Julia (kewljules00799) wrote in ohnotheydidnt,

River Song ain’t gonna like this post

New Study Says Spoilers Increase Enjoyment: Does That Ring True?

New Study Says Spoilers Increase Enjoyment: Does That Ring True?
Maybe you haven't caught Rise of the Planet of the Apes yet, but you hear all your friends murmuring "Why Cookie Rocket," and you know it means something, but you don't want that prior knowledge to ruin things for you. Then again, according to a new study that Wired dug up, knowing a spoiler or two in advance might help you enjoy the movie even more. In the experiment cited in the Wired article, several dozen participants read short stories, some of which contained a massive spoiler in the preface or in the middle of the text. Their findings? The readers who got spoiled were more engaged with what they read. So let's open up the study to our Vulture readers: Are you the sort of person who seeks out spoilers about your favorite TV shows and movies? Is that because you find that it adds to the experience? Or do you just hate surprises? ...And if you're the kind of person who curses anonymous message-board commenters and Facebook friends who spoiled something important, when you have been spoiled, has it been so bad?

Original article from Wired under the cut…

Spoilers Don’t Spoil Anything
By Jonah Lehrer
I’ve got a weak spot for pulp fiction, especially when it involves a mysterious twist. I like unironic thrillers and mediocre Agatha Christie imitations. Basically, I like any kind of fiction that lets me forget for vast stretches of time that I’m sitting in an airport terminal.
I read these books in an unusual way: I begin with the last five pages, seeking out the final twist first. The twist won’t make sense at this point, but that doesn’t matter — I enjoy reading the story with the grand finale in mind. (Hell, I even cheated with Harry Potter.)
I’ve always assumed that this reading style is a perverse personal habit, a symptom of a flawed literary intelligence. It turns out, though, that I was just ahead of the curve, because spoilers don’t spoil anything. In fact, a new study suggests that spoilers can actually increase our enjoyment of literature. Although we’ve long assumed that the suspense makes the story — we keep on reading because we don’t know what happens next — this new research suggests that the tension actually detracts from our enjoyment.
The experiment itself was simple: Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego gave several dozen undergraduates 12 different short stories. The stories came in three different flavors: ironic twist stories (such as Chekhov’s “The Bet”), straight up mysteries (“A Chess Problem” by Agatha Christie) and so-called “literary stories” by writers like Updike and Carver. Some subjects read the story as is, without a spoiler. Some read the story with a spoiler carefully embedded in the actual text, as if Chekhov himself had given away the end. And some read the story with a spoiler disclaimer in the preface.
Here are the results:

The first thing you probably noticed is that people don’t like literary stories. (And that’s a shame, because Updike’s “Plumbing” is a masterpiece of prose: “All around us, we are outlasted….”) But you might also have noticed that almost every single story, regardless of genre, was more pleasurable when prefaced with a spoiler. This suggests that I read fiction the right way, beginning with the end and working backwards. I like the story more because the suspense is contained.
A few random thoughts on this data:

1.) In this age of information, we’ve become mildly obsessed with avoiding spoilers, staying away from social media lest we learn about the series finale of Lost or the surprising twist in the latest blockbuster. But this is a new habit. After all, mass culture consisted for thousands of years of stories that were incredibly predictable, from the Greek tragedy to the Shakespearean wedding to the Hollywood happy ending. (Did this hankering for shocking endings begin with The Usual Suspects? It’s not like Twitter could ruin the end of a John Wayne movie.) What this research suggests is that the lack of surprise was part of the pleasure: We like it best when the suspense is contained by the formulaic, when we never have to really worry about the death of the protagonist or the lovers in a romantic comedy. I’d argue that, in many instances, the very fact that we’re seeing a particular type of movie (or reading a particular type of book) is itself a giveaway, a reminder that we know how it will all turn out. Every genre is a kind of spoiler.

2.) Just because we know the end doesn’t mean there aren’t surprises. Even when I cheat and read the final pages first, a good thriller will still surprise me with how it gets there. Perhaps we’ve overvalued the pleasure of the shocking ending at the expense of those smaller astonishments along the way. It’s about the narrative journey, not the final destination, etc. Christenfeld and Leavitt even speculate the knowing the ending might increase the narrative tension: “Knowing the ending of Oedipus may heighten the pleasurable tension of the disparity in knowledge between the omniscient reader and the character marching to his doom.”

3.) Surprises are much more fun to plan than experience. The human mind is a prediction machine, which means that it registers most surprises as a cognitive failure, a mental mistake. Our first reaction is almost never “How cool! I never saw that coming!” Instead, we feel embarrassed by our gullibility, the dismay of a prediction error. While authors and screenwriters might enjoy composing those clever twists, they should know that the audience will enjoy it far less. The psychologists end the paper (forthcoming in Psychological Science) by wondering if the pleasure of spoiled surprises might extend beyond fiction:
Erroneous intuitions about the nature of spoilers may persist because individual readers are unable to compare between spoiled and unspoiled experiences of a novel story. Other intuitions about suspense may be similarly wrong, and perhaps birthday presents are better wrapped in transparent cellophane, and engagement rings not concealed in chocolate mousse.

I figured this would be a good post since, well, ohnotheydidnt is full of shameless spoiler whores, like myself. Do you read spoilers, guys? Have you ever been spoiled when you didn’t want to be? Have you ever spoiled someone, either maliciously and on purpose, or accidentally? DOES ANYONE HAVE SPOILERS FOR WHITE COLLAR, SHERLOCK, PSYCH OR DOCTOR WHO? Share your thoughts and opinions on spoilers, ONTD.


omg ONTD so there’s this conference in my building today and I don’t know who they are or what they’re about but there is an ~OPEN BAR~ literally, like, in my office. I. Love. My. Job…best Thursday afternoon in the office ever! (Sorry I forgot the source and fucked up the lj-cut the first time, mods…this is clearly the reason why.)

Tags: spoilers

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