Trigger warnings—those alerts provided to college students in advance of potentially disturbing material—have prompted an intense philosophical and ideological debate. But do they actually achieve their stated goal of reducing emotional distress when dealing with sensitive subjects?
New research from New Zealand comes to a firm conclusion: They do not.
“Trigger warnings are, at best, trivially helpful,” writes a research team led by psychologist Mevagh Sanson of the University of Waikato. The paper finds they “have no effect, or might even work slightly in the direction of causing harm.”
The study, in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, describes six experiments—two featuring university undergraduates and four whose participants were working adults recruited on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing website.
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