Jones, Bellet, & McNally. (2020; in press). Helping or Harming? The Effect of Trigger Warnings on Individuals with Trauma Histories. Clinical Psychological Science.
Trigger warnings alert trauma survivors about potentially disturbing forthcoming content. However, empirical studies on trigger warnings suggest that they are functionally inert or cause small adverse side effects. We conducted a preregistered replication and extension of a previous experiment. Trauma survivors (n = 451) were randomly assigned to either receive or not receive trigger warnings prior to reading passages from world literature. 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. We found substantial evidence that trigger warnings countertherapeutically reinforce survivors’ view of their trauma as central to their identity. Regarding replication hypotheses, the evidence was either ambiguous or substantially favored the hypothesis that trigger warnings have no effect. In summary, we find that trigger warnings are not helpful for trauma survivors.
Keywords: trigger warning, trauma, PTSD, resilience, pre-registered replication