Unprepared: Thinking of a trigger warning does not prompt preparation for trauma-related content

Victoria M.E. Bridgland, Jorja F. Barnard, Melanie K.T. Takarangi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Background and objectives: Trigger warnings have been described as helpful—enabling people to “emotionally prepare” for upcoming trauma-related material via “coping strategies.” However, no research has asked people what they think they would do when they come across a warning—an essential first step in providing evidence that trigger warnings are helpful. Methods: Here, participants from Amazon's Mechanical Turk (n = 260) completed one of two future thinking scenarios; we asked half to think about coming across a warning related to their most stressful/traumatic experience; the others thought about actual content (but no warning) related to their most stressful/traumatic experience. Results: The warning condition did not produce differences in coping strategies, state anxiety, or phenomenology (e.g., vividness, valence) relative to the content condition. Only one key difference emerged: participants who imagined encountering a warning used fewer positive words, when describing how they would react. Limitations: Although measuring actual behavior was not our aim, hypothetically simulating the future may not capture what actual future behavior would look like (i.e., an intention-behaviour gap). Conclusions: One potential explanation for the consistent finding in the literature that trigger warnings fail to ameliorate negative emotional reactions is that these warnings may not help people bring coping strategies to mind. Although, further empirical work is necessary to fully substantiate this potential interpretation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101708
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • Content warnings
  • Coping strategies
  • Trauma
  • trigger Warnings


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