School of Health Sciences

Experts develop a common language for trigger and content warnings


Experts from the University of Nottingham have developed a common language to use on trigger and content warnings, after their research found that current warnings do not adequately take account of the needs of the intended audience.

The research also showed that the education sector has the most frequent mentions of warnings relating to violence and sex, whilst audio-visual industries (such as film) were the highest users of warnings about disturbing content.

The study, which is published in PLOS ONE, was a collaboration between experts from the School of Health Science, Department of History, School of Culture, Languages and Area Studies and the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham, the University of Illinois and a members of the lived Experience Advisory Panel who bring personal experiences of mental health problems.

The work took place as part of the NEON study on online mental health recovery narratives.

Trigger warnings and content warnings are statements at the start of a piece of writing or a video, alerting the reader that it contains potentially distressing material. They are used across a broad range of sectors, including in film and in higher education. They are contentious, and whilst some researchers argue that they can help people to avoid unwanted exposure to distress, others argue that they can hinder the development of resilience.

The aim of this research was to identify a common language for content warnings, and to understand where and how content warnings are used. To do this, the team identified 136 examples of published content warnings systems from 32 countries. They organised the content warnings into fourteen categories. They also identified the sectors in which they were used, and the intended audience.

The final list of categories included violence, sex, stigma, disturbing content, risky behaviours, mental health, crime, and abuse.

"By providing a common language for content warnings, we hope that our categorisation will allow their benefits and disadvantages to be more systematically investigated. We also hope that our research will enable the thoughtful development of content warning systems providing benefits for specific audiences, such as people with experiences of traumatic stress.”
Dr Stefan Rennick-Egglestone, from the School of Health Sciences at the University, and coordinator for the NEON study

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Stefan Rennick-Egglestone from the School of Health Sciences at

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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 103rd out of more than 1,000 institutions globally and 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Posted on Tuesday 17th May 2022

School of Health Sciences

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