Respectful Insolence

Is anyone surprised by this result?

Ah, science!

In no other fields can we ask such amazing questions and, through rigorous experimentation, get the answers.

Answers like this:

A study commissioned by a phallically named insurance company proves beyond all doubt that the unbridled roar of an Italian supercar turns women on but the soft purr of a fuel-efficient econobox doesn’t stimulate anyone’s MPG-spot.

David Moxon subjected 40 men and women to the sounds of a Maserati, Lamborghini and Ferrari, then measured the amount of testosterone in their saliva. He found everyone had higher levels of the stuff — a measure of their arousal — after hearing the revving exotics, but the amount the women had was off the charts.
The econobox, however, left everyone colder than a January day in Nome.

But what, pray tell, was the methodology? Let’s see:

To test the theory that high-performance cars get people hot, Moxon had 40 men and women listen to recordings of the three Italian exotics and a Volkswagen Polo. Everyone had significantly more testosterone after hearing the exotics, and all of the women were turned on by the Maserati. The guys, on the other hand, were drawn to the Lamborghini.

“We saw significant peaks in the amount of testosterone in the body, particularly in women,” Maxon says, noting that even women who said they had no interest in cars were turned on. “Testosterone is indicative of positive arousal in the human body so we can confidently conclude from the results out today that the roar of a luxury car engine actually does cause a primeval physiological response.”

As for the Polo? Everyone had less testosterone after listening to it. That means the acceleratus interruptus of a Prius going all-electric in traffic is automotive equivalent of skin flicks starring previous secretaries of state, despite General Motors’ claim that nearly nine out of 10 women would rather talk to a guy in a hybrid than a Porsche.

I do have to quibble about the methodology here. One has to wonder if the study was at least single-blinded, so that the subjects didn’t know what sound came from what car. Actually, the study should have been double-blinded, so that the investigators running the testosterone assays don’t know what group of subjects each sample came from. There’s also the question of whether investigators rotated the order in which the subjects listened to the sounds, to see if that made a difference, or the question of whether the sound system used to play the recordings was carefully calibrated to match the volume for each car. After all, it’s possible that volume or depth alone mattered and that a VW microbus without a muffler could produce a similar boost in testosterone. Also this study was commissioned by an insurance company, not a granting agency like the NIH or other agencies that subject their grant applications to rigorous peer review. I’m not expecting Science or Nature material her, especially since its results were announced in a press release rather than in a publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

I guess the question here is whether this study, crap or not, is a “well, duh!” study (i.e., it tells us something we didn’t already have a good reason to suspect to be true) or whether it adds to our body of knowledge in a useful way. Either way, it’s amusing. What I want to know is: How do I get funded to do studies like this? This study cries out for a followup study to investigate the implications of its findings.

Comments

  1. #1 notmercury
    September 16, 2008

    I prefer Volvos.

  2. #2 Dawn
    September 16, 2008

    I just bought a Suzuki SX4. I love it and my Suzuki motorcycle, too.

  3. #3 Joshua Zelinsky
    September 16, 2008

    I would also want controls to see if it were not just simple volume as the main determinant. It would surprise me if everyone had higher teosterone levels after louder noises in general.

  4. #4 Phillip IV
    September 16, 2008

    The study seems to have been commissioned by Hiscox, who are specialty luxury insurers. I don’t see it having any real value for them, so it’s probably been done solely for the ‘novelty’/marketing aspect – thus, the route to getting funded for something like that likely lies in being personally acquainted with insurance executives.

    As far as the result is concerned, it isn’t surprising for several reasons – not the least among them being the simple fact that most modern cars in the high-end segment are actually sound-engineered, i.e. the makers consciously tweak the natural sound of their engines to arrive at the desired emotional impact.

  5. #5 teej
    September 16, 2008

    Wow. Now they can actually put this on their brochures instead of just having salesladies wink at the desperate, middle-aged dorks who buy these things.

  6. #6 Becca
    September 16, 2008

    Did anyone stop to ask whether the women actually like having their testosterone spike? If it really makes them feel more sexual, or just more irritated (it’s certainly associated with sexual arousal, but also aggression)?

    It’s possible women are turned on by the Maserati drivers but actually want to engage the Prius drivers (fits with sterotypes, does it not? One set of men for sex, another for relationships…). On the other hand, it’s also possible women respond hormonally to Maserati drivers in one way… which most of them don’t like.

  7. #7 jayh
    September 16, 2008

    As long as you don’t take it too seriously, this is a fun study and may say something about us. The underlying effect is probably the ‘peacocks tail’ There is likely a certain amount of condition as to the particular vehicles (for some it might be the sound of a Harley).

    But in the end physical accouterments like extravagant or aggressive automobiles do display a command of resources, and as such can be used as a token of reproductive desirability.

  8. #8 scrabcake
    September 16, 2008

    I see a Lambo and think “driver is compensating.” Actually, it’s more repulsive than stimulating.
    I also don’t really care about the car, and I would appreciate it if you Lambo drivers out there would stop speeding long enough not to run me over while I’m on my bike.
    I’m a woman, and I approve this message.

  9. #9 SteveM
    September 16, 2008

    do have to quibble about the methodology here. One has to wonder if the study was at least single-blinded, so that the subjects didn’t know what sound came from what car.

    I find it kind of umimaginable that just about anyone would not be able to identify the VW out of that set of cars by sound alone.

  10. #10 Regan
    September 16, 2008

    Oh good grief.
    When I see someone in an expensive middle aged toy–I think “more dollars than sense” because of the usually deplorable repair record, or, as scrabcake does, “overcompensating”.

    Give me a man with a sensible Toyota. Throw in a pair of sunglasses and an mp3 of the vhroom-vhroom.

  11. #11 Koray
    September 16, 2008

    Not every guy who has money coming out of his ears is compensating with an exotic cars. It’s probably tough being a rich guy, not knowing what to do with all that money.

    If this research holds, then I am heading out to a NASCAR race to be surrounded by women overdosed on testosterone.

  12. #12 leigh
    September 16, 2008

    i find this highly amusing on several levels.

    sure i like the sound of a powerful engine roaring up to redline. i like a lot of things about powerful cars. i also like driving around in electric silence, i think it’s kinda fun.

    as far as what i like in a man- i prefer one who doesn’t succumb to marketing, for starters…

    oh, and “mpg-spot” may be the lamest thing i have ever read.

  13. #13 Socrates
    September 16, 2008

    I think you’ll find the sexiest engine noise ever is the sound of a British Seagull Silver Century outboad, over Lake Windemere at Sunrise on a January morning. But that’s Limeys for you.

  14. #14 Beth
    September 16, 2008

    How much of this might be a pre-existing association? If you like the kind of people who ride dirtbikes maybe the sound of a two stroke might get you all hot and bothered.

  15. #15 Rogue Epidemiologist
    September 16, 2008

    Does no one else but me find the sound of engine noise to be a complete nuisance??? I hate it. I have an efficient little Japanese car, and I like that it has a quiet engine. Makes it easier to hear my stereo.

    Anyway, I think the study design should have included the engine sounds from a cobbled-together rice rocket. Honda Civic with a coffee can on the muffler. See if that doesn’t get the ladies salivating.

  16. #16 Jeb, FCD
    September 16, 2008

    And who picked the subjects? Wouldn’t you expect a hippie-chick to get wet next to a Prius, or do all women deep down want a real man who has no regards for the future?

  17. #17 Keenacat
    September 16, 2008

    Quite funny, really. What do these guys want to imply anyway?
    “Your chance of getting laid is higher in a Ferrari, tee-hee!! Chicks rule out fuel efficiency!!”

    Nice subject for a study though.

  18. #18 Chelonian
    September 16, 2008

    Great, so now it’s women’s fault that fuel-inefficient cars continue to pollute the planet? Men are but helpless victims of the situation, submitting against their better judgment to the irrational wishes of hormonally out-of-control females? Hmm, I feel a sudden urge to burn my bra and grow out my armpit hair in protest at the underlying male chauvinism of that implication.

    As for follow-up studies, I’d be interested in a comparative analysis of the responses of gay men and lesbian women in equivalent conditions, to see if there was any correlation with sexual orientation.

    Also, level of education and socio-economic factors may be interesting to look at.

    Though it would all probably end up with a press release about the discovery of the “sports car gene”. For my part, I think I’m homozygous for the recessive “econobox” allele.

  19. #19 jayh
    September 16, 2008

    “Your chance of getting laid is higher in a Ferrari, tee-hee!! Chicks rule out fuel efficiency!!”

    Not directly. However your chance of success is better if you can display substantial resources (a car is just a current marker) as with the peacock’s tail, a useless survival attribute. A man whose possessions suggest extreme frugality probably does not imply a lot of benefit to a woman or her offspring.

    This is also not an intellectual analysis (‘he’s good for the planet’) but a visceral, instinctive analysis.

    Having driven my share of econoboxes over the years…. they TRULY SUCK. I’m back to driving a real mschine.

  20. #20 Irradiatus
    September 16, 2008

    This reminds me of another hilarious recent study blogged by NeuroWhoa!

    I quote him:

    ‘Men partnered to more attractive women perform more mate retention behaviors – behaviors designed to thwart a woman’s infidelity. With greater risk of female infidelity, men may perform additional anti-cuckoldry tactics such as frequent in-pair copulations (IPC).’

    In other words, SEX. And lots of it!

    This really is the answer, apparently. If you’re frightened that your girl may run off with another man and leave you, there’s nothing like a page (or several) from the Kamasutra to put the spice back into things. To offset the “greater risk” of her cheating on you, it is essential to give her what she needs until she’s screaming for a coffee break. Whoa Nelly, who knew science papers could make such sexist and racy reading!

  21. #21 Irradiatus
    September 16, 2008

    This reminds me of another hilarious recent study blogged by NeuroWhoa!

    I quote him:

    “Men partnered to more attractive women perform more mate retention behaviors – behaviors designed to thwart a woman’s infidelity. With greater risk of female infidelity, men may perform additional anti-cuckoldry tactics such as frequent in-pair copulations (IPC).”

    In other words, SEX. And lots of it!

    This really is the answer, apparently. If you’re frightened that your girl may run off with another man and leave you, there’s nothing like a page (or several) from the Kamasutra to put the spice back into things. To offset the “greater risk” of her cheating on you, it is essential to give her what she needs until she’s screaming for a coffee break. Whoa Nelly, who knew science papers could make such sexist and racy reading!

  22. #22 DLC
    September 17, 2008

    And to think I used to jokingly refer to it as “The Ferarri Testosterona” .

  23. #23 Blake Stacey
    September 17, 2008

    Years ago, back when 2000 CE still represented the high-tech future, Australian TV had a show called Beyond 2000, and on one of the episodes picked up by the Discovery Channel, they featured a device which would cancel the sounds of your car and replace them with the James Bond-esque vehicle noise profile of your choice. I bet that would be even easier to do with a Prius. Just imagine: at the touch of a button, a hippie hybrid no longer — now, it’s a ThunderCougarFalconBird!

  24. #24 nanoAl
    September 17, 2008

    really? my ’92 toyota corolla is a total chick magnet! Maybe thats just the type of women I spend my time with…oh yeah, evironmentally concious hippies!

  25. #25 Richard Eis
    September 17, 2008

    Is it bad that my first thought while reading this was “pavlov’s dog”?

    Anyway, I hate loud roaring engines. They irritate the hell out of me. That would really get my testosterone up.

  26. #26 RNB
    September 17, 2008

    Sorry, I presume most of you are ignoring the obvious answer … the study was funded by a company that specialises in luxury or high performance vehicles. If the results encourage more people to buy small volkswagens then probably less revenue for the insurer. If the “scientific” study appears to encourage high performance sales, even slightly, then potential win for the study sponsor. It’s bullshit. Other than Ferrari or similar, it’s about the most prejudiced sponsor you could imagine. It’s like a study funded by a vitamin pill salesman suggesting that people who take vitamin pills are more healthy.

  27. #27 cptchaos
    September 17, 2008

    Hm, looks like Orac’s irony circuits are so heavily damaged, that he is on safety fall-back to sarcasm.

  28. #28 confused
    September 17, 2008

    Philip IV:
    The study seems to have been commissioned by Hiscox, who are specialty luxury insurers. I don’t see it having any real value for them…

    Are you joking? A speciality luxury insurers have nothing to gain from saying speciality luxury cars are more sexy than non-speciality, non-luxury cars?

  29. #29 Dianne
    September 17, 2008

    Testosterone increases in a number of situations besides arousal. For example, when a person is feeling aggressive, their testosterone goes up. I don’t know about anyone else, but loud engine noises annoy the crap out of me. So were the people with higher testosterone levels fantasizing about sex in the greedmobiles or were they fantasizing about taking a sledgehammer and beating them into little, tiny, noiseless pieces?

  30. #30 penn
    September 17, 2008

    I thought about the volume thing as well. Doesn’t testosterone spike due to stressors as well sexual stimulation? Could a loud engine just lead to a greater stress response?

    The sad implication of the study is the usual sexist tripe that women are slaves to their hormones and can’t act rationally.

  31. #31 jayh
    September 17, 2008

    ” my ’92 toyota corolla is a total chick magnet! Maybe thats just the type of women I spend my time with…oh yeah, evironmentally concious hippies”

    Except that a 92 Toyota is FAR from a current standare eco-friendly car

  32. #32 Samantha Vimes
    September 17, 2008

    Funny, when I think testosterone levels rising, I think of people getting pissed off that that DAMN LOUD CAR is ruining their NICE DAY!

    Yeah, I bet my testosterone would rise when I hear an annoying engine revving. It comes with fantasies of ripping the engine out of the car and beating the driver bloody with it.

  33. #33 Samantha Vimes
    September 17, 2008

    Should’ve read the thread first. Several people beat me to the correlation does not equal causation/ testosterone can mean anger, not arousal issue.

  34. #34 jayh
    September 17, 2008

    “Yeah, I bet my testosterone would rise when I hear an annoying engine revving. It comes with fantasies of ripping the engine out of the car and beating the driver bloody with it.”

    However the cars in question are not particularly loud in stock trim. Additionally people were coluntarily listening in a test environment so actual rage in this case is unlikely

  35. #35 Cherish
    September 17, 2008

    I’m thinking the person collecting the saliva samples after the Maserati was hotter than the person collecting the samples after the VW. That’s a nifty way to ensure the desired results.

  36. #36 Diane
    September 17, 2008

    Silly study, whatever the result.
    Personally, I think a guy on a bike is particularly hot.
    Mmmmm….

  37. #37 Pineyman
    September 17, 2008

    Hmmm….didn’t Dudley Moore nail this in “Crazy People”? Something along the lines of: Porsche, you can’t get laid in it, but you can get laid on it?

    Me? I’m middle aged and I drive a pickup.

  38. #38 Bee
    September 17, 2008

    Count me in with the other women who suspect it’s just as likely that the testosterone spike could have been caused by irritation.

    Even when I was a nubile young thing prone to hanging out with guys with motorcycles, the sound of a screaming Kawasaki annoyed me no end, and I wasn’t impressed by the sound of yet another muffler challenged Harley. The nice quiet BMW, however, got my immediate approval.

  39. #39 vlad
    September 17, 2008

    Well there is a big difference between the engine sound of a high priced sports car and the modified econ box. The most irritating thing for me is the jack ass who get mode to try and sound like the real thing. Either pony up the cash for a real sports car or accept that you can’t. Don’t put a modified muffler and rims with spinner on a minivan, yes I actually saw this. The sound of a real (and well tuned sports car) is not what puts people’s teeth on edge. The mods and the badly tuned sports cars have a lot more noise in the higher frequency range which has been shown to irritate everyone. That horrible tone that comes out of most medical devices for wanring alarms is chosen for a reason. Something that irritates you get your attention faster.

    As far as the effect of high end cars on women? I have yet to see more than a few exceptions. My car is a sportier Saturn which sounds like a lawns mower in over drive, an 32 mpg cause it’s stick. No one really cares. Now I hop into my wife’s Lexus convertible or me friends vet, you wouldn’t believe the suggestions I get. So the study is redundant and poorly done but cute.

    Personally I can’t wait to get my prius (more likely a plug in with a solar array) and my vet/benz. One for everyday fuel efficiency and one one for when I feel like actually driving something fun. It actually averages out to better fuel efficiency than getting a mid range car. The anarchist vegans that swoon over a prius piss me off to no end any way.

  40. #40 Impostor75
    September 17, 2008

    No, I believe every word. I used to watch Formula One racing at my friend’s mother’s house, and all those revving engines used to get her dog ever so excited. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen 10 stone of English Bull Terrier do 15 circuits of the dining table, then wheel off and go flying through the patio doors (which were only actually open about 50% of the time); if that’s not evidence of a testosterone spike, then I don’t know what is.

  41. #41 Numenaster
    September 17, 2008

    Speaking for the lesbian contingent, I can confidently report that the Subaru wagon (ca 1980) is the stereotypic car of choice for our younger members: they certainly facilitate moving in after the 2nd date (another stereotype). Of course they sound like a lawnmower, or at least mine did, but it’s OUR lawnmower. When we can afford to buy a house and a newer car we go for Vulvas, I mean Volvos. Mine is an S40 turbo ;)