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Trigger warnings (TWs) are statements that provide students a caution that upcoming educational content may be emotionally disturbing. The idea is that TWs allow students to psychologically prepare themselves. However, recent studies suggest TWs may function as threat cues, rather than preparatory cues, eliciting anticipatory anxiety and avoidance. The present study examined the difference between presenting antecedent information to students in the form of a TW versus an alternative, a coping cue, introduced as a Content Notice. In a between-groups design, undergraduate students (N = 113) who received extra credit for study participation were randomized to receive a TW or CN before reading a potentially distressing literary passage. Questionnaires assessed their tendency to avoid negative emotions (experiential avoidance) before seeing the TW or CN, and their current emotional state (positive and negative affect) before and after seeing the TW or CN and the passage. The key finding was that experiential avoidance moderated anticipatory negative affect. Those who received a TW and were high in their tendency to avoid negative emotional states experienced the most anticipatory negative affect. For those who were more willing to have negative emotional states, receiving a TW or CN did not alter anticipatory anxiety. For students higher in experiential avoidance, TWs served to increase their negative emotional state consistent with the idea that TWs may serve as a threat, rather than preparatory, cue.
Hurwitz, Jacob, "Reading a Literary Passage: Anticipation, Emotion, and Comprehension" (2020). Honors Theses. 3264.
Honors Thesis-Open Access