Photo: Author’s garage, circa 2020
Are men who drive flashy sports cars compensating for something after all? A study conducted at a London university suggests that the old trope of men with less-than-average endowment turning to sports cars and other forms of “conspicuous consumption” may indeed be rooted in truth. As a group of men who tend to be drawn to flashy sports cars, this headline caught our eye. The study does not appear to be peer-reviewed, but the methodology is described in detail and the study authors claim their data indicate a psychological link between attraction to sports cars and the belief that one has a smaller-than-average penis.
I’d say we’re all adults here, but Autoblog is a website dedicated to (and maintained by) grown human beings who are still really into cars. Our inner children are alive and well, and all of them giggle juuuuust a little bit at the word “penis.” So, I’m going to use a substitute. From now on, whenever you see “potato,” just think “penis.” Got it? Good. Here we go!
The researchers studied 200 men between ages 18 and 74. Due to the inherent unreliability of self-reported potato size, they decided that the simplest approach — ranking potato size relative to interest in sports cars — would be a dead end. Instead, the team designed a study that would convince the participants that they were having their memory evaluated in a multi-tasking environment. In other words, they had to read information while being served ads on the internet. How like life, no?
OK, it wasn’t quite that simple, but it’ll do for our purposes. Interspersed among the factoids were misleading statements about potato length intended to convince some participants that they perhaps don’t grow potatoes as big as they thought, while others were led to believe that they were candidates for a blue ribbon at the State Fair of Idaho. After their sessions, the two groups were then asked to rate their interest in sports cars. Here’s some documentary footage (NSFW; contains several potato references):
“Our primary hypothesis was that ratings for sports cars would increase when male participants were manipulated to believe that they have relatively small [potatoes],” the study authors said. “We tested a secondary hypothesis, that the link is driven by self-esteem in general, with other trials in that contained manipulated facts that might impact self-esteem in different ways, and a variety of luxury and non-luxury products. Finally, we analysed participants [sic] age, since it determines both mating strategies and patterns.
“The key experimental trial told participants that the average erect [potato] size of other men was either 18 cm (small [potato] / low self-esteem) or 10 cm* (large [potato] / high self-esteem) and was always followed by a rating of one of six sports cars. On four trials, they were given either the original fact, or a version with one detail changed, and asked if the statement was true or false. After the experiment trials, participants were told that some of the facts they had been told were incorrect, and they were asked to give their estimates of the true values of these facts, including the true average [potato] size.”
They found that participants were more likely to rate their interest in buying a sport car highly if they’d been presented with information intended to make them feel insecure about the relative size of their potatoes. The effect was most pronounced in participants over age 29, where positive responses toward sports cars exceeded the expected statistical variance, suggesting a link, rather than mere coincidence. In other words, yes, it’s possible that feelings of inadequacy may drive men to buy flashy cars.
This is not the first time the concept of flashy cars has been studied in the context of men’s dating habits. One study conducted a decade ago in the good old US of A found that while sports cars may help men get dates, they don’t tend to be indicators of long-term potential; some may consider that a feature rather than a bug. The authors of this latest study suggest that other flashy, desirable items would make wise candidates for further research. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which ones.
But if you ask me, what other people think is small potatoes.
*Approximately 7 and 4 inches, respectively.