Spoilers 'do not ruin stories', study says

JK Rowling JK Rowling criticised newspapers for publishing plot details of her final Harry Potter book

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Knowing how a book ends does not ruin its story and can actually enhance enjoyment, a study suggests.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego gave participants 12 short stories where two versions were spoiled and a third unspoiled.

In all but one story, readers said they preferred versions which had spoiling paragraphs written into it.

Although the study could not explain why, it suggested the brain may find it easier to process a spoiled story.

"You get this significant reverse-spoiler effect," study author and professor of social psychology Nicholas Christenfeld said.

"It's sort of as if knowing things puts you in a position that gives you certain advantages to understand the plot."

Co-author Jonathan Leavitt added: "It could be that once you know how it turns out, you're more comfortable processing the information and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story."

Prof Christenfeld said this suggested people may enjoy a good story as much as a good twist at the end, and even if they know the outcome, will enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

He added in many cases, a book or film can be re-read or seen multiple times and still be enjoyable.

For the study, short stories written by authors including Agatha Christie, John Updike and Anton Chekov were read by volunteers who had never seen them before.

Some read the stories as originally written, some had a spoiler paragraph incorporated into the story and others had an introductory spoiler paragraph and then were asked to rate them on a scale of 1 to 10.

Even when the stories contained a plot twist or mystery, subjects preferred the spoiled versions.

The researchers concluded the study, which will be published in September's Psychological Science journal, showed that the success of entertainment did not rest on simple suspense alone.

Please be aware the comments below may contain some plot spoilers.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Does anyone else find it ironic that this article gives the conclusion of the study in the opening sentence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Gabriel Garia Marquez's 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' begins with the line: 'Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice'
    This opener draws you through the story and makes the path to its inevitable conclusion all the more riveting. I would rate it as one of the best opening lines ever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I always read the back of the book and skip to the last scene on a DVD before I read/watch it. I can relax and enjoy the book/film if I know the outcome. I always read books and watch films more than once.

    My husband prefers not to. And rarely reads a book twice and on occasions watches a DVD more than once, depending on the film.
    Either way we both enjoy the book/film.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I am reminded of an anecdote about Oscar Wilde. In a 'viva voce' examination at Oxford, Wilde was asked to translate from the Greek version of the New Testament. The passage chosen was the story of the Passion. Wilde began to translate, easily and accurately. The examiners asked him to stop, but he complained `Oh, do let me go on. I want to see how it ends!'

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I like spoilers, and always want to know the ending of a book or film. I can relax, enjoy the book/film, and appreciate how the story works its way to a conclusion. Otherwise I am in too much of a hurry to find out the ending I get impatient and miss things! On the other hand my husband hates them, and will go out of his way to avoid a spoiler, or even a hint of the plot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    How many people can put their hands up and say they have gone and watched the movie over again. A good movie or story is worth watching / reading over. But then again at 53 years and read perhaps 6 books in my life, but watched 2 movies per week, who am I to say, except that some movies I have watched over and over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Oh course spoilers ruin a film. The moment in Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader tells Luke that he is his father would have had no impact on the audience if they'd known in advance.

    Of course, everyone knows this spoiler except for one girl I heard of who, during the 1990 re-releases, shouted out "NO!" in the middle of a crowded cinema when this fact was revealed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    I've never heard so much rubbish in my life. What is the point of reading a whodunnit if you already know whodunnit?

    Unless of course you can't read...so maybe spoilers are handy for the vast majority of today's population.


  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    so... writers' and film-makers' over-reliance on suspense-driven drivel culminating in arbitrary big twist isn't the way to put together a good story? shocking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I think it depends how the book is written. For, say, an Agatha Christie it might be vital, but for Terry Pratchett the story itself is the entertainment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Couldn't disagree more. I hate spoilers of any sort - even down to the continuity announcer giving a brief synopses of an upcoming show. I love having no idea what to expect, and being completely surprised.
    This article is well timed because I recently saw a spoiler for a show I watch and was devastated to see it. No warnings at all.
    Please people, have respect for others who haven't seen it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I cannot abide spoilers of any description. They are an insult.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I dont think that script writing is off sufficient quality to matter , whether something is spoiled or not

    Its only rare quality films with big punchlines , where a spoiler would runin it

    all I cna think of are "Usual Suspects " , "Fight Club " , "Seven "
    maybe "Black Swan "

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I agree with this report's findings. I love 'who dunnits' but I've never been too bothered who the murderer was. Its the nuance in how the plot is unwrapped that I enjoy. I recently finished one of Jo Nesbo's 'Harry Hole' series out of sequence and then returned to the book I had missed. The latter book (in series) gave the whole plot away but I enjoyed the missing link just as much

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    You can still enjoy something but knowing the ending takes the edge off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Most endings are crystal clear given the industry providing them.
    I'd like to know whether we are meant to have forgotten Murdoch et al? I mean slagging kids is a national passtime but...

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Thanks a million to everyone who has posted spoilers on this thread!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Some people have too much time on their hands, of course it ruins it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    OMG life is too short to be bothered about such things! It is easy not to warch, read or listen to reviews if one doesn't want to hear anything...

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Depends on the story - and on the person. Colombo is being mentioned a lot. But most people know the format, so knowing the murderer beforehand and seeing how it's solved is the journey. The Sixth Sense is also mentioned. Finding out Bruce Willis is dead is the journey and knowing that makes you watch the film/read the book differently.


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