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Time to end trigger warnings

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Joined: 08 Jul 2012
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PostPosted: 07/13/19 12:27 pm    ::: Time to end trigger warnings Reply Reply with quote

The Latest Study on Trigger Warnings Finally Convinced Me They’re Not Worth It

“Trigger warnings just don’t help,” Payton Jones, a clinical psychology doctoral student at Harvard, tweeted alongside a preprint of his new paper. He further explained that the paper actually suggests that trigger warnings might even be harmful.


Research that trigger warnings might not be all that helpful has been mounting over a few studies, including the one that Jones and his colleagues published last year titled “Trigger Warning: Empirical Evidence Ahead.” Yes, that title is trollish, but here is what they did: They had a few hundred participants read several passages, some of which were potentially disturbing. Half received no heads up before the passages, and half got a label ahead of the iffy ones that read: “TRIGGER WARNING: The passage you are about to read contains disturbing content and may trigger an anxiety response, especially in those who have a history of trauma.” The results suggested that trigger warnings could actually help generate anxiety, thus making them counterproductive. But there was a major limitation in that study: It didn’t focus on people who had experienced trauma

Jones’ latest paper addresses just that question. The methods are the same as the 2018 paper, but with a pool of 451 participants who had experienced trauma. (A consent form required for ethical purposes did require that participants acknowledge that they would be reading emotional material, Jones told me, which is sort of a trigger warning all on its own but a required step of the process). In this population, trigger warnings still failed to lessen the emotional distress from reading a passage. The authors also found evidence, they wrote, that trigger warnings “countertherapeutically reinforce survivors’ view of their trauma as central to their identity.” Though more evidence is needed to say for sure, their research suggests that trigger warnings could be actively harmful to the very people for whom they are meant.

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