In recent years, the sensitivity to all kinds of problems has skyrocketed. Whether it is questions of gender, race, gender, sexual orientation or any other type of issue, there are issues that the public prefers to be treated with delicacy or that are not directly discussed.
Trigger warnings have become very popular over the past decade as a kind of message or warning that is given before dealing with an issue that can hurt sensitivities. If their purpose is to prevent victims of injustice from reliving the past experience, there are also those who criticize these warnings.
Then we’ll see if the trigger warnings workWhat criticisms have been made and how they relate to suffering from mental disorders.
Do outcome review triggers work when it comes to protecting people?
In recent years, “trigger warnings” or disclaimers of sensitive content in all types of content, both academic and leisure. These warnings are given before explaining a topic or presenting an event that may hurt sensitivities, as they may represent some type of violent action against a disadvantaged group, minority, sexual orientation, gender, race or a social class.
In principle, the purpose of these warnings is to prevent people who have been victims of an injustice and the chance that it is represented in the problem at hand, from remembering their traumatic experience and from suffering again. The intention, in itself, is empathetic, wanting anyone who has exposed to this content not to revive something that hurt them and have the right to decide not to be exposed to such material.
However, it has been suggested that such warnings may actually do more harm than good, hypersensitizing those who were real victims and spreading this fear to people who have never experienced actual assault or harm.
In addition, more and more people are seeing this type of warning a way to soften reality too much by endangering freedom in education and artistic expression. Directly inventing or censoring unpleasant but real content is detrimental to society as a whole.
Censorship at the university
Tripping notice they have become very common in American universities, Especially in social careers such as sociology, psychology, philosophy and other disciplines in this field.
In view of the greater sensitivity and awareness in society towards groups that have been subjected to oppression, whether by race, sex, gender, sexual orientation or culture, more and more people are asking that the content taught in education is accompanied by a prior warning message. that they may be offensive to some students.
For example, if the subject of forensic psychology is taught at a university, it is very likely that at some point we will talk about sexual abuse. In the content of the subject, we can tell real testimonies of raped women or child victims of pedophilia. The triggering examination of the results would be placed before the start of the program, with the intention that if there is anyone in the class who has been a victim of these crimes, they can mentally prepare for it or have the direct possibility of not wanting to see it.
To better understand it. Instead of talking about the social sciences, we are talking about a medical discipline like surgery. Say we have a teacher who is going to walk you through how to perform heart surgery, but before teaching the procedure, he shows the “Trigger Exam Results” which will see blood, viscera, and sharps. like that allows those who are sensitive to these stimuli to leave the classroom while teaching the operation. Those who leave the classroom, how will they learn to function if they avoid this content?
The problem with this is that while empathy is to be felt and people who have been the victims of some sort of injustice or violation of their rights are to be felt, university students must also be prepared as people to confront – in a real world, in which injustices occur regardless of whether or not they have studied them in class.
In other words, it is very uninformative to give students the option of not studying certain content because it seems offensive to them. Besides, offense is an extremely subjective thing, which should not be taken as a strong argument to censor knowledge and debate.
Can racism be fought without knowing what it is? Can we fight for gender equality without knowing the oppression of women? These questions must be studied in order to wage a real struggle which improves the conditions of the entire population.. Not studying them prevents us from recognizing the real injustice and from combating it.
Content alerts work, but they’re bad
Trigger warnings have become something of really controversial, especially in the field of clinical psychology. It has been suggested that far from protecting the mental health of victims from any injustice, it harms the mental health of people who, although not victims, learn to be overly afraid of certain issues.
Fear, and therefore phobias, have an important social component. These are aspects that can be learned without going through a traumatic experience, just by listening to someone talk about an event, exaggerating its seriousness, and warning everyone to avoid it. To understand, if as children we were told that dogs bite and that we should be afraid of them, even if they never hurt us, we can end up having a real phobia. Sometimes words are the ones that hurt us.
The same would happen with trigger warnings. Content that, perhaps, viewed without warning should not be stressful but a little unpleasant, in case we are warned that it may be bothering us, we can overstate the degree of offense. We will have realized that what we are going to see is something that we will not like and therefore offend.
This question has been attempted to study scientifically, having the case of the experiment conducted by Benjamin Bellet, Payton Jones and Richard McNally. These researchers divided a sample of 270 American subjects into two groups, and each was instructed to read a series of ten passages from all-time works. Five of these passages did not contain potentially obnoxious material, while the other five did, such as a depiction of murder or rape.
One group was the witness, in which before each passage they weren’t warned that what they were going to read was going to leave them with a bad taste in their mouths. The other was the group exposed to “trigger warnings”, and before each pass he received a warning as follows:
NOTE. The passage you are about to read contains disturbing material and may cause an anxiety reaction, especially in people who may have a history of trauma.
The degree of anxiety was measured before and after reading the ten passages. This way, the researchers had a baseline measure of how the participants were altered as usual and how they were after reading the passages, both with and without a warning or trigger to review the results. The researchers found that participants who were warned said that they or others might be much more upset by what they read than those who were not warned, despite having read the same passages.
These results, although it is true that further studies would be needed to investigate this phenomenon further, allow us to understand that the way in which information to receiving are treated influences the way they are perceived. If we receive a warning that what they tell us is going to offend us, it is very likely that we will end up offending or see it in a less objective way than if we had not received the warning.
Impact on mental health
It has been suggested that trigger warnings can have a negative impact on the health of the population, Even in people who have not experienced any traumatic events. Receiving a warning of what is going to be seen can be unpleasant can cause anticipatory anxiety, causing the person to suffer from something that they are not sure if it could really bother them. In other words, without having at least seen if the message is offensive, you can already hear it offended.
The idea that words or pictures can activate unpleasant memories of past trauma has been studied since WWI.When psychiatrists started treating soldiers who were showing symptoms of what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The concept of trigger warnings is based on this idea, as they are seen as stimuli that can elicit unpleasant flashbacks or memories.
The discomfort of people with anxiety or trauma-related disorders, as is the case with PTSD, is real. When an anxious stimulus is presented, they manifest a series of really painful symptoms the cause of which is directly related to the traumatic experience and seeing something that reminded them of that pain. These are mental disorders that require professional help. The problem is that the use of trigger warnings is correct the antithesis of how therapies for anxiety disorders work.
The therapy par excellence for this type of disorder is exposure. The individual who exhibits a high response to the stressful stimulus is gradually accustomed to it by exposure. For example, a person who suffers from arachnophobia, in order to overcome his phobia, will be presented with different situations in therapy to get used to spiders.
At first, you will be presented with pictures of spiders, then spider dolls, later, you will be asked to approach a spider in a box and finally be able to touch one, all in several sessions. Thus, in exposure therapy, the individual reduces his anxiety by getting used to the anxiety-inducing stimulus. It won’t be easy at first, and it may never stop sounding like an unpleasant stimulus, but it may be closer to what previously generated a very high stress response.
The problem with trigger warnings is that it does exactly what it takes to prevent exposure therapy: Encourage avoidance behaviors. By giving the individual the opportunity not to expose himself to what is supposed to cause him discomfort, he motivates himself to avoid boring information by all means. This will make the person unable to be close to people who talk about the dreaded topic, complain that they feel offended by something very wrong, or threaten to report anyone who suggests the dreaded topic.
A society in which there is a greater awareness of injustices is a more egalitarian society. Knowing that not everyone has the same rights and that they are violated is the best way to realize that change is needed and that we must be more actively involved in the fight for equality.
The problem arises when, far from being aware of it, we have tried to avoid any message that might seem unpleasant. It only makes people not know what to face, And feel uncomfortable with little comments made without mischief.
The results of the trigger exam work, but poorly. Far from addressing the mental health of the most vulnerable, it makes them even more sensitive, while ensuring that those who do not have to go through a traumatic experience end up gaining sensitivity through learning through learning. proxy. The best way to deal with a trauma, a phobia or a fear of the unknown is through controlled exposure in a therapeutic context, being totally counterproductive on the contrary.
- Bellet, BW, Jones, PJ and McNally, RJ (2018). Trigger warning: empirical evidence to come. Journal of Behavioral Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. doi: 10.1016 / j.jbtep.2018.07.002.
- Jones, PJ, Bellet, BW and McNally, RJ (2020). Help or harm? The effect of trigger warnings on people with a history of trauma. Clinical psychological science. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702620921341