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    Trigger Warnings Do Little to Reduce People’s Distress



    Summary: Trigger warnings have minimal impact in relation to how people respond to content. They are neither meaningfully helpful or harmful, researchers conclude.

    Source: Clinical Psychological Sciences.

    Trigger warnings that alert people to potentially sensitive content are increasingly popular among all sections of society. But recent research shows that they have very little impact on how people actually respond to such content.

    There is a possibility that trigger warnings function the way they’re meant to, helping people to regulate their emotional responses and decrease the symptoms of distress. But it’s also possible trigger warnings could have the reverse effect, influencing people’s expectations and experiences in ways that may intensify their distress.

    To understand this phenomenon, the researchers conducted a series of six experiments with a total of 1,394 participants.

    The research subjects were a combination of college students and online participants. They read a message about the content they were about to see, for example: “TRIGGER WARNING: The following video may contain graphic footage of a fatal car crash. You might find this content to be disturbing.” Other group did not read a warning. The content was then displayed to all the participants.

    Later the participants reported several symptoms of distress—their negative emotional state, and the degree to which they experienced disturbing thoughts and tried to avoid thinking about the content.

    The outcomes across all six experiments were similar, Trigger warnings had very little effect on participants’ distress. The format of the content also did not make any difference, whether they read a story or watched a video clip, the reaction remained similar.

    The researchers remark 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, the study results reveal that trigger warnings are unlikely to have the significant impact they’re typically assumed to have.

    Published: Clinical Psychological Sciences.

    Contact: Mevagh Sanson, School of Psychology, the University of Waikato

    Details: Image source IStock


    Hi, I’m Aarti, My Psychoanalytical approach towards my clients is to empower them to better their lives through improving their relationship with themselves. I believe shame and guilt is a common barrier to change. I aim to guide my clients through re authoring their narratives where shame, guilt, and other problems have less power and take up less space.

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