Spoiler alert

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 01, 2012

Spoilers have been talked about a bunch lately with NBC broadcasting most of the Olympic events on tape delay in the US. Whether or not this is a problem (it’s not, get over it), it turns out most people enjoy books and movies more if they’ve been spoiled. Do you hate when the trailer for a film gives away all the best parts? Further in the article, a film trailer maker mentions that trailers that give away more details test better.

The paper, published in the September issue of Psychological Science, presents the results of a series of experiments conducted by Jonathan D. Leavitt and Nicholas J. S. Christenfeld. The authors asked a large group of undergraduates to read classic short stories in three categories: literary works (such as Raymond Carver’s “The Calm”), mysteries (Agatha Christie’s “A Chess Problem”), and ironic-twist tales (Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”). Each student read one story in its original form, one with separate introductory material that laid out everything that was about to happen, and one with that same material simply incorporated as part of the text. Even surprise endings were given away.

Curiously, the test subjects favored the spoiled stories, sometimes significantly so. Even more paradoxically, it was the genres that seem to depend on surprise the most — mysteries and ironic-twist stories — that readers liked best when they already knew the ending.

“It seemed like a simple thing to demonstrate that if you completely ruin a story before people get into it, they’re not going to like it,” says Leavitt. “And we just couldn’t demonstrate that.”