Principle of Charity
TRIGGER WARNING!: Should we Move Towards or Away from Triggers?
Trigger warnings have become common practice these days, not just in university campuses, but across the media landscape, in film, television, online and social media. They warn us that the material we’re about to see or hear might trigger distress. But what actually is a trigger? And what’s it meant to protect us from?
Trigger warnings were originally linked with post traumatic stress disorder - the idea being that those who have been through a traumatic event, for example sexual violence, and who then suffer from PTSD, can be triggered into re-experiencing that distress when exposed to related content. These days, however, trigger warnings seem to capture any sort of potentially distressing content, and are aimed at everyone, whether we have clinical PTSD or not. The idea is that we should be (or maybe even we have the right to be) warned about distressing content in advance.
But do trigger warnings work effectively? Do people in practice avoid content that may be triggering and if they choose to watch, are people able to prepare themselves emotionally, to reduce the impact of the material. Or, does the opposite happen - is there an ‘anticipatory effect’ where people get more distressed as they wait for and brace for the traumatic content.
Our guests on this podcast bring two different views to the table. Victoria Bridgland is a psychologist who has done detailed data based research into trigger warnings and has concluded not only that they don’t work, but that they are likely to exacerbate distress. Sociologist Nicole Bedera sees trigger warnings as important but not enough. She believes we need institutions that do much more to support those who’ve been through trauma, particularly sexual assault, otherwise they’re at risk of a secondary trauma caused by ‘institutional betrayal’.
Nicole Bedera, Ph.D. is a sociologist at the University of Michigan and author of the forthcoming book On the Wrong Side: How Universities Betray Survivors to Protect Perpetrators of Sexual Assault.
Her research broadly focuses on how our social structures contribute to survivors’ trauma and make sexual violence more likely to occur in the future.
Her scholarship has influenced sexual violence prevention programming across the United States, including for Planned Parenthood, and her work has featured in media including The New York Times, NPR, and the BBC.
Victoria graduated with a research PhD in 2021 from Flinders University.
Victoria’s research interests include expectancy effects, emotional regulation, and memory for traumatic events. Her main body of work concerns trigger warnings, and what benefit – if any – they have for people encountering negative material.
Victoria currently serves on the Student Caucus Executive board for the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.
In 2019 Victoria won a South Australian Postgraduate Fulbright Scholarship.
Victoria is currently at Harvard, with her research focussing on trigger warnings in art spaces.
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Your hosts are Lloyd Vogelman and Emile Sherman.
Find Lloyd @LloydVogelman on Linked in
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This Podcast is Produced by Jonah Primo and Bronwen Reid
Find Jonah at jonahprimo.com