In psychological understanding, a trigger is an event, situation, or impulse that causes a reaction chain of strong emotional or physical responses in people who experienced traumatic events. The trigger is recalling a traumatic event that happened in the past. A trigger warning aims to prevent these recalls.
In general, trigger warnings should support people who have experienced trauma by informing them beforehand about possibly containing triggers in what they are about to consume, for example, in movies, podcasts, trailers, presentations, books, etc.
It helps to prevent re-experiencing the trauma and mental health symptoms that hinder their daily life. This gives people the chance to avoid certain content or react before the trigger might limit their ability to.
The more casual use of trigger warnings is usually for a good reason but can sometimes have an unintended negative impact on people who struggle with trauma. Further, it can be difficult to communicate the trauma to others.
If one experienced trauma and has triggers, the debate around it and the use of trigger warnings can already cause distress. The concept of such a warning comes from PTSD research. However, not everyone agrees with this approach.
Effects on people without traumatic experiences are discussed. While many experts believe that trigger warnings allow people who have experienced trauma to decide whether to watch or read something, others believe that trigger warnings are potentially harmful to people who have not experienced trauma.
See more resources
Benjamin W. Bellet, Payton J. Jones, Richard J. McNally (2018). Trigger warning: Empirical evidence ahead. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, Volume 61, 2018, Pages 134-141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbtep.2018.07.002.
What really means to be triggered – Healthline. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from https://www.healthline.com/health/triggered#trigger-warning-debate
Trigger Warning – Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved January 10, 2023, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/trigger-warning