June 19, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Annalise Murray tries a version of the Big Apple Experiment, with unexpected results.

*Record screech* 

Yep, that’s me. I bet you’re wondering how I ended up in this situation. 

Shamefully, this misadventure began, as far too many things have lately, because of TikTok. One day a few weeks ago I was scrolling aimlessly when I happened across a video where the creator showed two containers of leftover rice. They’d reportedly both spent a week in the creator’s fridge, but whilst one had escaped relatively unscathed, the other was covered in mould. The only difference, the creator said, was that she’d spoken nicely to one of the containers of rice and unpleasantly to the other. Her words, and the intent behind them, had made one container decay faster. 

This isn’t a new idea. Self-help guru Nikki Owen has been claiming since at least 2012 that she can make one-half of an apple decay faster by being rude to it. She cuts an apple in half, seals each section inside a separate jar, and says terrible things to one half. She calls it the Big Apple Experiment. She doesn’t know why it works, but she insists that it does, and anyone, she says, can try it.  

I didn’t think my flatmate would be best pleased if I appropriated one of her Pink Ladies in the name of science, and so I set out to Sainsbury’s to find a substitute. I left the supermarket twenty minutes later, two pounds twenty-five poorer and one punnet of strawberries better off. I brought the strawberries home, picked out two that looked as similar in shape and size as possible, and sequestered them in Tupperware containers.   

I was almost ready to begin my experiment. I labelled the Tupperware ‘Good Strawberry’ and ‘Bad Strawberry’, so as I wouldn’t forget which I was supposed to hate, and set two reminders in my phone, one called ‘Strawberry Love Time’ and the other ‘Strawberry Hate Time’. 

And so, in the name of science, every day for a week I dutifully set a one-minute timer and said alternately wonderful and dreadful things to two Tupperware containing a pair of rapidly decaying strawberries. (Do you know how quickly January-strawberries get disgusting when you leave them outside of the fridge? I do. Intimately.)  

I don’t know why I was so taken with the Big Apple Experiment. Perhaps it was the idea of empirical evidence for something as elusive as the way we talk to ourselves. Perhaps, on some level, the idea that my thoughts could be bilious enough to make a plant decay didn’t seem that far-fetched.   

And this is the part where I debunk the whole thing and say that nothing happened. Except that – something did. Warning: slightly disgusting strawberry pictures incoming.  

On the left: the good strawberry. On the right: the bad strawberry. Go figure.

N=1, of course, but there we are: you wouldn’t want to eat either, but the bad strawberry definitely looks worse.  

There is, in all fairness, some evidence that plants might be sensitive to sound. Through mechanisms that might’ve evolved to respond to the chewing of insect larvae or the buzz of a pollinating bee, talking to plants or playing them music can increase yields and strengthen plant resistance to pathogens. I knew this before the experiment, so I always spoke quietly to the good strawberry. Maybe that was it, or maybe there was something different about their conditions: the bad strawberry was warmer, or moister, or I’d managed to introduce some more interesting bacteria to its container. Maybe my words really did make the Bad Strawberry rot faster and help the Good Strawberry stay fresh for longer. I don’t know – but I know how you can find out.  

Photo credit: Annalise Murray.