Expecting the worst: Investigating the effects of trigger warnings on reactions to ambiguously themed photos

Victoria Bridgland, Deanne Green, Jacinta Oulton, Melanie Takarangi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Trigger warnings are messages alerting people to content containing themes that could cause distressing emotional reactions. Advocates claim that warnings allow people to prepare themselves and subsequently reduce negative reactions toward content, while critics insist warnings may increase negative interpretations. Here, we investigated (a) the emotional impact of viewing a warning message, (b) if a warning message would increase or decrease participants' negative evaluations of a set of ambiguous photos, and (c) how participants evaluated overall study participation. We meta-analyzed the results of 5 experiments (N = 1,600) conducted online, and found that trigger warnings did not cause participants to interpret the photos in a more negative manner than participants who were unwarned. However, warned participants experienced a negative anticipatory period prior to photo viewing that did little to mitigate subsequent negative reactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)602-617
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Volume25
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Keywords

  • trigger warnings
  • content warning
  • negative reactions
  • expectancy effects
  • priming

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