Study: People Love Their Cars Because They're Lonely

Why do people love their cars? Like really really love love LOVE their cars? More so than any other possession, cars arouse deep emotions in their owners. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research went to five car shows and interviewed car enthusiasts about their passion to try to figure out why. The most far-reaching of their conclusions is that people who love their cars do it, essentially, because they’re lonely.

In “Truly, Madly, Deeply: Consumers in the Throes of Material Possession Love,” (PDF) the researchers came to this determination about their findings:

We have interpreted the empirical linkages between loneliness and the components of love as suggesting an adaptive coping mechanism (Shaver and Mikulincer 2006), where consumers avoid the negative outcomes of loneliness. Hence, a loving attachment to a possession presumably contributes to consumer well-being in a relative manner, especially when compared to less desirable alternative outcomes from loneliness, which include alcohol abuse, delinquency, and depression (Lynch 1976; Nerviano and Gross 1976; Russell et al. 1980). However, while our data do not directly tie possession love to the avoidance of such negative outcomes, other empirical work nearly has. For example, attachments to pets have been empirically linked to reduced depression among the elderly (Garrity et al. 1989), and, more recently, Banks, Willoughby, and Banks (2008) report that attachments to robotic pets bring enhanced well-being to lonely residents in long-term-care facilities like nursing homes. We encourage further empirical work that directly considers both possession love and direct assessment of well-being outcomes.

It’s not that people who love their cars, or another possession, are more lonely than those who don’t. It’s that humans are lonely by instinct. It’s what’s kept our species alive. Being inherently lonely drives us to come together as groups, make babies, and then nurture the babies and pour our love into them. Our DNA is a pretty smart beast like that.

However, that instinctive drive to nurture can get redirected into an object, become fetishized. Indeed, some of those interviewed talked about how their car “turned them on.” As long as it doesn’t hurt you or those around you, it’s not that bad. And it’s good for the companies who sell you the accessories to take care of your love object.

Here’s the study in full (PDF).

Truly, Madly, Deeply: Consumers in the Throes of Material Possession Love (PDF) (Abstract) [Journal of Consumer Research]