60-Second Mind

Our Cars, Ourselves

Increasingly, GPS and voice-activated systems in cars are turning a fairly private place into an open vessel for our habits--and as such, a possible boon for advertisers. But they are also becoming something else: our counselors

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Cars are personal. Throughout our lives they are our accomplices, privy to many of our most intimate moments. They witness us: swearing at traffic, sneaking a Quarter Pounder at midnight, stealing away to the beach, kissing on a first date. And like a faithful pet, they never judge us?

That is, never before OnStar, GPS, DVDs and satellite radio. Now they are the collectors of the places we go, of secrets we keep, of habits?good, bad, and even worse. (Think of the implications for advertisers and insurance companies.)

And they have become our counselors, too: Stanford University's Clifford Nass studies human behavior in cars, specifically interaction with cars' voice-operated systems.

In a 2007 study called "Cartharsis" he found that soothing car voices calm anxious drivers. If car sensors detect erratic driving, a voice might say, "Don't worry. There'll be a chance to pass that truck."

Nass notes that preferred car voices are less Knight Rider and more a golf buddy or a chauffeur or a favorite celeb.

His other observations: depressed drivers drive better when their car speaks to them as if it were down, too ... noting that folks with the blues don't react well to a perky voices. Older drivers like younger voices. And if the car lectures too much (nagging: "You need to be more careful!") recklessness actually increased. Really not a surprise, because we all love a backseat driver, right?

60-Second Psych is a weekly podcast. Subscribe to this Podcast: RSS | iTunes


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