'Angry' Headlights Warn Hapless Drivers

Taking a cue from mimicry in nature, scientists at Honda Motor are studying the way the brain reacts to different imagery and developing potentially defensive headlight designs.

Researchers found that motorcycles that resemble an angry human face are "significantly" more visible to other drivers. Measurements taken with functional magnetic resonance imaging confirm that a more lifelike front-end design "elicits a response similar to that when a human face is seen," suggesting that other drivers will recognize the oncoming motorcycle sooner and react accordingly, according to Canwest News Service.

Designers are incorporating "conspicuity enhancement," as researchers call it, on Honda's ASV-3 motorcycle (right) and newer sportbike models such as the 2008 CBR 1000RR (below), which have twin slanted headlights and a short snout.

"People in four-wheeled vehicles will see not just motorcycles coming at them but motorcycles with human characteristics and faces," Charles Kenny, president of consumer psychology firm Right Brain People, told Canwest. "It connects to something very basic in the psyche that goes back to when they were little children."

In nature, plants, butterflies, reptiles and other creatures often have "eye spots" or other defensive markings that make them look like more dangerous creatures to deter predators.

In motorcycles, major manufacturers such as Suzuki, Kawasaki, Honda, Yamaha, Buell, Triumph and Ducati all feature 2008 sportbikes fitted with cat's eye headlights. Dozens more models display aggressive traits through other design cues.

"The sportbike community really wants an aggressive, hard-edged design," John Paolo Canton, spokesman for Ducati North America, told Canwest. "Nobody wants to buy a 300-km/h motorcycle that looks cute."