Cars and dogs

As it is common nowadays, the idea for this article came after a discussion on Twitter. I was alerted to the book ‘The Psychology of the Car,’ in particular to the fifth chapter “Car Semiotics: The Evolutionary Social Psychology of Attraction.” In this chapter, the author, Stefan Gossling, discusses many aspects of human behavior in relation to cars. For example, he cites another author who builds on Freud’s observations and argues that the process of driving in a car represents sexual stimulation through the sensations of movement. Gossling offers a number of examples of how car features mimic animal behaviors and their functions. For example, Low engine “growl” mimics Lion roar, which function is Advertising territorial boundaries. “Red” car color signals fighting ability, establishes rank order similar to a Mandrill’s red face. “Conspicuous” car signals Willingness to engage in sexual activity similar as Peacock feathers do. There are also more examples including a Gorilla and a Baboon.

In other parts of this chapter, Gossling discusses many issues such as ‘Oedipal Sexual Constellations Involving Cars’ based on the movie Transformers (2007). He writes about this movie on three pages (!) and mentions another author who argued that one of the main actors in the movie had a homoerotic relationship with his car. Other parts of this chapter are about Sexual acts with cars, Dominance and Submission, The Car as Space for Sexual Activity, Sex on the Road etc. There is a lot of sex, which is typical when one writes about evolutionary issues.

I am not an evolutionary psychologist, so I am not going to argue whether the author got it right or wrong. I will argue something else. Cars are a unique product. They are expensive, but not necessarily too expensive; nevertheless, they are often an indicator of our socioeconomic status. They are not hidden in your house; you can ‘show’ them to anyone. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. They are advertized carefully to different demographic groups, so naturally people with different characteristics and personalities might choose different brands/types/sizes or whatever. A competition between carmakers is tough so they use all possible strategies also those arising from psychological knowledge. Cars can be used for commuting to work, for leisure, for shopping, transporting goods, emergency visits to hospitals, and many other purposes. Cars are everywhere and almost everyone has one. This fact makes it easy to discuss any aspect of human behavior in relation to cars. To illustrate this, I will use dogs as an example. Dogs are also everywhere around us and many people have them (there are 700 000 dogs in Finland).

Dogs come in all kinds of sizes, colors, and temperament. Some people (with certain personality) might choose a strong and aggressive dog; others will choose a dog which they can carry in their purse. Some people (unfortunately) enjoy watching dogfights, other watch a TV with a dog sleeping in their lap. Some people talk to their dogs as if they were their children. Some let their dogs to sleep in their bed, some let their dogs to lick their faces. Some people don’t walk their dogs often enough, many don’t pick their dog’s shit from streets. In winter, every piece of snow is yellow because of dogs’ pee. We all have/had a neighbor whose dog barks all day. Some people cannot afford expensive vet treatments, so dogs are put to sleep. Nowadays it is rare that a dog dies naturally, we put them to sleep because ‘we cannot watch them suffering.’ We don’t let our dogs to have sex and reproduce when they want. We castrate our dogs because it is convenient for us. We are persuaded to buy specially prepared dog food, which price per kilogram is often higher than meat we buy in supermarkets. Impact on environment is larger than you might imagine. Some people make their dogs vegan. We have shaped dogs’ genetics, which has led to many health problems in almost every breed. Furthermore, there are plenty of stories in media about eccentric behavior of some dog owners. You must have heard about crazy millionaire who left all her fortune to her dog (or was it a cat?); or a person who married her dog (or was it a horse?); or a person who had sex with his dog (OK, it is more likely it was a sheep). Only a small proportion of dogs have work duties, the large majority serve as our companions. We take them because they provide us with emotional support, they combat our loneliness, or ‘force’ us to go out and walk.

You get my point? When something is so diverse and prevalent, and big part of our lives, you can practically argue whatever. You can also choose to focus on one side only, for example, negative – just like I did with dogs. You can wrap your story nicely, ridicule and make that thing look bad. You can find arguments from a single movie, behavior of a single person, or eccentric people to support your claim.

I hope I didn’t ruin the dog thing for you. Please don’t get me wrong, I love dogs, I am a dog person. There is another thing about having dogs. It is about love, friendship, enjoyment, life joy. Everything in life has positive and negative things. It is our choice whether we will try to make a balance. Finally, here is a personal note. I still miss a lot our Border terrier bitch Niki, which we had to put to sleep two years ago because there was no cure for her serious disease. She was suffering a lot. Please forgive us Niki!

  1. After I finished writing this text, I found that out that another researcher had similar observations about this book. Alexa Delbosc writes: “…the narrative around the psychology of the car is largely from a Western perspective and overwhelmingly negative – cars engender misogyny, addiction, rebellion, anti-social behaviour, and selfish freedoms. There is very little about the instrumental, affective and psychological benefits provided by automobility, or what cars mean to women, ethnic minorities or non-Western societies.”
Written by Igor Radun, PhD, Docent, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, University of Helsinki, Finland
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Photo: Igor Radun


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