Don’t Pull That Trigger (Warning)!

The first filter of any decent analyst of social policy is to be on guard for unintended consequences and perverse results. Most liberal social policy is rife with these effects—energy efficiency mandates that actually increase energy consumption; minimum wage laws that reduce the incomes of low income workers; health and safety regulations that increase risk by failing to account for tradeoffs; anti-poverty programs that increase poverty, etc.

Welcome to the ranks another liberal idea that is making the very problem it is aimed at worse: trigger warnings on college campuses. As you may know, faculty these days are encouraged to issue “trigger warnings” for sensitive or controversial topics and reading material. Because we wouldn’t want a vulnerable student to be upset by uncomfortable ideas. (UCLA went so far as to issue guidelines attempting to prohibit potential microaggressive phrases like “America is a melting pot,” “I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” “Gender plays no part in who we hire” and “America is the land of opportunity.” For the record, I don’t use trigger warnings of any kind, because I only go in for full-tilt boogie macroaggressions.)

There’s a brand new article just out in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychology by three Harvard psychologists that Charles Murray has tagged as offering the best headline of the year (and thus making life interesting for these three Harvard professors at their next department meeting):

Sure enough, this careful and plodding study, based on an experiment with a study group and a control group, concludes that trigger warnings may increase risk of stress and anxiety among students and reduce resiliency. From the conclusion:

Trigger warnings do not appear to be conducive to resilience as measured by any of our metrics. Rather, our findings indicate that trigger warnings may present nuanced threats to selective domains of psychological resilience. Such consequences are limited to perceived vulnerability to emotional harm, which may increase risk for developing PTSD in the event of trauma, and disability-related stigma around trauma survivors. . .  Trigger warnings do not appear to affect sensitivity to distressing material in general, but may increase immediate anxiety response for a subset of individuals whose beliefs predispose them to such a response.

I think this article should be sent to every office of diversity and inclusion with the question: “You don’t want to be against science do you?”