Nothing angers online fans quite like an improperly labeled spoiler, as many people think a story will be ruined if they find out beforehand that the hero manages to triumph over the forces of evil. However, a new study challenges the necessity of the "spoiler alert." According to the researchers, I actually enjoyed Fight Club more because my best friend handed me the DVD and said, "I think you're going to like this. It's awesome because Brad Pitt isn't real."
University of California, San Diego psychologists Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt say in a study published in Psychological Science that knowing the ending of a book before starting it may enhance the reading experience. From ScienceDaily:
Christenfeld and Leavitt ran three experiments with a total of 12 short stories. Three types of stories were studied: ironic-twist, mystery and literary. Each story — classics by the likes of John Updike, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Raymond Carver — was presented as-is (without a spoiler), with a prefatory spoiler paragraph or with that same paragraph incorporated into the story as though it were a part of it. Each version of each story was read by at least 30 subjects. Data from subjects who had read the stories previously were excluded.
For all three types of stories, subjects preferred the version that was spoiled in the preface. However, they didn't enjoy the stories that had spoilers woven into them.
The researchers have two theories on why knowing the ending didn't ruin the stories. Christenfeld says it may be because people draw pleasure mainly from the way a story is told:
"Plots are just excuses for great writing. What the plot is is (almost) irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing. Monet's paintings aren't really about water lilies."
Leavitt says it's also possible that knowing the ending beforehand makes the story easier to understand, and thus more enjoyable. He explained,
"It could be that once you know how it turns out, it's cognitively easier — you're more comfortable processing the information — and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story."
So feel free to gab about the endings to movies and books in public forums. Though, you should know that even if science is on your side, you're going to wind up making a lot of enemies.
Spoiler Alert: Stories Are Not Spoiled By "Spoilers" [ScienceDaily]
Image via Inga Marchuk/Shutterstock.