SPOILER ALERT: Study shows spoilers do not ruin the show

MovieSpoilerby Jim Napier

I always make it a point to never spoil anything in my posts or in our podcasts. A new study shows that audiences ended up "liking stories better if they'd been told spoilers in advance." 

The study was conducted at UC San Diego by psychology researchers Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt. The goal of the study was to find out if it was true that spoilers actually ruin people's enjoyment of stories. To find out, they decided to spoil a group of 30 people who were about to read three different stories.

Here is more about the study:

Christenfeld and Leavitt ran three experiments with a total of 12 short stories. Three types of stories were studied: ironic-twist, mystery and literary. Each story – classics by the likes of John Updike, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Raymond Carver – was presented as-is (without a spoiler), with a prefatory spoiler paragraph or with that same paragraph incorporated into the story as though it were a part of it. Each version of each story was read by at least 30 subjects. Data from subjects who had read the stories previously were excluded.

Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man's daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck. Subjects read stories as-is and with introductory paragraphs that gave away the endings, or spoilers. In almost all cases, they preferred the "spoiled" stories. The same held true for mysteries. Knowing ahead of time that Poirot will discover that the apparent target of attempted murder is, in fact, the perpetrator not only didn't hurt enjoyment of the story but actually improved it. Subjects liked the literary, evocative stories least overall, but still preferred the spoiled versions over the unspoiled ones.

Why? The answers go beyond the scope of the study, but one possibility is perhaps the simplest one: that plot is overrated.

"Plots are just excuses for great writing. What the plot is is (almost) irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing," said Christenfeld . . . It's also possible that it's "easier" to read a spoiled story. Other psychological studies have shown that people have an aesthetic preference for objects that are perceptually easy to process.

The chart above shows "hedonic measurement," or happiness levels," that people felt after the stories when it was spoiled vs. unspoiled. People were slightly happier when people had their stories spoiled. This results of the study goes against the popular opinion. 

I personally think that spoilers are not that big of a deal. I will still see the film that I want to see. The way trailers and TV spots have been for many films, I basically see the entire movie before going to the theaater. What are your thoughts on this news?

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