The Effectiveness of Tigger Warnings

While watching videos online or reading post on social media you may have come across a trigger warning. A trigger warning is usually a short statement at the beginning of a video or article that alerts the viewer of potentially distressing material. The increase in the use of these of trigger warnings in the past decade has led to a debate over their usefulness.

One researcher wanted to look past the debate and find out how, effective they are, especially in a classroom setting. One of the main points of investigation was to understand if trigger warnings helped or harmed student’s ability to learn.  Three studies were conducted with 765 adult participants and 105 undergraduate participants. The participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions, one that showed no trigger warning, and one that did before they watched an educational video about sexual assault or suicide. After watching the video, they were given a multiple-choice test about the topic.

The results showed no difference between the groups in terms of emotional regulation due to the trigger warnings, nor was there a difference in test performance. This was the case even when participants had personal experience with a topic. In both groups positive emotions decreased and negative emotions increase after watching the videos, which was expected.  

However, there was one difference between the groups. The group that was shown the trigger warning before the video, were more likely to agree with the statement “people should always receive a warning before hearing about sexual assault or suicide” than those who did not see the warning.

These findings are similar to a prior study on the same topic, which also found little evidence for the effectiveness of trigger warnings. The researcher, however, agrees that trigger warnings can be helpful in very specific contexts (for example, a disability accommodation), but are probably not necessary for topics unrelated to clinical trauma.


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