Thursday, August 11, 2011

Do Spoilers Enhance Your Experience with Books, Films & TV Shows or Wreck It?

Do you hate it when people spoil the end of a book, movie or TV show for you, or do you like knowing what happens in the end? According to a new University of California San Diego study published in the journal Psychological Science, people actually like knowing the ending and, in fact, being privvy to spoilers increases their enjoyment.

Science Daily reported that the researchers: “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.”

What they found is that “subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man’s daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck.” One of the researchers suggested 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.” This rationale, they said, explains why people enjoy watching the same film or re-reading the same story multiple times “with undiminished pleasure.”

I don’t entirely buy this, not for me anyway. Maybe you might like to know what happens at the end of a book before you've read it -- like Harry in When Harry Met Sally who read the last page of every book in case he died before he reached the end -- but I don’t.

Part of the excitement of watching or reading something for the first time is the purity of your unspoiled experience coupled with the element of surprise. Once that surprise is gone, I enjoy re-reading or re-watching books and films/TV shows in an entirely different way: Since I’m no longer anxious to learn how the story turns out, I can focus on other details that I may have overlooked the first time around. Part of the anxiousness during that initial watching is part of the pleasure of experiencing a story.

Imagine watching The Sixth Sense for the first time after someone has spoiled the ending for you. You will watch it differently than you would have if you didn’t know what was coming. But by having the ending spoiled for you, you've been robbed of the chance to be surprised and to watch it in the way the filmmaker intended for you to do so.

If I went into reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince knowing what happens at the end -- that sad, shocking death of a beloved character -- my reaction would not have been the same.

What do you think about spoilers, do they ruin the experience or enhance it?

Image credit: Amazon.

No comments: