Research Connects Love for High-Volume Vehicles to Predictable Character Traits

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We’ve all experienced the sudden roar of a car with a modified muffler, disrupting the calm and leaving our ears ringing. For those who live in neighborhoods where these loud vehicles are a common sight, it might not come as a shock that a recent study links a preference for these noisy cars to higher levels of sadism and psychopathy.

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Julie Aitken Schermer, a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, conducted a study on over 500 people to explore the relationship between ‘dark’ personality traits and an affinity for cars with modified mufflers. Schermer analyzed responses from 529 business students, mostly 18-year-olds, to examine how these dark personality traits—like Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, and sadism—correlate with a preference for loud cars.

“As these exhaust modifications are both a disturbance to people and animals and are illegal in some jurisdictions… understanding who wants their vehicle to be loud is an interesting research question,” Schermer wrote in Psychology Today, summarizing her findings.

Schermer’s participants completed a ‘car scale’ survey, which asked about their feelings towards loud cars, their identification with their own cars, and their likelihood to modify their mufflers. They also completed a Short Dark Tetrad scale, a 28-item questionnaire measuring Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, and sadism.

The psychologist said she was inspired to explore the topic while walking her dog near her university campus, frequently disrupted by loud vehicles.

Schermer’s predictions were accurate: the study revealed that a desire for loud cars was associated with higher scores in sadism and psychopathy, suggesting these traits could drive a person’s inclination towards loud car modifications. Narcissism and Machiavellianism had weaker correlations with this preference.

“We found that it was sadism and psychopathy predicting who wants to modify their mufflers, who feels more connected to their vehicle, and [who thinks] loud cars are really cool,” Schermer explained in an interview with CBC News. “It seems to be this callous disregard for other people’s feelings and their reactions. That’s the psychopathy coming out and it’s also they probably get a kick out of enjoying watching people get startled.”

Being male and possessing sadistic and psychopathic personality traits accounted for about 29 percent of the variance in the preference for loud vehicles. Although the analysis found that being younger correlated with a greater preference for loud cars, this wasn’t significant enough to draw definitive conclusions.

The study, while insightful, does have limitations. The participants were all relatively young business students at the same university, which might not represent broader populations. Additionally, the survey focused on the desire for loud cars, not actual ownership, and didn’t investigate other loud vehicle types.

Schermer suggests that enforcing legal measures against these modifications might be the most effective way to address the issue, as those scoring high in psychopathy and sadism might not be swayed by information campaigns.

The research is published in Current Issues in Personality Psychology.

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