Drivers of Nicer Cars Care Less about Pedestrians—But Why?

likelihood of drivers stopping for crossing pedestrians linked to car value

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Research shows that the nicer the car, the less likely its driver will stop for pedestrians, CNN reported. The findings support that of a Finnish study published a month earlier that excoriated the personalities of men who drive fancy cars. Why are some people so self-centered?

Man wearing sunglasses in his red sports car
Experiment results showed drivers of expensive cars as less likely to stop for crossing pedestrians due to sense of superiority. Photo by Kiselev Andrey Valerevich / Shutterstock

The CNN article said researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas conducted an experiment testing to what degree drivers of expensive cars would slow down, yield, or stop for pedestrians crossing in a crosswalk. “Drivers of flashy vehicles are less likely to stop and allow pedestrians to cross the road—with the likelihood they’ll slow down decreasing 3% for every extra $1,000 that their vehicle is worth,” the article said. “[The researchers] came to this conclusion after asking volunteers to cross a sidewalk hundreds of times, filming and analyzing the responses by car drivers.”

The article also cited a Finnish study, saying that it found that “men who own flashy vehicles are more likely to be argumentative, stubborn, disagreeable, and unempathetic.” So what makes some people be so conceited?

Self-Serving Biases

“Studies have shown that the vast majority of people think that they are better than average on most positive characteristics,” said Dr. Mark Leary, Garoznik Family Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. “If everyone knew where they actually stood on these dimensions, we’d find that half of the people would say they’re better than average, and half of them would say that they’re worse than average—but people don’t do that. They consistently think that they are better than average.”

Dr. Leary said that this is a textbook example of what psychologists refer to as “self-serving biases” or “egotistical biases,” or a tendency to think we’re better at something than we are. At the same time, many of us struggle with self-esteem issues and we tend to think more negatively of ourselves, but more people have an inflated sense of self than a deflated one.

We also think of things that are associated with ourselves as being inherently better than average. “One weird example of this phenomenon is the mere ownership effect,” Dr. Leary said. “[This] refers to the fact that merely owning something makes people view it as better and more valuable.”

This goes so far as to include us liking brand names of products that start with the same letters as our own names.

Garden Variety Narcissists

Narcissism is still being studied by psychologists around the globe, but the narcissistic extreme love of self comes in many forms. In extreme cases, individuals can be diagnosed as having narcissistic personality disorder; but most narcissists fall into one of two categories: grandiose narcissists and vulnerable narcissists.

“Grandiose narcissists evaluate themselves as positively as their behavior seems to indicate,” Dr. Leary said. “They really do think that they are special and wonderful people, and they spend a good deal of time promoting their superiority. They want to be admired and to be seen as having status and power, and they use their social interactions to get admiration from other people.”

In terms of how this behavior manifests itself in daily life, grandiose narcissists try to one-up others, while being fond of bragging about their accomplishments.

“On the other hand, vulnerable narcissists are fundamentally insecure about themselves,” Dr. Leary said. “They think that they are unique and deserve to be treated special, but they are repeatedly disappointed that they don’t get the attention and respect that they think they deserve. They are unusually sensitive to feeling ignored, slighted, and disrespected by other people, and they often seethe inside about how other people treat them.”

In society, vulnerable narcissists often seem withdrawn and anxious.

Self-serving biases and common narcissism can combine to form conceited, arrogant people who seem to only act in their own self-interest. Apparently, owning fancy cars doesn’t help.

Dr. Mark Leary contributed to this article. Dr. Leary is Garonzik Family Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from West Virginia Wesleyan College and his master’s and doctoral degrees in Social Psychology from the University of Florida.