. …

They tend to be more open-minded, more spontaneous, and more assured of their ability to lead others, the Mindset Media found.

According to JD Power, hybrid buyers and potential hybrid buyers tend to read magazines as such as The New Yorker, Sunset and Wired and are likely to watch cable television channels such as CNN and CNN Headline News.

And naturally, most hybrid owners turn out to be — shock, progressive types — those bastions of openness and creativity (just don’t mention Fox News or Limbaugh around them or they’ll break out in a rant about censoring these idiots). Before I comment on this hooey, let’s first start with the obvious — what the heck is a psychographic profile? Apparently, it is a fancy name for a profile done by the company mentioned above, Mindset Media, on various products to find out what types of characteristics people who buy that particular product have or don’t have. For example:

People with high self-esteem are more likely to drink premium coffee. Altruists floss more, and deliberate people pay off their credit cards more regularly. Pragmatists like minivans, but station wagons appeal more to spontaneous types. And highly open people buy organic foods at nearly three times the rate of the general population.

Do you ever wonder if some of these tests are just geared towards making people feel “good” about themselves, particularly if they have what are considered “progressive traits” so that it will reinforce their buying habits, adding to those who smugly go around feeling that they are “saving the world?” The bias in some of these tests is fairly obvious, as pointed out by this commenter:

Before hybrid owners break their arms patting themselves on the back, they should be aware of a couple of things about these “studies”. While there is no reason to doubt the honesty of the J. D. Powers study, it is simply another example of the old truism: only the wealthy can afford liberalism. Though the percentages would differ, you’d no doubt see a similar pattern if you polled for “luxury vehicle” instead of “hybrid vehicle”. If and when hybrid vehicles begin to cost about the same as conventional vehicles, such a study might prove interesting.

As for the “psychographic profile”, using the title “Low Dogmatism” for the category of people who “disdain so-called moral authorities, especially the conservative kind” is a dishonesty sufficient to justify ignoring it as OBVIOUSLY biased.

Good point, I wonder how and if the personality of these owners will change as the price falls on hybrids so that more people can afford them? And why is it that the bigger the car, the more likely it is to be assigned with a negative personality style? For example, this article entitled “Auto ego: What your car says about your personality” states:

“The Hummer screams the need for power and control and domination over all others,” says consumer psychologist Charles Kenny of the research firm The Right Brain People in Cordova, Tenn. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger loves the Hummer. It’s Kenny’s opinion, based on Democratic presidential hopeful and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s personality, that Clinton would “love to drive” one.
“If there is a boss car on the road, the best one to fulfill the need for power is the Hummer,” Kenny says. “It fits her to a T.”

Doug Brauner, of ESPN’s “Autotrader.com DRIVE” and owner of Car Czar auto-repair centers in Citrus Heights and Sacramento, differs in his assessment of Hummer owners.

“Overcompensating, you lack a certain amount of self-esteem in certain areas,” he says of those who buy Hummers. “I don’t want to begrudge our governor, but there’s an empty card in your soul if you drive these things.”

Yep, one’s choice of car makes them an empty soul if it doesn’t jive with progressive dogma — even Hillary Clinton is fair game because she is not always seen as a true progressive — and certainly Schwarzenegger deserves a dig because, despite evidence to the contrary, he is a Republican. And why is it that you have high self-esteem if you buy premium coffee but low self esteem if you buy a Hummer? Are you starting to see a trend here? Are Starbucks liberals who drive hybrids the only ones with any consistently positive traits?

I drive a Mercedes C230. It’s their bottom of the line car that I bought because I love the service at Mercedes. My husband drives a hybrid and while he is “all that,” he doesn’t really fit the profile of the “typical” hybrid owner. I don’t really see the car as a reflection of my personality but maybe I’m missing something.

Do you think cars really reflect people’s personality traits? What car do you drive and is the brand and model consistent with your personality traits?

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If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email me at askdrhelen@hotmail.com. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question – if you want me to use your name, tell me, otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader” etc. And of course, if any women have experience dealing with this type of money issue, please comment also.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee and blogs at drhelen.blogspot.com. This advice column is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to replace therapy or psychological treatment.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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