Tag Archives: psychology

Do Spoilers Actually Ruin Stories?

Dodging spoilers on the internet is no easy task, especially if your ex is using them as a form of revenge. Many of us live in fear of reading a spoiler about our favorite TV show or an upcoming blockbuster.

But should we be working so hard to avoid spoilers? Do they actually ruin stories?

We’ve long assumed that the suspense makes a story interesting and the reason we keep on watching (or reading) is because we don’t know what happens next. Removing the element of surprise intuitively seems like it would make fiction less enjoyable.

Yet people rewatch their favorite movies all the time and read classic stories like “Romeo and Juliet,” even though they know what’s going to happen.

UC San Diego psychology professor Nicholas Christenfeld wanted to put spoilers to the test in the most straightforward way possible: by spoiling stories for people.

According to his research, spoilers should really be called “enhancers”: people consistently enjoyed spoiled stories more than unspoiled stories in experiments.

But this doesn’t mean that plot doesn’t matter.

“The plot is in some ways like a coat hanger, displaying a garment,” said Christenfeld. “If it’s just a crumpled heap of fabric on the floor, you couldn’t admire the garment.”

Knowing the ending can be useful because it allows you to focus on other aspects of the narrative (characters, themes, style, symbolism) and to more easily understand how the story is unfolding.

Do high fives help sports teams win?

Hugs. High fives. Fist bumps. Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychology professor, examined NBA games to see if there is a relationship between a team’s success and how often they touch.

FEATURING: Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology, UC Berkeley
and founding faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley

The research highlighted in this video has been supported in part by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Fetzer Institute, and the John Templeton Foundation.

How we feel someone else’s pain

A neuroscientist from UC San Deigo —V.S. Ramachandran— recently spoke with the Greater Good Science Center about the relationship between empathy and mirror neurons:

“For example, pretend somebody pokes my left thumb with a needle. We know that the insular cortex fires cells and we experience a painful sensation. The agony of pain is probably experienced in a region called the anterior cingulate, where there are cells that respond to pain. The next stage in pain processing, we experience the agony, the painfulness, the affective quality of pain.

It turns out these anterior cingulate neurons that respond to my thumb being poked will also fire when I watch you being poked—but only a subset of them. There are non-mirror neuron pain neurons and there are mirror neuron pain neurons.

So these [mirror] neurons are probably involved in empathy for pain. If I really and truly empathize with your pain, I need to experience it myself. That’s what the mirror neurons are doing, allowing me to empathize with your pain—saying, in effect, that person is experiencing the same agony and excruciating pain as you would if somebody were to poke you with a needle directly. That’s the basis of all empathy.”

Learn more about mirror neurons and the evolution of empathy with UC Berkeley’s Dacher Keltner:

 

We are built to be kind

Greed is good. Competition is natural. War is inevitable. Whether in political theory or popular culture, human nature is often portrayed as selfish and power hungry. UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner challenges this notion of human nature and seeks to better understand why we evolved pro-social emotions like empathy, compassion and gratitude.

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’, born from the Darwinian theory of natural selection. Keltner adds nuance to this concept by delving deeper into Darwin’s idea that sympathy is one of the strongest human instincts — sometimes stronger than self-interest.

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Do spoilers really ruin stories?

Game of Thrones

Spoilers give away endings before stories begin and the conventional wisdom is that they diminish suspense and ruin a story, but here’s the twist…

Research by UC San Diego psychologists find that spoilers make reading stories more enjoyable (Story spoilers don’t spoil stories).

How they tested it: Participants in the study were given a series of short stories that they hadn’t read before (covering a variety of genres: an ironic-twist story, a mystery, and a more evocative literary story).  Some participants were given a story with a paragraph that spoiled the story, while others were not.  They then rated the story in terms of enjoyment.

It turns out that most of the people for whom the story was “spoiled” reported enjoying it more than those who read it unprepared.

This was true whether the spoiler revealed a twist at the end (e.g., that the condemned man’s daring escape is just a fantasy as the rope snaps taut around his neck) or solved the crime (e.g., Poirot discovers that the apparent target of attempted murder was in fact the perpetrator). It was also true when the spoiler was more poetic.

What it means: Spoilers may allow readers to organize developments, anticipate the implications of events, and resolve ambiguities that occur in the course of reading — which is consistent with the idea that we can re-watch a movie or re-read a book and still enjoy it.

Read more about the research at NPR

She loves you, she loves you not

Whether in fiction or history, women have often gotten a bad rap for being fickle. But it may just be evolution. A landmark meta-analysis suggests that ovulating women have evolved to prefer mates who display ‘sexy traits’ (think muscular build, dominant behavior, symmetrical facial features). UCLA psychologist Martie Haselton, who is one of a handful of pioneers in research on behavioral changes at ovulation, explains that sexy traits are not typically desired in long-term mates.

“Women who were partnered with men, who at one point in the study they rated them as very satisfying long-term partners, but not the sexiest guys around –  those women experienced increases in attraction to men other than their partner on fertile days of the cycle. So, it’s as if women on fertile days place a premium on male partners’ sexiness and if their male partner isn’t sexy, then women start to notice other men.”

While these findings may seem depressing, Haselton argues that just understanding this can help couples improve their relationships when in conflict.

“Once you understand how your mind works, what the mechanisms are that might otherwise be passing under the radar of conscious awareness, you can ‘mind hack’ and do things to achieve whatever your goals are – so, to maintain a happy relationship with your partner, or maybe it’s to have a wild sex life, but whatever it is, if women understand that there are these patterned changes across the cycle, then they can probably make better sexual decisions.”

The mere notion that a woman’s mate preferences could shift at high fertility has been a source of debate since the late 1990s, when the first studies that hinted at such a change began to appear. Since then, several papers failed to replicate the early studies’ results, casting doubt on the hypothesis.

“Until the past decade, we all accepted this notion that human female sexuality was radically different from sexuality in all of these other animal species – that, unlike other species, human female sexuality was somehow walled off from reproductive hormones. Then a set of studies challenged conventional wisdom.”

One hypothesis for why this mate preference shift occurs is that it may be an evolutionary adaptation that served our ancestors’ reproductive interests long before modern medicine, nutrition and sanitation greatly reduced infant and child mortality rates.

Experiments in Happiness

Being happy isn’t always easy.  Humans are complicated creatures and although our brains might be capable of performing wildly complex tasks, they can also sabotage our well-being.

“Not everyone is going to be naturally happy all the time,” Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests. As a professor of psychology at UC Riverside, she has devoted her career to the study of happiness: what is it, what it does, and why does it exist.

Her studies have investigated two components of happiness: cognitive (a sense of satisfaction with life) and emotional (the raw experience of joy). For many of us, experiencing these two components simultaneously is rare, but according to Lyubomirsky, “there are certain strategies we can all use to maximize our happiness.”

To uncover these strategies, Lyubomirsky and her team designed a series of experiments called “happiness interventions.”

In one of these studies, one set of volunteers was asked to keep a gratitude journal once a week, while another set was asked to do so three times a week. Those who counted their blessings once a week exhibited a marked increase in happiness – but those who did so three times a week displayed no such uptick. Lyubomirsky speculates that for the latter group, gratitude became a chore or, worse, they ran out of things to be grateful for. The initial burst of happiness was thus deflated by monotony and irritation.

In fact, much of Lyubomirsky’s work explodes common myths and misunderstandings about happiness.

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