Prison » Harvard study finds trigger warnings increase anxiety

Campus Reform
August 3, 2018

A recently published study by three Harvard University researchers claims that trigger warnings “increase peoples’ perceived emotional vulnerability” and “increase anxiety.”

The study, “Trigger warning: Empirical evidence ahead,” published last week in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, concludes that trigger warnings may not be beneficial.

“Trigger warnings notify people of the distress that written, audiovisual, or other material may evoke, and were initially used to provide for the needs of those with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” the study’s abstract explains. “Since their inception, trigger warnings have become more widely applied throughout contemporary culture, sparking intense controversy in academia and beyond.”

“Some argue that [trigger warnings] empower vulnerable individuals by allowing them to psychologically prepare for or avoid disturbing content, whereas others argue that such warnings undermine resilience to stress and increase vulnerability to psychopathology while constraining academic freedom,” the abstract notes.

The authors note that they wanted to “investigate the psychological effects of issuing trigger warnings,” and so presented a group of “non-traumatized” people with reading materials that “varied in potentially disturbing content.”

Some participants were randomly assigned to receive trigger warnings prior to the reading, while others were not, and both groups were then asked to answer questions designed to evaluate their anxiety levels.

According to the researchers, participants who were given trigger warnings prior to reading the material had a higher “perceived vulnerability to trauma,” were more likely to believe that trauma survivors are vulnerable, and experienced greater anxiety from the material.

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