While trigger warnings have garnered significant debate, few studies have investigated how students typically respond to potentially triggering material.
In this study, three hundred and fifty-five undergraduate students from four universities read a passage describing incidences of both physical and sexual assault. Longitudinal measures of subjective distress, PTSD symptoms, and emotional reactivity were taken.
Greater than 96% of participants read the triggering passage even when given a non-triggering alternative to read. Of those who read the triggering passage, those with triggering traumas did not report more distress although those with higher PTSD scores did. Two weeks later, those with trigger traumas and/or PTSD did not report an increase in trauma symptoms as a result of reading the triggering passage.
Students with relevant traumas do not avoid triggering material and the effects appear to be brief. Students with PTSD do not report an exacerbation of symptoms two weeks later as a function of reading the passage.