It’s a trope almost universally acknowledged that men with a penchant for fast cars are overcompensating for being a little less well-endowed. Just a stereotype, you may think, and an unflattering one at that. Well, what if we told you that a group of psychologists has not only investigated this scientifically, but may have actually found some evidence to suggest it’s true?
A new preprint study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, claims to have found that men rated sports cars as more desirable when they had been made to believe that their penis size was smaller than average. While it is important to remember that preprinted research has not yet been subject to evaluation by other scientists, in the authors’ words, “These results raise intriguing questions for future research.”
If you’ve ever been overtaken by someone driving a flashy sports car, or seen one cruising around town with the top down and music blaring, chances are you’ll have heard mutterings about “small penis energy.” And who can have failed to notice the Twitter storm around Greta Thunberg’s recent use of the same insult against disgraced social media personality Andrew Tate? The idea that the small-penised in our society are attracted to fast, ostentatious cars is almost embedded within the culture at this point.
To see if there might be any truth to it, a team led by Professor Daniel C. Richardson of UCL‘s Experimental Psychology department recruited 200 English-speaking males aged between 18 and 74 years. The participants completed an online task, which they were told was a test of their ability to remember facts while shopping for different products.
In each round of the experiment, participants were shown a statement on the screen for seven seconds, followed by a picture of a product – some luxury, and some everyday items. They were asked to drag a slider to show how much they would like to have the product. To finish, they were shown either the original statement again, or a statement with a subtle change, and asked whether it was true or false.
Here's the tricky part. Buried within all these questions were some statements about average penis size. These particular statements were always followed by a picture of a sports car. The thing is, although the participants had been led to believe that these statements were factual, sometimes they were not.
In order to try to manipulate the participants’ self-esteem, some of the group were told that the average size of an erect penis is 18 centimeters (7.1 inches), while the rest were told that it is 10 centimeters (4 inches). The real average is somewhere in between. The idea was that men who were told that the average size is much larger than it is would consequently believe that their own penis was on the smaller side, and that the opposite would be true for those who were told that the average is smaller than it actually is.
When they computed the results, the team found that the men made to believe that their penises were smaller than average were more likely to rate sports cars as highly desirable. There was also an effect of age, with this trend being much more marked in men over the age of 30.
Given that the work has not yet been peer-reviewed, it’s probably too early to draw any firm conclusions. However, as the authors note in the paper, the work does provide tantalizing evidence that there could be some truth in the old adage.
“Perhaps there is just something specific linking cars and penises in the male psyche. That hypothesis is supported by the data in this paper, and would explain the existence of the phallic car trope in everyday jokes, advertisements and academic discourse [...] The luxury automotive industry may be unwilling to acknowledge this link, but our results do provide some succour.”
Food for thought, certainly – and a definite contender for this week’s “study titles we can’t quite believe are real” prize.
The preprint can be accessed via PsyArXiv.