Feb 112007
Authors: Brett Okamoto

Betsy is aggressive when she’s on the road. She usually drives over the speed limit and isn’t afraid to mix it up with other cars if they get in her way. When Betsy gets cut off, Betsy gets pissed.

Betsy is a ’92 Ford Bronco.

And she belongs to sophomore biomedical sciences student Wes Smith. He named the vehicle Betsy after a previous girlfriend and has no doubt that “she’s” a female, “unless she’s not telling me something,” he said. Smith also categorizes himself as an aggressive, sometimes angry, driver.

CSU graduate student Jake Benfield wouldn’t be surprised to meet a guy like Smith. According to a study Benfield began last fall on freshman psychology students, Smith’s mentality toward his car is actually pretty common.

“We weren’t expecting so many people to have a name or gender for their car,” said Benfield, whose study focused on students’ characterizations of their cars in relation to their driving. “Turns out that about 50 percent of people give their car a gender and one-third name it.”

And it’s not exactly stopping there. Benfield’s research this semester is also designed to find out if students believe their cars have a personality of their own.

Junior biological sciences student Megan Niepoth knows her car has an attitude; she’s seen it in action.

“She has a very big attitude,” Niepoth said of her Saturn coupe. “She’s a clutch and she’ll just start moving on her own. I rear-ended somebody the other day. I thought I was on a flat surface so I laid off my breaks. I thought I was stopped but I guess I wasn’t.”

Benfield also found that people who did admit to giving their cars a personality generally gave it one different than their own. This semester Benfield is readjusting his study to find out where these personalities are coming from.

“We’re wondering if these students are giving their cars what their perception is of an ideal personality,” Benfield said. “Everyone wishes they were more or less socially outgoing and we want to figure out if the personality people are giving their car is actually who they want to be.”

Not only could these perceived personalities reveal the driver’s ideal character, they may also explain certain drivers’ aggressive behaviors on the road.

“They think their car possesses certain characteristics like they’re mean or they don’t take crap from anyone on the road,” Benfield said. “We’re interested in finding out if that influences their actions on the road and what they think they can get away with.”

Sophomore biomedical sciences major Vance McCormick gave his Lincoln Mark VIII the name “The Green Monster” after he reached a speed of 140 mph in it.

Not surprisingly, the Monster isn’t doing its nails and watching chick flicks on the weekend.

“It’s definitely a he,” McCormick said. “I checked under the hood and it’s a he.”

According to Benfield’s study, McCormick’s perception of his car might explain why, when asked to describe his driving, he answers, “I don’t like to go slow.”

Benfield will begin distributing similar questionnaires to the ones students filled out to community members this semester in hopes of replicating his first results and expanding his research to include what people believe to be the ideal personality.

Benfield, who admits to having named his car in the past, says the purpose of the experiment is educational but could potentially help to address the problem of aggressive driving.

“We want to understand, for better or worse, why people choose or choose not to give their cars these human characteristics,” Benfield said. “And then it’s not necessarily our ultimate goal, but it is of potential value for some portion of the population.”

Staff writer Brett Okamoto can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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