A nervous wait: Instagram’s sensitive-content screens cause anticipatory anxiety but do not mitigate reactions to negative content

Melanie K.T. Takarangi, Victoria M.E. Bridgland, Erin T. Simister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
51 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Online platforms like Instagram cover potentially distressing imagery with a sensitive-content screen (blurred imagery plus a content warning). Previous research suggests people typically choose to “uncover” and view screened content. In three studies, we investigated whether the presence of screens mitigates the negative emotional impact of viewing content. In Study 1, participants viewed positive and neutral images, and screens (with an option to view the negative images beneath) for a 5-minute period. In Study 2, half the participants saw a grey mask in place of the typical sensitive-content screen. In addition, each image appeared for a fixed period (5 s) and participants had no option to uncover it. Study 3 was like Study 2 except half the participants saw negative images preceded by a sensitive-content screen and half saw negative images without screens. Overall, participants reported a significant increase in state anxiety and negative affect from pre-to post task when they were exposed to sensitive-content screens, whether or not they were also exposed to the negative imagery beneath. Our data suggest sensitive-content screens cause negative responses–state anxiety and negative affect–that do not translate to an emotional benefit when people view negative content.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1315-1329
Number of pages15
JournalCognition and Emotion
Volume37
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2023

Keywords

  • distressing content
  • emotional impact
  • sensitive-content screens
  • social media
  • Trigger warnings

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