Spoilers are the pits—that’s what a Russian scientist must have felt when he allegedly stabbed a colleague for revealing the endings of books he wanted to read. Shocking? Indeed, but so is the research finding that many people actually enjoy spoilers.
A study by UC San Diego researchers Jonathan Levitt and Nicholas Christenfeld shows that spoilers actually enhance our enjoyment of plot twists because our brain naturally likes to anticipate the future.
In their study, 819 undergraduate students read short stories written by well-known authors like Roald Dahl and Anton Chekhov. Some students read what appeared to reveal the outcome of the story, while others read the same story without spoilers. Students found the stories with spoilers more enjoyable. A similar study conducted by the same researchers, but featuring stories with surprising plot twists, showed the same results.
Levitt and Christenfeld cited the psychological concept called “fluency,” which refers to the ease of understanding a story. Fluency means the easier something is to process, the more likely people will like it.
Christopher Nolan’s film, “Inception,” is a great example. I enjoyed it more after the second and third viewing, after I understood the complexity of getting out alive from a dream within a dream within a dream.
In “The Book of Eli,” (directed by Albert and Allen Hughes) there’s something about the main character, Eli, that’s not apparent until almost halfway through the film. At that point, a moviegoer would look back at the clues and truly appreciate the story. M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” put the filmmaker on the map for a similar storytelling tactic.
It Depends on Your Personality
In another study, researchers Judith Rosenbaum and Benjamin Johnson found out that a person’s response to spoilers depends on his or her personality. People with a high need for cognition like to think and look for more demanding stories. They are likely to hate spoilers. Those with a high need for affect like to feel and will seek out emotional stories and experiences, and will probably enjoy spoilers. The study showed that those traits are not opposites, so some people could be both or neither.
Read a story about another study:
Learn more about Levitt and Christenfeld’s study:
Learn more about Rosenbaum and Johnson’s study:
Curious about the Russian Scientist who Detested Spoilers?