September 17, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Harvard study shows that trigger warnings are pointless and anxiety-inducing (Ross Pomeroy, 9/17/23, Big Think)

Scientists have now had time to examine trigger warnings through controlled experiments, and their findings broadly support critics' points. Last month, a trio of psychologists affiliated with Flinders University and Harvard University published a meta-analysis aggregating all the recent scientific papers on the topic to answer four questions:

"First, do trigger warnings change emotional reactions in response to material? Second, do trigger warnings increase the avoidance of warned-of material? Third, do trigger warnings have any effects on anticipatory emotions before seeing material (e.g., anxiety)? And fourth, do trigger warnings change educational outcomes (i.e., the comprehension of warned-of material)?"

The reviewers turned up 12 studies published since 2018 that attempted to answer those queries. In almost all of them, experimenters exposed subjects to photographs, videos, or written passages. Some participants were given a content warning beforehand, while others were not.

When the studies' results were pooled together, the researchers found that trigger warnings had no effect on subjects' emotional responses to the material, did not make them likelier to avoid it, and had little to no effect on participants' comprehension. They did, however, slightly increase subjects' anxiety prior to being exposed to the material.

Triggers bounce.