What is 'concept creep'?



Concept creep is a term that comes from the he academic discipline of psychology. It describes the tendency towards 'expanding concepts of harm and pathology'. 
by applying concepts of abuse, bullying, and trauma to less severe and clearly defined actions and events, and by increasingly including subjective elements into them, concept creep may release a flood of unjustified accusations and litigation, as well as excessive and disproportionate enforcement regimes.   The concepts of abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice ... {have been subjected to historical changes}. In each case, the concept's boundary has stretched and its meaning has dilated. Source  
This trend towards a very broad definition of what constitutes 'harm' has been particularly pronounced on university campuses in the USA and - to a lesser extent - in the UK.  


One practical consequence has been an increasingly nervous interpretation of what might 'trigger' an traumatic response by media content providers. Warning notices have been applied to what was previously considered innocuous content - the Muppets, for example.

The concept creep of concept creep

Ironically, the term concept creep has been subjected to an expansion of its own terms of reference. It is sometimes used in public discourse  to describe the process of moving from a narrow to a broader objective. 

With Covid, for example, some  have suggested that original UK government objective ('stop the health service from being overwhelmed') expanded to an aspiration to eliminate the virus entirely. It has also widened to cover general public health objectives like reducing obesity etc.


See Conor Friedersdorf's Atlantic essay, 'How Americans Became So Sensitive to Harm'   

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