If you’ve spent any amount of time reading about movies or books or TV shows online – either on Twitter or in forums – you’ve invariably come across an argument about spoilers. Some people, either through ignorance, simply not thinking about what they’re typing, or just plain maliciousness, will reveal a critical bit of information about a movie or show or book and “ruin it” for people who’ve not yet seen or read it. Thanks to the global nature of the Internet, spoilers are now everywhere – a mere click away from ruining your enjoyment of something…or are they?
UC San Diego Psychology researchers Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt decided to conduct a study to examine how spoilers affect our enjoyment of things, and their results may surprise you.
The duo’s study took a group of 30 people and “spoiled” three different classic stories for them. The stories were categorized into three types: ironic-twist, mystery, and literary, and featured works by well known writers like John Updike, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Raymond Carver. Each reader “was presented [the story] 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.”
In a surprising revelation, readers greatly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories – meaning everyone who went to great lengths to not reveal that Bruce Willis was dead all along in The Sixth Sense was apparently wasting their time and doing their fellow film viewers a great disservice.
Mysteries, which hinge upon the reveal at the end, also scored higher on the Hedonic Rating scale (pictured above) when the reader knew who the killer was from the beginning. Even literary tales, which were the least liked of the three types, resonated more favorably with readers when they didn’t have to do any pesky thinking.
We’re not psychologists or researchers, but this whole study sounds kind of fishy to us. If you were in the subject group and given the spoiled version of a story first, how could you ever really know that you wouldn’t have preferred the non-spoiled version more? It’s not like you can memory wipe and read it from scratch a second time. Not having seen the full research (which will appear in the journal Psychological Science), we can’t make any kind of value judgment on the validity of the findings, but trying to quantify something that seems completely subjective would appear to be quite difficult.
Even more troubling is what this all means if it’s correct.
As the study’s press release points out, the simplest conclusion for why people prefer spoiled stories over the non-spoiled versions is that “plot is overrated.” Christenfeld adds “Plots are just excuses for great writing. What the plot is is (almost) irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing.”
We’ll have to beg to differ on that one. We love great writing as much as anyone, but calling plot “almost irrelevant” seems to be taking things a bit far. If that were the case, wouldn’t we all love those heady, stream of consciousness literary novels? Wouldn’t Ulysses be on everyone’s favorite book list?
Instead, we imagine the real answer might be that some people prefer spoilers simply because they save time and keep them from having to think too hard. If you know that Rosebud is a sled before you see Citizen Kane, you can decide if that makes actually watching the film worth your time. If Rosebud being a sled doesn’t resonate with you, you skip the film and spend that time doing something else instead. Sadly, life is filled with obligations and some people don’t want to waste a moment on something they might not enjoy.
We’re clearly in the anti-spoiler camp here at Movies.com (spoilers in this story aside…although really, come on, you can’t complain about spoilers in Citizen Kane and The Sixth Sense. We all know the spoiler statute of limitations on those titles has expired…), but what about you? Do you run from the mere mention of spoilers in conversation and online are you okay with them? Be our test subjects and weigh in below.