The old saying goes ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ But in anticipation of Anti-Bullying Day, which occurs on the fourth of May every year, a company decided to take a deep dive into the physical effects that verbal bullying can have. In a thought-provoking experiment conducted by the giant Swedish-founded Dutch-based company known as IKEA, they revealed the negative effects of verbal bullying. But rather than have participants be berated with verbal onslaughts, IKEA decided to have students bully a plant.
It was on IKEA’s United Arab Emirates YouTube channel where they displayed the effects of their experiment. On the description box of the video, the experiment is described as follows: ‘Plants have feelings, just like people. So, what happens when you feed one plant with compliments and another with negative remarks? Watch how we got students involved in a social experiment to raise awareness on the effects of bullying. #SayNoToBullying.’
According to an article from Global News, even though the experiment isn’t the most scientific in terms of methods (with the company admitting as much), the plants were kept under identical controlled environments to illustrate an important lesson to the students. In the YouTube video, IKEA described how they set up two plants in a United Arab Emirates school and had students feed comments to the plants via speakers which were built into the plant enclosure.
The controls of the experiments were kept identical so that no outside factors could influence the decisions. Both plants received the same amount of light, nutrition, and water. The only difference was that one plant was given words of encouragement and praise, while the other was given insults. According to Global News, the students’ comments were fed through speakers rigged into each enclosure. They were encouraged to record their words of praise, and to record their insults or send them via social media. A recording device then transmitted the messages to each plant.
At the end of the thirty days, the students noticed that the plant which had been bullied looked less green and was much more droopy whereas the plant that complimented was healthy, taller and much brighter. Vinod Jayan, who is the managing director of IKEA UAE, Qatar, Egypt and Oman said: ‘This is an incredibly effective initiative that has encouraged people to make room for change. it has helped children and their families understand the impact that words can have.’
However, while this experiment teaches an important lesson to children on the damage that verbal bullying can cause, many people on YouTube have lambasted the lack of scientific validity in their experiment. In the Global News article, they tried to debunk the experiment by citing a Mythbusters experiment where seven plants were tested. Two were given positive speech, another two negative speech, one was given classical music, another death metal and the last was left in silence. The article added: ‘the plant left in silence fared the worst. Surprisingly, the one to flourish the most was the death metal plant.’
The Mythbusters ended up deriving that it was the volume of the music that played a key role and not the sounds itself. According to the Mythbusters: ‘That may have more to do with the decibel level of the music than the words it was hearing, however, since researchers have proven that decibel levels below 45 are ideal for indoor living. By that rationale, Mozart would be just as soothing as some hushed Slayer to the average indoor fern.’ In the end, whether or not plants are truly affected by words are still to be determined. Mr. Jayan added: ‘It was so successful in driving awareness and reducing bullying amongst these children that more schools in the UAE have approached us to conduct the experiment at their locations.’
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