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.