Trigger Warnings

•Trigger warnings increase peoples’ perceived emotional vulnerability to trauma.
•Trigger warnings increase peoples’ belief that trauma survivors are vulnerable.
•Trigger warnings increase anxiety to written material perceived as harmful.

16 thoughts on “Trigger Warnings

  1. By posting a post that is all title and no content, you are trying to be funny or make some kind of meta-comment. Kudos!


  2. I interpret this empty post as a sign that trigger warnings will never make an appearance on this blog . 🙂

    Probably since thinking about them would make all posts as long as this one is now. 🙂


  3. The discussion doing the rounds on the interwebs is that the strength of the effect they found was very small. But it does corroborate therapeutic practice which relies on voluntarily facing the trauma in order to deal with it.


    1. Thise most intense emotional response from a student I witnessed was in my Spanish 101 classroom when a student broke down and ran away in tears when we were learning vocabulary pertaining to family. I later learned that thestudent’s father had recently suffered a heart attack and died in front of her, and hearing other students use the word “father” triggered that memory for her. There is obviously no way I could have known or prevented this.

      This is all a total waste of time because the human psyche is way too complex to be tricked by such primitive tools. If a person’s psyche is in need of a compensatory episode, it will attach to absolutely anything exactly when it needs to do it.


      1. “There is obviously no way I could have known or prevented this.”

        And to be fair, there’s probably no way that should could predict her reaction either.


    2. Practically the whole of the psych literature on “priming” effects has been shown to be more or less unreproducible exercises in statistical noise mining.

      Nevertheless, I’m guessing that the same people who want to discount this study because the observed effect is small still invoke now discredited stereotype threat studies as though they are gospel truth.


      1. People who have PTSD get triggered by very specific things, in my mother’s case it was hearing spoken Japanese unexpectedly.


  4. My own opinion (as opposed to someone else’s pilfered opinion) is that trigger warnings are all about the person posting them. It helps them feel good and feeds their image of themselves as a good and progressive person but I can’t imagine they actually make anyone avoid trauma (esp if they why they may be triggering….).
    “Oh good! There’s a trigger warning for people who are afraid of cows… like I am…. ever since that cold April morning when Gussie got out of our neighbor’s barn and ended up chasing me up a tree… and the mooing… the mooin…… (faints)”


  5. The trigger warning compulsion hasn’t really come to my school and I’m so glad. (Also as a side note, do you know that “content note” ahs become the preffered term? The word trigger is now suppossed to be “triggering”!) But in addition to the objections you link to above, I think these warnings control textual interpretations. For instance, if I put a warning on Mrs. Dalloway for suicide, then it becomes a novel about suicide. And while a suicide happens in the novel, it is hardly the point or the only thing of note. Plus the suicide is meant to be a bit of a shock. If first time readers are waiting for the suicide the whole time they are reading, it takes away from the impact of that moment.


    1. That’s a great point. And yet another sensible, calm contribution to the discussion.

      Maybe I should come work at your school. I’m in the Midwest, why can’t I be spared this kind of thing? It’s not like I’m at UCLA, or anything.


  6. One good argument against trigger warnings, if you’re trying to reach the people in favor of them, is that the culture behind them could create additional burdens for women and POC faculty and could lead to censorship. That is, in the fields of gender studies and ethnic studies, faculty may question whether or not to add trigger warnings and for what content, and they may think about omitting important topics such as rape, hate crimes, colonialism, etc. These are problems not experienced by the typical white male professor of physics, for example.

    But the biggest problem with them, of course, is that they don’t work.

    One last thing: if students read the syllabus and/or try to do the assigned reading before class, isn’t that the only “heads up” (trigger warning) they need?


    1. I teach Latin American history all the time. And it’s a lot of bad stuff. Genocide, wars, dictatorships, rape, torture, femicide, drugs, infant mortality, racism. It’s just what there is. I can’t avoid mentioning all these things. The whole course is massively triggering. I can’t tiptoe around it if I’m to teach it at all. What kind of a warning can I place for the course? “It’s Latin America, fuckers, there are no rainbows and unicorns here”?


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