Psychologists at Harvard University say they have found substantial evidence that “trigger warnings” do not actually help trauma survivors, and in fact, may actually be harmful to individuals. “There is no evidence-based reason to use them,” said the researchers.
“Trigger warnings are not helpful for trauma survivors,” states a recent study conducted by three Harvard University psychologists investigating whether “trigger warnings” successfully alert trauma survivors about potentially disturbing content.
The term “trigger warning” refers to a disclaimer that cautions the public about certain forthcoming content — such as a video or reading material — in an attempt to prevent individuals from unexpectedly viewing the material and becoming upset.
The concept of a “trigger warning” has become popular on today’s college campuses, and faces criticism due to students seemingly being “warned” over increasingly subjective and at times, even mundane material.
“We found no evidence that trigger warnings were helpful for trauma survivors, for those who self-reported a PTSD diagnosis, or for those who qualified for probable PTSD, even when survivors’ trauma matched the passages’ content,” notes the study.
The study, which was conducted by Harvard psychologists Payton Jones, Benjamin Bellet, and Richard McNally, also noted that trigger warnings may even be counterproductive, stating that the researchers “found substantial evidence that trigger warnings counter-therapeutically reinforce survivors’ view of their trauma as central to their identity.”
“Most empirical studies on trigger warnings indicate that they are either functionally inert or cause small adverse side effects,” adds the study.
The Harvard psychologists also mentioned that while it is not clear whether trigger warnings are explicitly harmful, “such knowledge is unnecessary to adjudicate whether to use trigger warnings — because trigger warnings are consistently unhelpful, there is no evidence-based reason to use them.”
The researchers elaborated on their method, stating that “451 trauma survivors were randomly assigned to either receive or not receive trigger warnings prior to reading potentially distressing passages from world literature. They provided their emotional reactions to each passage.”
Last year, the same psychologists conducted a similar study, in which they found that trigger warnings can increase an individual’s “perceived emotional vulnerability to trauma,” as well as one’s “anxiety to written material perceived as harmful.” The study also noted that trigger warnings can increase people’s belief that trauma survivors are vulnerable.
In 2016, an NPR survey revealed that about half of professors admitted to using trigger warnings in their classes, and most said that they did so on their own, not because of administrative policy or due to a student’s request.
These results are not at all shocking, when taking into account the popularity trigger warnings on college campuses, and the continuous chaos that is derived from seemingly outraged and overly sensitive students and administrators at today’s institutions of higher learning.