Date of Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
William F. Flack, Jr.
trigger warnings, trauma, sexual assault, institutions of higher education, emotional distress
Trigger warnings have been a cause for concern nationwide, and it remains unclear whether they truly protect students with varying histories of sexual assault trauma when exposed to triggering experiences. The sample consisted of 62 participants enrolled in an Introduction to Psychology course at Bucknell in the Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 semesters. Students responded to a three-part survey, filling out a prior sexual victimization scale, a life events checklist, a PTSD checklist, a distress scale, a research participation scale, and demographic questions in response to reading an emotionally distressing, “triggering” passage from Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.” Participants were also able to opt-out of the triggering passage and read a neutral passage instead. Follow-up online surveys with a distress scale and adapted PTSD checklist based on the passage were sent to participants two days and two weeks after initially reading the passage. Three hypotheses were tested: First, it was expected that participants who have experienced any trauma would report more emotional distress to the triggering passage than those without a trauma history; second, it was expected that students who have a history of sexual trauma would report more emotional distress to the triggering passage than those without such history; and third, participants with PTSD would report more emotional distress to the triggering passage than those without PTSD. Results show that participants had prolonged emotional distress over the two week testing period, with victims of sexual assault indicating higher scores on measures of emotional distress and an adapted PTSD checklist in response to the literature. As one of the most common forms of trauma for college students is sexual assault, it is essential to know whether trigger warnings can be used in college courses in order to avoid negative traumatic reactions from students when completing assignments.
Korsun, Lynn E. C., "Trigger Warnings & Reactions to Literature: Sexual Victimization and Emotional Responses to Difficult Literature" (2018). Honors Theses. 449.