The Case of the Burger King Bully Social Experiment

Image: Karen Grigoryan /

Very sad that more and more exclusions are taking place in our society. We humans should think more about how we treat other people. Because every person has to struggle with their own problems and if we are not careful with what we say, we can hurt these people very badly. The following story is about a bullying attack.

1. Bullying

Some people might argue that our society has evolved to be more willing to speak up against blatant displays of nefarious behavior. A team of dedicated actors staged an elaborate act in a Burger King establishment to analyze the reaction of ordinary customers to such a situation.

The staff tested the customers to see if they cared more about their food or the wellbeing of a kid who was being bullied. The bullies acted in plain view, where all other customers could see. What do you think happened? Did anyone defend the teenager?

2. How Do You Define Bullying?

Most of us have likely experienced bullying in the past. It can be someone throwing something at you or attempting to make you do something against your will. Bullying is defined as socially destructive, aggressive behavior among children.

This behavior is believed to result from a perceived imbalance of power, with one party wilding all or most of the power. Bullying is often repetitive and can happen outside school and in other social areas.

In the Burger King setting, the bullies were physically bigger than the kid being bullied. This makes it hard for the victim to physically defend himself, thus the imbalance of power.

3. Setting the Stage

The victim quietly gained entry into the establishment and ordered a meal like the other customers. He then quietly proceeded to get a seat and eat his dinner.

The bullies then approached the 15-year-old and began giving him a hard time. Bystanders were catching glimpses of the situation, but they seemed determined to mind their own business.

Things proceeded to get heated as one of the bullies pushed the victim off his chair. Again, bystanders just watched and said and did nothing. If you were in this situation, what would your reaction be like?

4. Subtle Reaction from Bystanders

From the looks on their faces, you could tell the adults in the room were not okay with what was happening. Their facial expressions and body language suggested that they would rather the bullying stop. Yet, something kept them from speaking up.

The bullies kept saying mean things to the teenage boy. At one point, the bullies poured a drink over the remaining food. Although many people seemed to disapprove what was happening, they did less to improve the situation.

So, you might ask, were the other customers so interested in finishing their meal that they couldn’t care less what happened to the 15-year-old?

5. Wondering Where the Staff is?

The entire altercation proceeded without the intervention of staff from the restaurant. Where was the management? Wouldn’t they want to stop the miscreants, so they do not disturb other customers?

Well, you would be surprised to learn that they were well aware of what was happening. Now before you jump the gun, they are part of the experiment.

It wouldn’t be diligent to conduct a social experiment in the burger joint without letting management and staff know. The next twist to the investigation is all thanks to the staff or actors working the counter.

6. The Grant Twist

After observing that customers were not doing anything about the bullying, the staff came up with a new way to test them. Staff members wanted to test the ability of the customers to speak up when they were directly affected. To effectuate this, staff started offering substandard food to customers. Serving a burger? Why not white-knuckle it?

See if the customer speaks up about it. The customer strolls past the bullies to find a nice spot to settle and have their meal. Some pretend not to see anything. Most customers do not say a word as they settle to have their meal. That is until they notice the food.

7. How Do They React to the Food?

The customers leave the serving counter and head to their seats. They are careful to avert their gaze from the bullying taking place. Once they see their food, they are shocked.

Some might even say outraged at what is supposed to be their meal. One of the customers is witnessed putting on his glasses to take a closer look at his burger.

He seems to contemplate for a minute then decides that the burger is unacceptable. The man gets up from his seat and heads over to the counter to make a complaint. While he is doing this he seems unaware of the bullies.

8. The Bullied Food

This man is not the only one who got served bullied food. Several other customers got the same atrocious food and reported it to the counter. As each of them approaches, the 15-year-old boy is heard asking the bullies to stop. None of the customers step in to assist.

They are only interested in their food. Some customers are calm about their squashed food while others are not pleased about it. One of the customers even asks to speak to the manager, stating that the situation does not make sense.

9. The Manager’s Contribution

The manager is subsequently summoned by one of the employees. On arrival, he inspects the burger and asks the acting employees if he is responsible for the squished burger. The employee confirms that he did indeed bully the burger.

The customers seem perplexed by the waiter’s honesty. At this point, they can tell that something is not right about the situation they’re in. The waiter looks unaffected by the sudden turn of events.

His calm behavior seems to make the customers even more cross. The manager then pauses to ask the customers a few questions.

10. The Questions that Tell it All

The manager proceeded to ask the customers what they would have done if they saw the burger being bullied. I know what you’re thinking. What kind of question is that? The duped customers seemed to think so too. One of the customers yells, “yes!” at the staff member.

Over three-quarters of the customers that got a squashed meal walked back up to the counter and made a complaint. The exciting thing is very few of them mentioned anything about the bullying happening to the 15-year-old boy. So who spoke up for the boy?

11. The Woman That Stood Up for the 15-Year-Old

A few of the bystanders did make an effort to intervene and end the bullying. One customer, in particular, was kind enough to ask the boy if he was okay. The kind woman walked up to the boy’s table and took a seat. She figured if he was not sitting alone, the bullies might not bother the boy.

Taking a closer look, the well-dressed woman showed more kindness and compassion than more than half of the people in the restaurant. Like her, a few other men and women walked up to the table and told the bullies to stop bothering the boy.

12. Why Did People Not Speak Up?

Some people trust that bullying is not as bad as it is put out to be. Here are some phrases that people commonly used to defend their inaction

“It does no harm.”
“It helps the child learn to deal with the real world.”
“It helps children toughen up.”
“It made me who I am today- the bullies did me a favor.”
“Bullying is just a part of growing up.”

Research shows that bullying has a marked effect on who we become as adults. These statements should not be used to defend the actions of bullies.

13. The Less than Desirable Effects of Bullying on Children

Bullying is wrong and should not happen to any child. The acts of bullies affect everyone involved. Bystanders, the victim as well as the bully suffers long-lasting effects into the adult years. The impact on bystanders can be observed in the Burger Restaurant.

Most of the customers or bystanders displayed signs of discomfort. Studies have shown long-term exposure to bullying has a long-standing effect on the individual’s mental health. It can also influence a negative perception of oneself and others. It can also increase the risk of getting suicidal thoughts.

14. Low Self-Esteem in Children

Bullying significantly damages the victim’s self-esteem. The problem is so severe that the World Health Organization has it classified as a major public health problem. In particular, bullying may instill feelings of helplessness and worthless in the victim leading to low self-esteem.

A myriad of other behavioral issues may arise from low self-esteem, including anxiety disorders and depression. It is important to note that just because bullies pick on someone does not make them inferior in any way.

Everyone is different and unique in their way. If you notice you are struggling with low self-esteem, seek help from a trained therapist.

15. Depression

Statistics show that students that go through bullying are more likely to get depressive episodes. Kids that get bullied and kids that bully others get depressed alike.

Bullying in settings such as Burger King restaurants can lead a kid to feel inferior and undervalued, causing feelings of anxiety and low self-esteem. Imagine getting humiliated by your peers for absolutely no reason. This can seem like a nightmare for most kids because they are not well-equipped to cope with the undue stress.

The worst part is kids do not feel comfortable talking to their parents about their bullying experiences. Kids may not know how to express their feeling, which is why depression can often go undiagnosed.

16. Physical Harm

Bullying can easily result in physical injury, especially when left to go on for long. A lot of the time, when kids feel they can get away with anything, they will escalate.

A good example is the bullies in the restaurant. The boys started by teasing and taunting the teenager before escalating to pushing him off the seat and poured water on his food. In any other uncontrolled setting, who knows what bullies can do to innocent students.

To curb bullying before it escalates to physical harm, adults should intervene whenever possible. In school, the bullies should be punished accordingly and subsequently given the help they need.

17. Does Bullying Affect Schools?

Most bullying happens within schools. If a school does not address bullying by taking serious actions against bullies, the following will happen.
The school will create a negative environment by fostering a culture of fear and disrespect.

The school will create a negative loop of poor parent satisfaction, staff retention, and student engagement. The students will sense a lack of control from the school management and feel like the teachers couldn’t care less.

A negative school culture will, in turn, encourage low ambition and drive in students. Ultimately the school will end up failing to help the students reach their full potential.

18. Do Bullies Get Affected Too?

The answer is yes; bullies also feel the negative impact of their actions. The truth is no one wants to hang out with a bully, so they often get excluded from social gatherings.

Feelings of rejection by their peers only make the bully act out. Bullies will often truant school, become socially withdrawn and lonely. These students are also likely to perform poorly in class due to the time spent away from school.

In general, bullies are often at a disadvantage getting little to no help from anyone. However, with the proper support, they can change and become productive members of society.

19. Which gender is More Likely to Get Bullied?

What if the 15-year-old boy was a 15-year-old girl? Would that have made a difference to the bullies?

Studies show that both girls and boys stand an equal chance of getting bullied. The only difference is the kind of bullying experienced may vary. On the receiving end, boys are more likely to experience physical bullying, while girls are more likely to experience verbal and indirect bullying like taunting.

If a girl is a bully, they do not physically target their victims, instead, they are more likely to perpetrate indirect bullying. On the other hand, boys who are bullies are more likely to perpetrate physical bullying.

20. Bullying Prevention

Now that we have discussed the effects that bullying has on our society today, it is important to analyze the different measures we can take to prevent bullying.

Behavioral experts have identified parental and peer support as possible ways to protect against victimization. This solution is effective in different social-economic settings and cultures. Students from other parts of the world have tried this solution successfully.

In environments where this strategy has failed, schools have implemented structured programs on a large scale to prevent victimization and bullying. The success of this solution proves that parents and members of society have to get involved in curbing bullying tendencies.

21. School-Based Interventions

Schools have the perfect set up to give students the ideal setting for structured interactions. Schools can teach students how to interact with each other better.

Students can learn the correct language to use and how to express themselves better. Bullies often act out as a way of asking for attention and help.

Punishing a bully may not be the right thing anymore because it is important to get the root of the problem by getting them the psychiatric help they need.

22. What About Cyberbullying?

We often forget about the most prevalent kind of bullying going on in our societies today. Cyberbullying is more likely to happen to any child with access to the internet and a smart device. Parents are not equipped with the right technology and software to filter the content their children consume.

Cyberbullying causes just as much injury to a user’s mental health as any other kind of bullying. Researchers have linked cyberbullying to real-life bullying. Often times children that get bullied online will pass their frustrations off on their peers.

23. Why Do Bystanders Say Nothing?

From a young age, people learn to mind their own business in the face of bullying. Most times, they are afraid that the bully will turn on them next and start picking on them.

Oftentimes people describe standing up as looking for trouble. Some bystanders will assume that the victim deserves the kind of treatment they are getting from the bully, a notion that could carry some truth according to some individuals.

Most of the time, however, we wait for someone else to take the lead. We assume that someone else in the crowd will find courage before we have to.

24. Are You Looking for a Reason to Speak Up?

Sometimes when we see kids being bullied, we ask ourselves, is it really worth the trouble? I do not know the victim all that well. It might seem scary standing up for someone you barely know.

It takes exceptional courage to speak up, knowing that you might be the only person willing to. Sometimes the bully maybe our friend, so we decide to remain quiet in the interest of maintaining the friendship.

Again, maybe some bystanders did not want to draw attention to themselves by speaking up. What are some other ways we can stop bullying?

25. Define Bullying

Kids will always be kids is no longer an excuse for students to bully others. All schools need to have a unified description of what kind of behavior is defined as bullying.

CPI defines bullying as behavior characterized by intentionally aggressive actions involving a clear imbalance of power. Defining bullying helps school staff identify any occurrences and put a suitable end to it.

Teachers and other members of the school staff need to talk to the victim and find out whether they have been bullied before. Once students are able to identify bullying, they can learn how to handle a bully if there is no adult to intervene.

26. Explain The Consequences

Students and teachers should have discussions about bullying and the consequences of such actions. Students should be given a chance to voice their opinion during these discussions.

Once teachers know the reason behind a bully’s actions, they should calmly explain the consequences of their actions. If bullies understood that their actions have consequences, they would be less likely to bully other students.

In many social settings creating a positive feedback loop is important, especially when giving punishment. Reprimanding a child gives the child real-world feedback that acts as positive reinforcement for good behavior.

27. Seek Professional Help

Let’s be honest few kids really ever want to open up to their parents for fear of having their problems minimized. Furthermore, parents may not always have the proper tools to help the child unravel their own issues.

Professional help is better equipped to find the root cause of a child’s unsavory behavior. Professional help can be offered in the school setting by a trained, qualified school counselor.

Students can also attend sessions at a professional’s office. It is important to let the child know that they are not alone and support and love them unconditionally.

28. Coach The Victims

Teachers can help children get equipped to deal with different bullying techniques. After all, better safe than sorry. Scientists have identified different responses to bullying that have high chances of de-escalating bullying situations.

Teachers can impart this knowledge to students by role-playing. Parents are best suited to teach their children because they know them best. They are more equipped to pick out a learning method that will not overwhelm an already stressed child.

Often a bully feeds off the fear and emotions of the victim. Teach the kids not to respond out of anger or frustration; instead, teach the child to provide controlled replies to defuse the situation.

29. Talk About Bullying

Talking about bullying is an excellent way to keep everything in perspective. Having open and honest discussions about bullying is vital in keeping it in view.

It is also essential to let your child know the reality before they have to confront a bully. There are plenty of materials online to aid parents and caregivers in starting this kind of conversation with their children. Using examples will also go a long way in empowering your child and keeping them prepared for anything.

30. Teach Kids to Stand Up to Bullies

Kids can learn to stand up and handle a bully in any setting. Most bullies start by verbally harassing their victims. Use role-playing to coach students on the different ways they can approach a situation and defuse it.

Teaching kids to be brave and not to display signs of weakness. Making eye contact when talking to a bully is a good way to assert dominance.

Kids should also be taught to avoid staying alone because bullies often pick on isolated kids. On the school bus, try and sit at the front of the bus with kids from where you live.

31. Remove Labels and Address Behavior

Calling a child, a bully can make it seem that involved parties hold contempt for the child. Labels can disempower both the bully and the victim. Adults should tread carefully to avoid coming off as judgmental.

The best way to remain unbiased is to listen to both sides of the story. Note down all contributing factors, so you can address each one later.

Children have a better chance of changing for the better when they are treated kindly. Keep communication short and precise. The bully should be made to understand that their behavior is wrong.

32. Set Clear Rules

Setting clear and enforceable rules serves as a deterrent to behaving in certain ways. Rules should cover multiple scenarios to be effective. The students should learn and understand the rules.

If possible, have the students participate in creating the rules, so they feel it is fair. For the rules to work, be keen to enforce them consistently. Rules are a great way to positively impact students’ behavior in a school setting, according to Scheurmann and Hall (2008).

Rules should also be enforceable in public settings as well as at home. It is important for both the parents and the public to maintain a unified front against bullying.

33. Reward Positive Improvement

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When students do the wrong thing and break the rules, they are punished for it; this is termed negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is also important when students do the right thing.

Good behavior should be rewarded just as bad behavior is punished. Catching children being good is as good as catching children being naughty. One should not be prioritized over the other.

Positive reinforcements are a tried and tested method of making good behavior stick. Engage parents in building an affirmative environment for students.

34. If You Are Targeted by Cyberbullies, What Can You Do?

Image: Maxim Artemchuk /

Cyberbullies are notorious for hiding behind pseudo accounts and using their masked identities to attack innocent users. If you are a victim of cyberbullying, stay calm and walk away from the device.

It is important to protect yourself from the mean things bullies might say. Remember, you do not have to read anything that is clearly meant to attack you.

35. Talk to an Adult About It

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If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable on the internet, tell an adult about it. They might be able to help you block the user from accessing your account and messaging box. Whatever you do, avoid replying to cyberbullies.

Getting into a conversation with them only gives them ammunition to keep going. A trusted adult will also help you manage any trauma from experience.

Most times, kids do not understand why a perfect stranger would want to be mean to them. It is important to let the child know that it has nothing to do with them.

36. Save Evidence

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It is important to take screenshots of the bullying and save them. If you decide to tell a trusted adult or the authorities, they may want to see some proof. You can store the screenshots in a separate device you do not often use so as not to get triggered.

You can also take a picture using a different device if the bullying is happening over video. Some devices have screen recording tools that you can use to record bullies.

37. Block The Bully

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After saving the screenshots, you can block them from accessing your account. If you know the bully, you can block them on all social media platforms. Most social networking apps have the option to block any user. It is quite a simple but effective tool to use.

If you are willing to give feedback to the social networking app, you can report that the user is practicing cyberbullying and provide screenshots to prove it. If a bully poses a real threat to your safety, you should report the matter to the police immediately.

38. You Can Also Change Privacy Settings

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Bullies often take advantage of poorly secured accounts to gain entry and cause problems for the victim. Social networking apps give the user the ability to manage their connections on the internet. Take the opportunity of these tools to protect yourself and your loved ones from cyberbullies.

The best way to make use of this tool is to review your friends list. We are sure it is a long one, but taking stock of your friends might help you seed out people you do not know, don’t like, or have never met before.

39. If None of These Solutions Work, Try Changing Your Username

Image: Tero Vesalainen /

If you have tried blocking the cyberbully to no avail, you can always change your username. You can do this by changing your accounts or even quitting one social networking platform for another. Some people opt to confront the bully and engage them in a chat.

More often than not, the bully is seeking attention, and engaging them via chat only serves to give them exactly what they want. Changing your username and account stands a better chance of working because the bully can’t bully you if they cannot find you on social media platforms.

40. Conclusion

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Social experiments like this one are conducted with the aim of studying our psychological and social tendencies. Sometimes the results are not what we’d like them to be. In the Burger King Bully social experiment, the results are a little heartbreaking.

A third of students around the globe get bullied. Bullying can and has to end today. The only way to fight the vice is to actively campaign against it. Burger King would like to invite you to speak up each time you see anyone being bullied, be a hero because real heroes do not wear capes; they probably eat at Burger King.