Spoiler alert: Why knowing the ending isn’t always a bad thing
Bruce Willis is dead. Edward Norton is Tyler Durden. Clint Eastwood pulls the plug: As annoying as it can be, finding out how films end may not be such a downer after all. According to research carried out at UC San Diego, spoilers may actually enhance our enjoyment.
Nicholas Christenfeld, a professor of psychology at the California university, and his student Jonathan Leavitt recently tested the effect of spoilers using short stories, and their results will be published in the upcoming issue of Psychological Science. The study had three groups of participants: one that read the stories unaltered, one that read versions of the stories that had spoilers embedded in them, and one that was given a spoiler paragraph before they even started the story.
Although the embedded paragraph had no effect, it turns out that the subjects who knew how the stories would end before picking them up enjoyed them the most.
“The margin’s small,” says Christenfeld, referring to enjoyment numbers. “It’s not a huge effect — it’s not the case that you make people indifferent or ecstatic with spoilers. But, there’s a significant uptick in pleasure on the 10-point scale. … And [participants are] reading the exact same story, so any movement is interesting, and of course, this is in the opposite direction from what you’d expect.”