By Matthew Hutson, published on May 1, 2009 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
We're all familiar with conspicuous consumption as a display of wealth and status—spending Benjamins to keep up with the Joneses. But in his book, Spent, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller asserts that purchases are also strategic displays of personality traits, intelligence, creativity, and more—particularly in the service of attracting mates. The strategies are not always conscious, and the displays not always truthful; people are as capable as corporations of false advertising. Below we compile some of Miller's freewheeling impressions of motorists: what they drive, and what drives them. —Matthew Hutson
Oh boy, besides showing off fantastic spending might, this high-horsepower carriage yells, "I'm an extrovert!" Top: down. Plates: vain. The driver wants you to know he's the life of the party, even if the ride fits only a party of two.
"If it weren't for physics and law enforcement, I'd be unstoppable"
If you drive a Buick and you're not old, you probably still have a W sticker on the back. Nothing advertises low openness (traditionalism, conservatism) quite as well—except maybe a Lincoln or Rolls Royce. The school decal is Princeton or West Point.
"Gun control means using both hands"
The Mini driver hopes to convince you she's open to new experiences. If the school decal (Hampshire) doesn't convince you of her liberal eccentricity, the copy of Harper's on the dashboard will. Second car: Lotus, Scion, or Subaru (great for the weather in Vancouver).
"Question reality," or "I like It sloppy and weird"
The Volvo is a symbol of high conscientiousness (predictability, organization). Befriend (or date) a Volvo driver and you're purportedly getting someone who's responsible and cautious. The car will probably be sparkling clean, as regular washes demonstrate reliability and attention to detail.
"The police never think it's as funny as you do"
*Miller, a professor at the University of New Mexico, has spent years collecting Bumper Sticker slogans around Albuquerque.