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I hate spoilers. Once I turned on the TV and accidentally watched last 10 min. of The Usual Suspects (I hadn't seen it before). Whoops. I also figured out the ending of

But do spoilers actually decrease enjoyment?

Spoiler alert:  A recent study says no.

Researchers at UCSD conducted an experiment to see how spoilers affect readers' enjoyment of a story. They had students read three types of short stories: ironic twist stories, mysteries, and evocative literary stories.

The stories were presented in one of three ways:

1) In its original form (unspoiled condition)

2)With a spoiler paragraph presented before the story (external spoiler)

3)With a spoiler paragraph incorporated as the first paragraph of the story (incorporated spoiler).

Participants rated each story for enjoyment on a scale of 1 to 10.

The result was counterintuitive.  For all three types of stories, subjects gave higher ratings for externally spoiled stories than for the unspoiled stories. Interestingly, incorporating the spoiler in the opening paragraph did not raise enjoyment. In those cases, the enjoyment was the same as for the unspoiled stories.

Given these results, will I be less careful about avoiding spoilers? Probably not. The enjoyment rating used in this experiment was a coarse measure, and I don't think it quite captures the delightful surprise of a good twist ending. You might indeed enjoy the story better overall the second time, when you have a better idea of what to look for and aren't distracted by curiosity, but you can only be surprised once. For me at least, that first naive read is still worth protecting. On the other hand, if a story is accidentally spoiled for me, I probably won't feel quite as gypped as I would have before. And the does change my intuitions about what makes a story enjoyable.

 Finally, It's interesting that the external spoiler increased enjoyment, while the incorporated spoilers did not. The researchers suggested that this was because an incorporated spoiler led the reader to believe there was still more to the story that the author would reveal later. So maybe readers weredisappointed when they found out that there actually wasn't anything more, or perhaps the external spoiler allowed the reader to relax and enjoy the story without constantly thinking ahead.
More on this next week, but for now, what do you think? Do you avoid spoilers? 

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Also, friend of the blog Catherine Stine recently released her YA novel, a futuristic thriller called Fireseed One.  Check it out!

Leavitt JD, & Christenfeld NJ (2011). Story spoilers don't spoil stories. Psychological science, 22 (9), 1152-4 PMID: 21841150

She makes the point that reading a story literally affects us physically. We are naturally empathic creatures who truly do share the emotional lives of characters . Hubert O'Hearn's review of From Words to Brain [image error]

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Published on December 19, 2011 10:50 • 49 views

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