It’s a piece of advice so basic — not to mention humane — it seems unnecessary to point out, but if you happen to find yourself driving down the road and see a turtle crossing into the lane, don’t swerve to intentionally run it over. While that sounds obvious, it may not be to some people. While conducting an experiment to figure out how to make turtles safer while they cross the road, a college student in Clemson, S.C., discovered that one of the most significant dangers facing turtles is mean-spirited drivers who run them over on purpose. In his experiment, seven of 267 drivers hit a realistic rubber reptile intentionally.
The student’s findings weren’t surprising to Hal Herzog, a Western Carolina University psychology professor and author of a book about humans’ relationships with animals. When he asked 110 students if they had ever intentionally run over a turtle, he said about 34 students raised their hands. Both experiences support an informal study conducted earlier this year by NASA engineer Mark Rober, who observed 6 percent of 1,000 drivers swerve out of their lane just to squash an animal.
In humans, the willingness to kill or injure animals is a strong indicator of other violent tendencies. A better understanding of why some men — and they are almost exclusively male — feel the need to do so would of course be good for turtles and other animals that share our homes and roads. But shedding light on that darker side of the human psyche would be good for mankind as well.