Trigger Warnings in Psychology: Psychology Teachers’ Perspectives and Practices

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The content of psychology courses can include topics that may be sensitive to some students, especially those with personal histories of trauma. Increasingly, the news media has reported student requests for teachers to provide trigger warnings before covering sensitive topics in college classrooms. However, little empirical data has been published about the use of such content warnings in undergraduate education. The current research consisted of a national survey of psychology teachers (N = 284) assessing their attitudes and practices related to trigger warnings. Thirty-nine percent of the sample had given a trigger warning, but the frequency of warnings was rare. Few teachers had received requests from students for trigger warnings or accommodations related to sensitive topics. Although teachers’ attitudes about trigger warnings tended to be more positive than negative, they did not believe that teachers held primary responsibility for preventing student discomfort with content or that potentially distressing content should be avoided in the psychology classroom. Overall, the results of the study indicate that offering trigger warnings to students about potentially sensitive topics does not appear to be a typical practice in psychology.

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