Tag Archives: spoilers

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 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