Content Warnings Reduce Aesthetic Appreciation of Visual Art

Payton J. Jones, Victoria M. E. Bridgland, Benjamin W. Bellet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Content warnings are alerts about upcoming content that might be related to upsetting or traumatic experiences. Such warnings are increasingly used by artists and art curators around the world. Though the psychological literature on content warnings suggests they are typically functionally inert, warnings have not yet been studied in the context of art or aesthetics. In this preregistered, within-person, randomized controlled experiment, we showed diverse art pieces to 213 participants (six trials each). By random assignment, some art was prefaced with a content warning matching its specific content (e.g., “content warning: sexual assault” for Gérôme’s Phryne before the Areopagus). We found that content warnings decreased aesthetic appreciation (Cohen’s d=−0.22, Bayes factor =54, N =1,278). Content warnings also substantially increased negative emotional responses and decreased positive emotional responses (Cohen’s d= 0.44, Bayes factor = 9.6× 10 9, N = 1,278). Though we planned to test the effect of warnings on opting out of viewing art, we were surprised to find that none of the participants avoided viewing any of the art pieces regardless of whether they were prefaced with a warning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalPsychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 May 2023


  • content warning
  • trigger warning
  • art
  • aesthetic appreciation


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