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Social Science Experiment: Is Freedom of Speech a Solution to Verbal Bullying?

Do you need to do a school science project? Here is a suggestion for conducting an experiment that is fun to do, out of the ordinary, and may even help people learn to get along better. You should do your own research and write the report in your own words. Your experiment should be adjusted to your grade level. The older you are, the more sophisticated you can make it. If you need help, please look for an adult advisor that understands how to conduct science experiments and apply statistics.

Background: Many children are victims of relentless bullying by other kids. Schools have recognized bullying as a major problem facing students and are trying to figure out how to make it stop.

Most acts of bullying are verbal insults, and even most physical fights begin with words. Some kids have become so upset by being constantly insulted that they have hurt themselves or others. They often say that insults are so painful that they would rather endure physical attacks.

Because bullying is such a serious problem, governments have been passing laws forbidding children from insulting each other, and anti-bullying programs in schools have been encouraging children to stand up for each other and not tolerate being insulted. Schools instruct kids to inform their teachers or principals so that they can try to make the kids stop insulting them.

On the other hand, we also live in a democratic nation that values Freedom of Speech. The United States’ Founding Fathers were wise, educated people who studied philosophy and law. They deliberated greatly over every idea in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. They decided that Freedom of Speech is essential for a strong, healthy nation, and they protected this right in the First Amendment.

Freedom of Speech allows people to say whatever they want, as long as the words don’t directly cause objective harm to other people’s bodies, property or liberty. This means that people are permitted by law to say whatever they want, no matter how offensive we may find it. As Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” and George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

This experiment is designed to determine whether our Founding Fathers were wise in granting people Freedom of Speech by testing whether it is an effective policy for stopping verbal bullying, specifically insults.

Hypothesis: Freedom of Speech is a precious right given to us by wise lawmakers. If our Founding Fathers were correct, then teaching kids to grant others the right to insult them should be a more effective policy than teaching kids to deny others this right. If results show that Subjects stopped insulting the Experimenter quicker when they were granted freedom of speech than when they were denied it, the hypothesis will be validated. If results show that Subjects stopped insulting the Experimenter quicker when they were denied freedom of speech, the hypothesis will be rejected.

Method: (The “Experimenter” is you, and the “Subject” is the person you will be doing the experiment on.) As the Experimenter, you will ask a number of Subjects, one at a time, to play a game with you. You will conduct two trials with each Subject.

Important: Make sure that each Subject has not seen you conducting the experiment with anyone else, or the results will not be valid.

You will tell the Subject, “We are going to play a game. Your job is to insult me. My job is to make you stop. But don’t let me stop you or I win and you lose. Don’t worry about really hurting my feelings. It is only a game, and I want you to try to win. Make it like a conversation. Give me the chance to answer you.”

After the first trial is over, say, “We are going to play the game again. Insult me and don’t let me stop you.”

On one trial, you will try to deny the Subject the right to insult you. You can say things like:

 “Shut your mouth! You have no right to say that to me!”

 “I’m warning you! You had better stop or you’ll be sorry!”

  “Stop saying that! You show me respect!”

The specific words you say are not important. You should flow with what the Subject is saying. The important thing is to make it clear that you want the Subject to stop insulting you.

On the trial in which you are granting the Subject freedom of speech, you can say things like:

“Thank you for letting me know.”

“You can say that all you want.”

“I appreciate your opinion.”

“What else is wrong with me?”

“You are not the first person who told me that.”


Here, too, the specific words are not important. Flow with the Subject. The important thing is to make it clear that you are allowing the Subject to insult you all they want.

Note: If you would like to have an idea of how to do this, you can watch the video at the following link. You will see me doing things that are very similar to this experiment.:

To correct for order effects, alternate the order of trials. For half of the Subjects, try to deny freedom of speech in the first trial and permit it in the second. For the other half, permit freedom of speech in the first trial and try to deny it in the second. A third person serves as Observer. The Observer will use a timer or stopwatch to measure how long it takes till the Subject stops insulting you. (You can choose to do the timing without an Observer if you feel competent to do it by yourself). The trial is over, and the time should be recorded, when one of the following occurs:

1) The Subject says something to the effect of “I give up.”

2) It is clear that the subject has stopped insulting you.

                 (You have won the game in these two cases.)

3) Two minutes have elapsed and the Subject is still insulting you.

                 (You have lost the game in this case.)

Note: Do not tell Subjects about the two-minute limit to prevent them from deciding to win by simply continuing for two minutes.

Alternative: Instead of timing how long it takes the Subject to stop insulting you, you may wish to count the number of times the Subject insults you within a certain time limit, such as one or two minutes, or until the Subject stops insulting you, if it is before the time limit is over.

The more Subjects you use, the more accurate the overall results of the experiment will be. To make it easy for you, it may be a good idea to start with Subjects you are comfortable with, such as family members and close friends. As you become more confident conducting the experiment, you can move on to Subjects who are less close to you.

You will need to construct a form in which you record the results, add them up, and do the mathematical analyses of the results. If needed, consult with your adult advisor on how to do this correctly and effectively.

If you would like to make the experiment more complex, you can give the Subjects a survey that will help understand their experiences during the two trials of the game. A sample set of questions will be provided in the Addendum. Be sure to ask your advisor if you need help in analyzing the responses of Subjects to these questions.

Results, Discussion, and Conclusion Sections

Most experiments have sections called Results, Discussion and Conclusion. Please find out what your science teacher expects your report to include and, if necessary, get help from the adult who is advising you. Feel free to make changes to the experiment. If you make any changes, make sure that the experiment stays “scientific.” Feel free to send a copy of your finished paper to If it is well done, we will post it on our website.


Subject Survey

Name: __________________________ Age: ______ Gender: ____

The following questions ask you about your experience in the experiment you just participated in. Please circle the answer that more accurately describes how you felt. 

1. When did you have more fun?

A.    When the Experimenter was telling you to stop insulting him/her.

B.    When the Experimenter was allowing you to insult him/her.

2. When did you feel like the winner of the game?

A.    When the Experimenter was telling you to stop insulting him/her.

B.    When the Experimenter was allowing you to insult him/her.

3. When was it easier to continue insulting the Experimenter?

A. When the Experimenter was telling you to stop insulting him/her.

B. When the Experimenter was allowing you to insult him/her.

4. When did you feel more respect for the Experimenter?

A. When the Experimenter was telling you to stop insulting him/her.

B. When the Experimenter was allowing you to insult him/her.

The following is a link to a sample of a table you can use to record the percentages of Subjects who responded to each choice in the survey. Good luck! I hope you find the experiment fun and enlightening! — Izzy Kalman

Subject Survey Results Summary Form


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