Tag Archives: UCSD

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.

How Dust Is Holding Science Back

To most of us dust is just something we clean off our furniture, but to scientists dust can cause big problems in the lab. Computer chips are put together and tested in what are called clean rooms. These environments use filters to limit the amount of particles of dust in the air. UC San Diego’s Janelle Shane explains how just one of these particles can ruin microscopic components.

The research highlighted in this video has been supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

Learn more at: http://lewisandquark.tumblr.com

FEATURING: Janelle Shane, alum to the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego

A video game that teaches you how to code

“I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think,” Steve Jobs said in a lost interview from 1995.

But for a beginner, learning to code from scratch can be intimidating.

Enter CodeSpells. UC San Diego computer scientists developed this video game to teach people how to code. The story line is simple: you’re a wizard that uses spells (i.e. code) to navigate through the world, fight off foes, and solve problems.

While experienced coders can delve deep into the programming to create some truly devastating spells, newbies can easily experiment with the simple drag-and-drop coding interface.

CodeSpells was influenced by research conducted on how successful programmers learn their trade. They surveyed 30 computer scientists and identified five characteristics that are key to learn programming outside a classroom setting: activities must be structured by the person who is trying to learn; learning must be creative and exploratory; programming is empowering; learners have difficulty stopping once they start; and learners spend countless hours on the activity.

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The lawnmowers of coral reef


In the first global snapshot of its kind, a team of researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography has shown how overfishing has impacted seaweed-eating fish that are vital to coral reef health. Study leader Jennifer Smith says there are many species of fish and invertebrates that act as lawnmowers in these fragile ecosystems.

If you take away the lawnmower or the weed whackers in your own yard, you know what happens. You get the weeds growing and they will grow over, out-compete the plants that you are trying to cultivate. The same things happens on a coral reef where, if you don’t have the lawnmowers, these weeds can overgrow and out-compete the corals, which are the ecosystem engineers.

Smith says their study found that populations of plant-eating fish declined by more than half in areas that were overfished.

One of the goals is to help many places develop better management and conservation strategies for their coral reef ecosystem across the Pacific and Caribbean.

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

This is a declarative sentence?

“Men don’t think they do it, but they do,” explains Amanda Ritchart, a linguistics grad student at UCSD.

‘It’ is uptalk, the oft-mocked conversational style that uses a rising pitch at the end of utterances. Here’s a classic example:

A coffee shop barista asks a person for his or her name. The person says their name almost as if it were a question (Mike?, Isabelle?), even though we know that this person is not actually questioning his or her name.

Although it’s associated with the caricature of valley girls (as seen in the 1995 movie Clueless)some linguists date it to the 1950s, while others argue it is centuries old.

To investigate the phenomena of uptalk, Ritchart and Amalia Arvanti gathered 23 undergraduates (who were native speakers of SoCal English*) and gave them two tasks:

  • Use a map to give directions to a listener.
  • Describe a sitcom clip they had just watched. (Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother were the chose sitcoms, in case you were wondering…)

“For young speakers in Southern California, no matter the gender, the ethnicity, the socioeconomic background, everyone uses uptalk,” Ritchart says.  The researchers found that uptalk could also serve a strategic purposes such as confirmation (“are you following me on this?”):

When giving directions, a non-uptalker would use a declarative sentence, without a rising inflection. But uptalkers did use rises, as if they were implicitly asking the listener to confirm that they were being understood: “Go all the way to the right in the middle where it says Canyon Hills?” Both the men and women in the study used uptalk 100 percent of the time in these so-called “confirming” statements.

In such instances, uptalk suggests confidence or paternalism (maybe even coercion).  Another technique the researchers identified was ‘floor-holding’ — where a speaker, anticipating being interrupted by the listener, tries to fight it off by using a rising tone at the end of the statement:

In the study, women spoke with the floor-holding rise nearly 60 percent of the time: “O.K., so go toward Warren” (pronounced as a high-rising “Waa—REN?”). Men used it only 28 percent of the time, tending instead to maintain steady voices, in a plateau. Amalia Arvaniti, a co-author of the study who is now head of the English language and linguistics department at the University of Kent in England, said, “It could indicate that young women were generally interrupted more than men and so it’s a defense mechanism.”

It’s easy to dismiss uptalk as the language of airheads, but in fact, it appears that it can be quite useful.

Arvanti added that the research doesn’t imply that Uptalk doesn’t happen outside of Southern California or that young men have only recently picked up uptalk:  ”The primary motivation was to document the form and function of uptalk in SoCal because there was so little systematic research on this particular variety compared to, say, Australian and New Zealand English uptalk and even UK varieties that uptalk.”

*11 male and 12 female. 15 monolingual and 8 bilingual. 12 self-identified as Asian, six as Hispanic, 5 as White.  Using the MacArthur Scale, the speakers were grouped into socioeconomic status classes: Lower (4), Middle (13), and Upper (6).

 

The visual linguistics of a comic book page

Picture 2013-06-13 at 2.36.24 PM
Inside Science recently wrote about the study by UCSD’s Neil Cohn, Navigating Comics, which looks at the underlying structure of the comics language:

People who read the English written word scan text from left to right. Once our eyes hit the end of the page, we stop. Then ding!, like an old-time typewriter, our eyes shift downward and snap back to the left to start reading the next line. This is known as a “Z-path,” as our eyes whip about like the end of Zorro’s sword.

But that linear track gets derailed in comics with complex layouts and Cohn wanted to know if experienced readers had strategies to follow along.

Cohn rustled up 145 participants at the 2004 Comic-Con International, a comic book convention held in San Diego. Participants had varying experience with reading comics, ranging from “never” to “often.”

Each participant was given a booklet containing 12 pages of blank panels. Each page was independent of the rest and used different design techniques.

Read More →

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