Spoiler Alert: Spoilers Don’t Spoil

Have you ever had the experience of learning the ending of a book, movie, or TV show that you had really wanted to read/watch and saying to yourself, “AARGH—it’s ruined for me!”?

In college, I tried to be very careful about reading the introductions to classic literature. I found out the hard way that the people who write the introductions often presume the reader is already familiar with the work. Inadvertently, I’d learn key plots points—sometimes the ending—before I had even started the book.

At the time, I figured that knowing the ending would detract from my enjoyment of the book.

It turns out, I was wrong.

Researchers Find That Knowing Key Plot Twists Enhances Enjoyment of Respected Books

According to Science Daily, two researchers at the University of California – San Diego ran a series of experiments looking at how knowing the ending of a story in advance effects how much people enjoy it. The researchers used short stories by well-known authors such as Agatha Christie, John Updike, and Raymond Carver. Everyone was given a story to read in one of three ways: 1.) Some people simply read the story; 2.) Others were given a paragraph to read that gave away the ending (the spoiler) prior to reading the story; 3.) and for others, the ending was given away during the story rather than before.

People for whom the story was “spoiled” reported enjoying the story more. Not only did knowing the ending in advance not ruin enjoyment of the story, but spoiling the story appeared to enhance it! It didn’t matter whether the story was a literary work, a mystery, or something with an ironic-twist (e.g., surprise) ending.

Why?

The researchers suggest that well-written stories are enjoyable regardless of what we know about them. When we know the ending, we can pay more attention to other elements. Given that the stories were by respected authors, it would be interesting to know if the same results are true for less skilled writers.

Next time a work of fiction is “spoiled” for me, rather than respond with “AARGH!” perhaps I ought to say, “Thank you—now I’ll enjoy it even more.”

Brian Thompson Ph.D.

Author: Brian Thompson Ph.D.

Brian is a licensed psychologist and Director of the Portland Psychotherapy Anxiety Clinic. His specialties include generalized anxiety, OCD, hair pulling, and skin picking.

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