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Trigger warnings do little to reduce people's distress

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Trigger warnings that alert people to potentially sensitive content are increasingly popular, especially on college campuses, but research suggests that they have minimal impact on how people actually respond to content.

Trigger warnings may be increasingly prevalent, but there has been almost no research actually examining their effects.

  • It's possible that they function the way they're meant to, helping people to manage their emotional responses and reduce their symptoms of distress. But it's also possible trigger warnings could have the opposite effect, influencing people's expectations and experiences in ways that exacerbate their distress.

Could it be that trigger warnings are specifically effective for those people who have previously experienced traumatic events? The data suggested the answer is no
  • There was little difference between groups. In other words, individuals with a personal history of trauma who received a trigger warning reported similar levels of distress as did those who did not receive a warning.

  • The researchers note that it remains to be seen whether these results would apply to individuals who have a specific clinical diagnosis such as anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder.

  • However, these findings indicate that trigger warnings are unlikely to have the meaningful impact they're typically assumed to have.


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