Cognitive Daily

Last week we sought to uncover the truth behind the stereotype: Are Prius owners really just like Mac owners? In a non-scientific fashion, we quizzed our readers about several of the most common stereotypes that seem to follow these two trendy groups: They’re arrogant, they think they’re better informed than the rest of us, not to mention smarter, more attractive, and more concerned about the environment. They’re Obama-supporting, latte-drinking, iPhone-toting snobs who always favor style over substance. Or are they?

Over 1,600 readers responded to our survey — the most responses to a Casual Friday ever. We asked readers what kind of cars they drive, what kind of computers they use, and then we asked them to rate their agreement (on a scale of 1 to 5) with a few statements that are typically applied to Mac/Prius owners. This graph gives a snapshot of some of the results:


Prius owners were significantly more likely to say their personal decisions have an impact on the world than non-owners. The same held true for Mac owners — and there’s no significant difference between results for Prius owners and Mac owners. This same relationship held in several other categories: Concern for the environment, support for Barack Obama, and belief that humans can stop global warming. But there were also some differences. Prius owners thought they were significantly less attractive than both non-Prius-owners and Mac owners. But Prius owners felt they were significantly more successful in life than both Mac owners and non-Prius owners. So are Prius owners just more successful, less attractive Mac owners? Not so fast.

If both Prius owners and Mac owners favor style over substance, you might expect both groups to spend more on their cars than average. But when we asked how much readers would spend on a new car, given a $30,000 budget, we found a different result:


Respondents were told they could pocket the change from their new car purchase. This graph shows how much, on average, they said they’d have left. As you can see, Prius owners said they’d significantly spend more than both Mac owners and the average of all respondents. Indeed, the results for Mac owners didn’t differ significantly from the average. However, Mac owners would spend a little more on a car than non-Mac owners ($7,388 remaining versus $8,433 remaining).

As you might expect, the reverse held for computer purchases, with Mac owners spending significantly more of their hypothetical $5,000 budget than non-Mac-owners. There was no significant difference between computer expenditures for Prius versus non-Prius owners.

But what about iPhones? Do Prius owners buy up iPhones as rapidly as Mac owners seem to? Here are those results:


Both Prius owners and Mac owners buy iPhones at elevated rates — they’re three times more likely to own an iPhone than non-Mac owners.

But the most-anticipated result in the survey has to be the question we tossed in at the last moment: We asked readers how much they spent on coffee each week. Are both Mac owners and Prius owners addicted to gourmet coffee? Apparently not:


Mac owners spend significantly more on coffee each week than Prius owners, and indeed spent significantly more than all other groups we tracked in this survey. The difference in coffee spending between Prius owners and others was not statistically significant.

So while there are some similarities between Mac owners and Prius owners, there are some key differences, too. That’s something to think about while you’re filling your gas tank and heading to the drive-through espresso place.


  1. #1 Todd Wagner
    September 26, 2008

    I am not a Prius owner; however, my wife and I have considered buying one. In looking at it we found that the total cost of ownership over the period we expected to own the car would be comparable to some lower priced cars. Depending on how the survey respondents view this, it may at least partially explain why Prius owners spend more on their car.

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    September 26, 2008

    I also think Prius owners are more likely to be into the high-energy-efficiency thing as a hobby. They were twice as likely to say their next car would be electric, which in turn made them twice as likely to spend the entire $30K budget on the car.

  3. #3 Becca
    September 26, 2008

    What do you wanna bet Prius owners are at least as addicted to expensive coffee (in the sense of “fair-trade”/”shade-grown”/”sustainable”/”organic”) coffee as any other group, but morally opposed to expensive coffee vessles? That is, they make their own at home and reuse their travel mugs. Even with the most expensive beans, that ends up costing less than Starbucks.

  4. #4 Terry Flynn
    September 26, 2008

    You might like to read the discrete choice experiments and mathematical psychology literature. Rating scale questions such as these are extremely subject to rating scale bias: why is your 4 out of 5 likely to mean the same as my 4 out of 5? Answer: it isn’t. Look up best-worst scaling as a form of choice task that forces people to make trade-offs – discrete choice experiments are the only generalisable realistic decisions that mean anything whatsoever. There are several papers that have just been published showing why rating scale questions are pretty meaningless and EXTREMELY subject to spurious inference when compared with tasks that get people to make choices of the types they do in real life (such as do they buy a Prius if the price goes up relative to a gas-guzzler).

  5. #5 Matthias
    September 27, 2008

    The first graph is pretty bad. It pretends a continuous space between variables. I mean, you kind of say that you measured something “in the middle between ‘smart’ and ‘impact'” and even give a value for this “something” (the value is about 4.0″). What is there between “smart” and “impact”? Nothing, because these are different variables and should be shown as different dimensions in a graph, if at all. This is a text-book use case for the kind of bar graphs that you use in the figures below.

  6. #6 boomy
    September 27, 2008

    Perhaps mac users are just more likely to take their laptops into coffee shops, creating a subtle form of advertising for Apple? Or alternativley, Apple may be running a very subtle advertising campaign, placing attractive mac users in Starbucks, and targeting the coffee-loving public.
    I guess its slightly harder to take a Prius into a coffee shop…

  7. #7 Nash
    September 27, 2008

    Is it possible for us to obtain a spreadsheet of this Data, so we may analyse it in a more meaningful way?

  8. #8 anonymous
    September 27, 2008

    I like how everybody in the universe thinks they’re a lot smarter than average. I also like how half the commenters before me don’t approve of the way you dealt with the data.

  9. #9 gs
    September 27, 2008

    i think it would be interesting to look at age in relationship to these variables. I bet your mac owners are younger than your prius owners. Could this be related to their higher attractiveness and more money spent on coffee?

  10. #10 Donna B.
    September 28, 2008

    I’m with gs – I’d love to see an age breakdown. I’m older (OK, I’m OLD) and responded to the poll – I got a lot of money back on the car and computer allowances, but spent more on coffee.

    Frankly, good coffee is a lot more important to me than the trendiness of either my car or computer.

    Good wine is important to me too… what about wine preferences?

  11. #11 Esther Carmichael
    September 30, 2008

    I’m a Mac owner, and far from thinking I’m smart and trendy, I’m a plain Jane whose self-esteem is in the basement. Furthermore, I hate lattes. So there.

  12. #12 Smack MacDougal
    September 30, 2008

    “Prius owners … say their personal decisions have an impact on the world.”

    Prius owners suffer from the false belief that they help the earth (wrongly aka “the environment”).

    Yet, the nickel used in the specialized Prius batteries gets mined in Canada (land destruction), shipped to Europe (ocean and air destruction), processed in Europe (air and land destruction), shipped to China (more ocean and air destruction), processed again in China (even more destruction), shipped to Japan (yet more destruction) and shipped to the USA (more ocean and air destruction).

    The Prius is the most destructive car on the planet.

    What irony.

  13. #13 Dave Munger
    September 30, 2008


    There was quite a bit of discussion last week on the “most destructive” claim. The 2006 report from CNW that makes most of those claims continues to be quoted, but there isn’t much additional evidence that it is true, whereas the report has been debunked by several different sources.

    In case you aren’t convinced by the Slate articles I linked in that discussion, you might check this one out.

  14. #14 Smack MacDougal
    October 1, 2008

    Thanks for your worry Dave Munger.

    A BMW M3 is more fuel efficient than a Prius.

    Try these Dave. These car experts should help de-program from false beliefs about the Prius.

    Prius owners contribute to destruction of the earth on a far greater scale than those who drive fuel efficient IC engine based cars.

    Prius owners ought to awaken to their shame.

    No sane man believes Slate. Slate is propaganda, like NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC, MSNBC, CNN, FOX News, CNBC.

  15. #15 richie
    October 1, 2008

    Yes you can find one speed at which a Prius uses more gas than a sportscar. 1.5 mpg more. Put it on a track and run them both at the least efficient possible speed for a Prius (as fast as it goes). Stupid stunt.

  16. #16 Smack MacDougal
    October 2, 2008

    You can tell much about a man or woman by the car they drive.

    A Prius says this about a man or woman,

    “I am highly educated yet poorly learned. I am indoctrinated, deeply by several cults — the Church of Academia, the Cult of Gaia, the Cult of Big Governmentalism.

    “Deep down, I am scared. I am effiminate, squishy, womanish. Gladly, I would give up every bit of liberty to have some bigger, more powerful man-like figure dole out to me privilege.

    “I loathe Freedom and love Officialdom. I support “Might makes right” and say that those in power ought to dictate by force how all should live. We must purge the hereitics!”

  17. #17 Dumb, Blonde Scientist
    October 6, 2008

    I’m interested in the overall higher value assessment from all your respondents of intelligence relative to their looks. If you put the survey on SuperModelBlogs instead of ScienceBlogs, would the trend reverse?

  18. #18 hadim
    August 18, 2009

    I would give up every bit of liberty to have some bigger, more powerful man-like figure dole out to

  19. #19 konya
    August 18, 2009

    I am highly educated yet poorly learned. I am indoctrinated, deeply by several cults — the Church of Academia, the Cult of Gaia, the Cult of Big Governmentalism.

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