Sometimes we humans can be very cruel. A few years ago Professor David Shepherd of Southeastern Louisiana University conducted an experiment that showed just how cruel. Shepherd and his colleagues placed eight fake turtles and snakes at various points along a road, directly in the path of oncoming vehicles. At other places they put eight fake turtles and snakes way off the side of the road. To hit these snakes and turtles drivers would have to deliberately make the effort.

They found that 87% of drivers went out of their way to avoid hitting any of the snakes and turtles. 7% didn’t notice the fakes and so unintentionally ran them over. But 6% of drivers had a mean streak. They deliberately went out of their way to run over even the snakes and turtles off the side of the road. Shepherd reported that one truck driver crossed from the centre lane, went into the opposite lane of traffic and onto the shoulder of the road in order to rundown a turtle.

It’s amazing how we can get satisfaction out of cruelty, but most of us manage it at some time, whether it be the harsh words we use on someone, the gossip we offer, laughing at someone’s weakness, or mean spirited rejection of others.

Source: Scientific information from Karl Kruszelnicki’s New Moments in Science #3.