Can you increase your hitchhiking success using science?

By Michelle Dickinson 05/06/2014

Mr bean

Could Mr Bean use science to increase his hitchhiking success? (Image source (

Hitchhiking, it’s cheap, a great way to meet new people and a staple for many young students adventuring around the world during their summer holidays.  Although the obvious dangers of getting into a car with a complete stranger should be mentioned, I’ll admit I’ve taken the chance many times and been lucky in only having positive hitchhiking experiences during my world travels.

People say that hitchhiking is more of an art form and not an exact science, but as a scientist I wanted to know if I could increase my success rate of being picked up on the road side by sticking my thumb out armed with some published research.

In this weeks science spot on KiwiFM I discuss how the weather and the apparent size of your breasts (females only sorry) can increase your chances of success.  Click on the link below to hear the segment:

Experiment 1 – Just for the girls

In the paper “Bust Size and Hitchhiking: A Field Study” published in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills, a 20 year old female who was rated as having “average physical attractiveness” by 15 male students was asked to stand on the side of the road wearing a figure hugging white shirt.  The female indicated that she was hitchhiking by holding out her thumb as cars drove by and two hidden researchers counted the number and the sex of the motorists that either drove past or stopped to pick her up. The experiments took place between 2pm and 6pm on sunny days in early summer to attempt to keep the conditions constant, however the female was asked to wear different “latex leaf” bras which changed the apparent size of her breasts from an A cup through to a C cup.

The results are as follows:

Cup Size A Cup Size B Cup Size C
Male drivers (n = 774) 40/268(14.92%) 46/256(17.79%) 60/250(24.00%)
Female drivers (n = 426) 12/132(9.09%) 11/144(7.64%) 14/150(9.33%)

Statistically speaking, only the mens behaviors were affected by the hitchhiker’s apparent breast size (p <.03). and the frequency of stopping during the cup C bra wearing was slightly greater than the B cup bra (p=0.09).  Interestingly the C cup bra results were significantly greater than those of the A cup bra (p<.01).

The likelihood of a woman driver picking up the female hitchhiker remained constant regardless of her apparent bra size.

One thing that I like about this study is the little note in the paper stating that a male observer was hidden close by to ensure protection against any possible threats to the females security.

Experiment 2

Sunshine or cloudy?  Which is better for hitchhiking?

Sunshine or cloudy? Which is better for hitchhiking?

If you don’t happen to be a female with some extra padding, then all is not lost.  The paper “Hitchhiking and the ‘sunshine driver‘” published in Psychological Reports tested the effect of sunshine on drivers willingness to give hitchhikers a ride.  This study involved 2 men and 2 women with a median age of 20 years who hitchhiked on both sunny and cloudy days when the weather was between 20°C and 24°C.

2864 cars drove past in the study and the results are as follows:

Male Hitchhiker Female Hitchhiker
Sunny Cloudy Sunny Cloudy
Male drivers (n = 1804) 35/4407.9% 25/4785.2% 64/42814.9% 45/4589.8%
Female drivers (n = 1060) 11/2524.4% 5/2661.5% 20/2667.5% 15/2765.4%

So it seems that sunnier days will help to increase your success in hitchhiking (p=0.001) and you are more likely to be picked up by a male driver than a female one (p<0.001) especially if you are a female hitchhiker (p<0.001).

So can science help your success in hitchhiking?

Well it seems that if you are a female with large assets who is hitchhiking on a sunny day, then you will have the best chance. I’m obviously not suggesting that girls go out and buy some padded bra’s to take on their next travel adventure, but the science does back up what some of us hitchhiking girls probably already knew.  As for the boys, eventually all of the hitchhikers got a ride up in the end, so don’t despair just keep that thumb out for a little bit longer.