While plants may not have feelings, they still respond to their environment by sending signals to other plants about impending danger. They also can sense water, light, and gravity, and have complex sensory systems that can pick up on changes in their surroundings. Some people believe that plants are aware of their environment that they actually grow better when humans speak kind and supportive words to them.

Due to the rise in bullying around the world, IKEA’s UAE division wanted to test this theory with two of their own plants. They brought two of their Dracaena plants to a school. Next, they instructed school children to speak kindly to one plant and “bully” the other one. IKEA partnered with ad agency Memac Ogilvy to create an inspirational marketing video about the bully a plant experiment. Then, they asked children to help with video recordings to play on a loop for 30 days to the plants.

Children either gave the plant compliments or said mean things on the recordings. Not surprisingly, the bullied plant withered while the other one flourished. The people involved in the experiment gave the plants the same amount of water, sunlight, and fertilizer, so the only explanation for the differences in growth comes down to the varied comments.

The company hoped to raise awareness on the harmful effects of bullying, because if it can cause a plant to suffer, these hateful words can hurt humans, too. In the Middle East, May 4th is Anti-Bullying Day. So IKEA wanted to get involved and show how much damage bullying can inflict on someone’s life. Below, we’ll go over some facts and statistics about bullying and what you can do to stop it if you or someone you know is a victim.

Facts about Bullying (people or a plant!)

First off, due to the advent of the Internet, cyberbullying is on the rise as well as in-person bullying. It seems much easier to bully people while sitting behind your computer typing on a keyboard, but this is what makes it so insidious. Rumors can spread much easier over social media platforms, and this can end up damaging the victim’s reputation for life.

  • Been Bullied

    • The 2017 School Crime Supplement (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice) found that around 20% of students age 12-18 experience bullying nationwide.
    • The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) indicates that, nationwide, 19% of students in grades 9–12 admitted being bullied on school property sometime during the previous year.
  • Seen


    • 6% of youth say they’ve witnessed bullying in their schools.
    • 4% of school staff have seen bullying. 62% witnessed bullying at least twice in the last month and 41% witness bullying once a week or more.
    • 57% of the time, bullying stops within 10 seconds when a bystander intervenes.
  • Been Cyberbullied

    • The 2017 School Crime Supplement (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice) indicates that, among the students aged 12-18 who had been a victim of bullying, 15% were harassed either online or through text.
    • The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) found that about 14.9% of high school students experienced cyberbullying in the 12 months prior to the survey.
  • Frequency of Bullying

    • In one large study, almost half of children in grades 4–12 reported being bullied at school at least once in the last month, and 30% reported bullying others during this time period.
    • Defining “frequent” involvement in bullying as occurring at least twice in the last month, 40.6% of students reported frequent experiences of bullying, with 23.2% being the victims, 8.0% being the children bullying others, and 9.4% involved on both sides.
  • Types of Bullying

    • Verbal and social bullying occurs most often, while physical bullying happens much less. Surprisingly, cyberbullying is the least reported type of bullying.
    • According to one large study, middle school students experienced the following types of bullying, in order of most frequent to least frequent: name-calling (44.2 %); teasing (43.3 %); spreading rumors or lies (36.3%); pushing or shoving (32.4%); hitting, slapping, or kicking (29.2%); leaving out (28.5%); threatening (27.4%); stealing belongings (27.3%); sexual comments or gestures (23.7%); e-mail or blogging (9.9%).
  • How Often Adult Notified

    • Only about 20 to 30% of students notify adults if they’ve been bullied at school.

While rare, some cases of bullying may even lead to suicide if an adult doesn’t intervene. Research shows that bullying can worsen feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation, rejection and despair, and these feelings can lead to suicide in some cases.

  • Prevalence

    • Between 25-33% of U.S. students say they have been bullied at school.
    • Most bullying happens in middle school, with the most common types being verbal and social.
  • Risk Factors:

    • Young people who are perceived as different from their classmates are at the highest risk of being bullied. They may be singled out for being either overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or clothes that aren’t considered “cool,” or being new to school. If they’re less popular than others, are perceived as weak or have low self-esteem, they may also be at higher risk of being bullied.

How to Prevent Bullying

  • To prevent bullying, it requires engagement from many staff members at school. Bullying prevention strategies that work the best involve the entire community getting involved, such as the bus drivers, nurses, teachers, cafeteria staff, and principals. Zero tolerance and expulsion are not effective in preventing bullying.
  • Bystanders who stand up for those being bullied can stop the interaction from escalating most of the time.
  • Studies also have shown that adults can help prevent bullying by modeling respectful, kind behavior, letting their students or children know that they can come to them if they’re being bullied, and talking to them about the reality of bullying.

While the bully a plant experiment may not have been performed by scientists, it still gives a visual of what bullying does to a living being. Just as the plants wither and decay from unkind words, children can become withdrawn and depressed when experiencing bullying. We could all use a little more kindness in our lives, and it doesn’t cost anything to spread it to others.

plant bully project
How Kindness Can Impact Others (and not just plants!)

A recent study reported on how people felt after either performing or observing acts of kindness for one week. Researchers instructed the participants to carry out at least one more generous act than normal for a close friend or relative, an acquaintance or stranger, or themselves, or try to observe kind acts. They asked participants about their levels of happiness before and after the study period. They found that everyone in the study who either performed acts of kindness for someone or observed a person being kind to others reported greater feelings of happiness.

It just feels better to spread kindness and compassion to others, because what goes around comes around. Whatever you put out into the world will end up coming back to you in some manner. So why not choose love every time? We have enough hatred and negativity in the world today, so we should try as much as possible to spread joy and encouragement.

Here are some ideas on how you can make a difference in someone’s life:

  1. Pay it forward the next time you’re in a drive-thru line.
  2. Compliment three strangers, whether at school or work.
  3. Be a friend to others and always notify an adult if you witness bullying.
  4. Post sticky notes around your school or office with inspiring messages
  5. Leave money on a vending machine for the next person who comes by.
  6. Bake cookies for your grandparents.
  7. Ask a stranger about how their day is going.
  8. Surprise your neighbor with an offer to mow their lawn or cook dinner for them.
  9. Pay for someone’s groceries.
  10. Speak kind words to someone and watch them grow, like in the bully a plant
  11. Spend a day with your parents and help them with anything they need around the house.
  12. Tell your friends and family you love them as much as you can.
  13. Put on a free hugs T-shirt and stand at a popular town square.
  14. Tell a store manager when a store clerk provides you with excellent customer service.
  15. Leave unused coupons at the registers at your supermarket.

Final thoughts on the “Bully A Plant” Experiment

Bullying is still a widespread problem in many schools throughout the world. As you can see in the bully a plant experiment, unkind words can do a lot of damage. Bullying happens mostly in middle schools, and only 20-30% of students tell an adult if they’ve been bullied. So, most of the problem goes unheard, which means we should stand up for those who have remained silent. If you witness bullying, either get involved to stop it or tell a trusted adult.

Every child deserves to feel safe at school. And each of us can make a difference in ensuring that for them.