Commentary: The Data Is In – Trigger Warnings Don’t Work

Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Aaron Snyder
Chronicle of Higher Education

Excerpt: The original proponents of trigger warnings on campus argued that they would empower students suffering from trauma to delve into difficult material. “The point is not to enable — let alone encourage — students to skip readings or our subsequent class discussion,” the philosopher Kate Manne wrote in The New York Times. “It’s about enabling everyone’s rational engagement.” Now, about a decade after trigger warnings arrived on college campuses, it’s clear that an avoidance rationale is officially competing with the original lean-in logic.

When debates about trigger warnings first erupted, there was little-to-no research on their effectiveness. Today we have an emerging body of peer-reviewed research to consult. The consensus, based on 17 studies using a range of media, including literature passages, photographs, and film clips: Trigger warnings do not alleviate emotional distress. They do not significantly reduce negative affect or minimize intrusive thoughts, two hallmarks of PTSD. Notably, these findings hold for individuals with and without a history of trauma.