Study Shows ‘Trigger Warnings’ Are Counter-Productive And Do More Harm Than Good

“Trigger warnings” are used to warn users about potentially harmful information that could risk emotional harm. 

Surely you’ve seen them here and there from movies to corporate memos, as they have been egregiously overused and abused over the years.

But now, it appears that “trigger warnings” could be counter-productive. Especially after a recent analysis of 12 studies showed that these warnings may lead to more harm than help.

Per the paper on OSF Preprints:

This meta-analytic review suggests that trigger warnings … do not help people to: reduce the negative emotions felt when viewing material, avoid potentially distressing material, or improve the learning/understanding of that material.

However, trigger warnings make people feel anxious prior to viewing material. Overall, results suggest that trigger warnings in their current form are not beneficial, and may instead lead to a risk of emotional harm.

In other words, it appears that warning people about potential triggers is actually fueling them with feelings of stress and anxiety. Just from the warning alone and not even the content itself. 

Imagine that.

The paper also finds that, contrary to the claims of both those who support, and critique, trigger warnings, people don’t deliberately avoid material that comes with a trigger warning. A 2021 paper analyzed found that just six per cent of study participants chose to avoid material after seeing a trigger warning.

“In studies where individuals are given a direct choice between options with and without warnings, options with warnings may garner more engagement,” the paper continues. 

“If you warn someone about something, it can make it more desirable,” shared Victoria Bridgeland, one of the study’s authors. 

Trigger warnings could be linked to “fear of the unknown or fear of getting told something scary coming up… And before you see it, it’s a lot scarier than when you actually see it,” she continued.

“Trigger warnings are a cautionary tale, that we should help people, but we should check that we’re actually helping first, right?” said Payton Jones, another author of the study.

This paper is interesting because it’s another example (of many) for how unhelpful progressive policies can be when they focus more on emotion than data and logic.

Another example can be seen in public schools and their terrible policies regarding pandemic responses that have led to historic drops in reading and math.

Furthermore, this paper will likely not lead to a decrease in trigger warnings. Progressives simply don’t care about the findings. 

Instead, it will be ignored, and we will continue to see bogus trigger warnings on everything from research to “unlikeable female protagonists” in movies. 

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