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IKEA conducts bullying experiment on plants — the results are shocking

A student in a school in the UAE participates in IKEA's anti-bullying experiment. .
A student in a school in the UAE participates in IKEA's anti-bullying experiment. . IKEA UAE

We’ve already seen too many examples of the negative effects of bullying on humans, but IKEA took it one step further when the retailer conducted an experiment to show what can happen to a plant that’s been relentlessly bullied.

Bully A Plant, a niche experiment conducted at a school in the United Arab Emirates leading up to Anti-Bullying Day on May 4, showed students how destructive negative comments can be. The DIY furniture giant set up two identical IKEA plants in the school, and for 30 days invited students to compliment one plant and bully the other.

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Although it’s not the most scientific of experiments — the company has admitted as much — the plants were kept under identical controlled environments. They each received the same amount of light, nutrition and water.

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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.

After 30 days, the plant that received compliments was healthy and thriving, while its insult-riddled counterpart was wilted and noticeably droopy.

“This is an incredibly effective initiative that has encouraged people to make room for change,” said Vinod Jayan, managing director of IKEA UAE, Qatar, Egypt and Oman, in a statement. “It has helped children and their families understand the impact that words can have.”

Although this was obviously a marketing and awareness initiative on the part of the Swedish retailer, many have rushed to show there’s little real evidence to prove that plants will die if they receive an onslaught of negative chatter.

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We may not know for certain that plants are susceptible to words, but we do know they respond to noise. In a Mythbusters experiment involving seven plants — two received positive speech, two received negative speech, one listened to classical music, another to death metal and the last was left in silence — the plant left in silence fared the worst. Surprisingly, the one to flourish the most was the death metal plant.

READ MORE: B.C. teen printed her bully’s hateful message on a t-shirt because ‘those words don’t define you’

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.

Regardless, the Swedish retailer is eager to use this as a platform to continue perpetuating an anti-bullying message. And it would seem other schools are keen to adopt the experiment.

“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,” Jayan said. “In fact, it is an easy experiment to try at home — we have a garden section at IKEA complete with complimented plants for anyone to take a little bit of happiness home.”

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