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We hate for the twist endings of movies, TV shows and books to be given away. But here's a bit of relief for those of you who are just now learning that Snape, in fact, killed Dumbledore: Spoilers don't really ruin stories for us. In fact, a new study suggests that we actually enjoy spoiled stories more than those left unspoiled.
"Writers use their artistry to make stories interesting, to engage readers, and tosurprise them. But giving away these surprises makes readers like stories better," write study author Jonathan Leavitt, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, San Diego.
In an experiment, researchers gave away the endings for three different kinds of short stories -- those with an ironic twist ending, mysteries and tales Leavitt calls "more evocative literary stories." These were real short stories by authors such as John Updike, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Raymond Carver; none of the 30 undergrad study participants had read these stories before.
The volunteers read three versions of four of those stories. One with a spoiler given in a paragraph that was independent to the story, another with the spoiler worked into the story's opening graph and a spoiler-free version of the narrative. They rated how much they enjoyed each version of the stories on a scale of 1 to 10.
Spoilers ahead, in case you're intending to read the report when it's published in the September issue of Psychological Science! But people "significantly preferred" the spoiled versions of the ironic twist stories and the mysteries. (The so-called evocative stories were less appreciated in general, "likely due to their more expressly literary aims," Leavitt writes. No spoiler alert needed there.) But in all three kinds of short stories, people like the texts with the spoilers worked into the opening graphs about as much as they liked the unspoiled texts.
Here's why you'll thank me later because you now know that Paul Bettany was just a figment of Russell Crowe's beautiful mind: Spoilers, Leavitt suggests, "may allow readers to organize developments in the story, anticipate the implications of events, and resolve ambiguities that occur in the course of reading." Previous studies have also proven the power of anticipation, including one that showed that people's happiness levels were as high pre-vacation as they were during the actual vacation.
Spoilers are hard to avoid in our current age of tweets and blogs and Facebook statuses (and Google Pluses?) -- and this finding suggests that we should perhaps be a bit kinder to entertainmentbloggers we've blamed for "ruining" TV shows or movies by posting things that are inherently spoiler-heavy, like news or reviews. “Perhaps," the report concludes, "birthday presents are better when wrapped in cellophane, and engagement rings are better when not concealed in chocolate mousse.”
Also, Amy marries Laurie, Gatsby is murdered and Einhorn is Finkle, Finkle is Einhorn and Einhorn is a man.
When's the last time -- or the most memorable time -- a movie, TV show or book was "spoiled" for you? And how did that affect your enjoyment of the story?