Study: Fancy Cars Make Us Happy, Briefly

In an amazing breakthrough for both Science and the study of consumer behavior, researchers have determined that the pleasures of having an expensive car is fleeting and quickly replaced by thinking about the anxieties of day-to-day existence.

First, researchers at the University of Michigan asked students what sort of feeling they would expect to have driving a variety of cars. The students reported that they would have more intense feelings of enjoyment the more luxurious the car was in question. Next, the researchers asked a different group of folks what car they drove and what feelings they had while driving it. Similarly, those with “better” cars reported having more positive emotions the more expensive the car was.

However, a third group of respondents was asked to recall a recent trip they took to work or the last time they drove their care more than 20 minutes. They were asked to record the feelings and thoughts they had during it. Only after they filled out these questions were they asked about what kind of car they had. During this instance of the survey, the type and cost of car had no bearing on how much the driver enjoyed the trip.

“During the test drive of a new car, our attention is focused on the car, and the more luxurious it is, the better we feel while driving it,” wrote Norbert Schwarz, co-author of the study and professor of marketing at Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “This experience is real, visceral and compelling. What we miss, however, is one simple thing–once we have owned the car for a few weeks, it no longer captures all of our attention and other things will be on our minds while driving.”

“As soon as that happens, we would feel just as well driving a cheaper alternative.”

So is “luxury” just a really expensive drug that we have to keep paying for over and over again to flick our little dopamine distributors? Perhaps!

Consumers then would be better off buying cars that give them the most value for their dollar, like those recommended by the testers at Consumer Reports, our parent company. In the end you’ll get basically the same driving pleasure, plus the satisfaction of spending less. And that’s the kind of feeling that lasts, mile after mile.

Consumers Beware: In Reality, Luxury Cars Don’t Make Us Feel Better [University of Michigan] (Thanks to Wayne!)