UCSD: “Spoiler Alert: Stories Are Not Spoiled by ‘Spoilers'”

UCSD: “Spoiler Alert: Stories Are Not Spoiled by ‘Spoilers'”

If you want to skip to the end of this article to see how it turns out, you’ll like it better, according to Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of  UC San Diego’s psychology department.

They’ve done a study that suggests that when people know the surprises in a story before experiencing the story, they have a higher level of enjoyment.

UCSD News article

I’m a big fan of science, but I just can’t buy this one, at least for me.

My favorite thing in entertainment is to be surprised. It’s hard to do: my mind keeps running through all the possibilities, even though I don’t want to do that. There is a very good chance I’ve “seen” the end of the movie I’m watching before it gets there. That doesn’t mean I’ve figured it out intellectually and concluded that there is only one possible conclusion. That does happen sometimes: I knew the ending of The Sixth Sense right away, for example. Generally, though, I’ve imagined lots of possibilities, and one of them is the right one.

I do what I reasonably can to avoid spoilers. My emotional belief is that I won’t enjoy a movie/book/TV show as much if I know what is going to happen before the appropriate moment of discovery.

I haven’t tracked that scientifically…I’m quite sure it’s true in terms of reality TV shows. If I know who is “voted off”, I don’t enjoy the episode anywhere near as much.

This study indicates the opposite should be true.

They had people read stories (not ones designed for the study…famous stories) and for some people they spoiled things ahead of time, for others they didn’t. They also inserted the spoiler into the story for another test.

The group that had the story spoiled first liked it better than the group that didn’t.

I may want to read that study (the full version isn’t available yet). I want to see if, as I suspect, there might have been a minority of participants for whom having the story spoiled was bad….but that the statistics said the group liked spoiling better.

That makes some sense to me. I know some people find it comfortable to be able to predict what will happen next.

The article makes that reasonable point about being able to see favorite movies over and over. However, when I see a movie again that surprised me, i enjoy that scene…but in a very different way.

I know I’m probably irrationally upset about people and sources who spoil. I stopped buying the San Francisco Examiner forever when they spoiled something above the fold (where you couldn’t avoid it when it was in a news rack…these were the old days, when we had newspapers).😉

I’ve only “ignored” one person ever in an online forum (which blocks me from seeing that person’s posts) after a deliberate spoiling. I liked the writer’s posts before that…but I didn’t want to take the chance. One of my favorite magazines just had an article where someone cavalierly spoiled a show which I haven’t seen yet. I won’t read articles by that writer again. Talk of the Nation on NPR just spoiled a movie…I knew that spoiler, but I won’t listen to that show again.

I’m honestly a bit afraid to write this, that someone will spoil things on purpose for me, just because I’ve pointed this out.  That’s probably paranoid, though…at least, that’s my hope.

For me, deliberately spoiling something feels like you are acting superior. You have the experience already: you were smarter, faster, richer (in the case of, say, a premium TV channel), and that gives you the right to take away the experience of discovery from someone who wasn’t as good as you…wasn’t up to your level.

I know that’s not intentional, but that’s how it feels to me.

Now, I love literary (or cinematic) analysis. However, that should be clearly identified as what it is, so someone can avoid it if they want.

There is no statute of limitations on spoilering, for me. A ten-year old reading The Wizard of Oz for the first time in 2011 deserves the same experience as a ten-year reading it in 1900 had.

Again, that’s probably just me, though. It bucks the science…although the study will need to be replicated, of course.

So, enjoy reading the end of the mystery first…I’m just going to ask you not to tell me whodunnit.🙂

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

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