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 115.

    6 Hours ago
    Knowing the ending does not spoil a film. Just look at the Titanic, everyone knew the ending to that movie, the ship sank :)


    I've just rented the DVD for tomorrow!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    A good story wont be helped or ruined by a spoiler.

    I read Dan Brown's 'Fortress' - it's about a computer cypher that is unbreakable & the main characters are all master code breakers; anyone could spot the glaring anagram (that gave away the identity of the main villain) about 1/4 way through, though the 'hero' needed about another 150 pages!

    I persevered but haven't read Brown since.

  • Comment number 113.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Half the fun of a story is being surprised by where it goes. My experience of spoiler-philes in genre film and TV is of people hoarding information out of anal-retentive collecting instincts, or for sad bragging rights. The worst kind are the ones who spoil you just to show how much they know. Someone spoiled 'The Mousetrap' for me just because they could. Berk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    The most memorable programmes from my childhood were things like Dr Who and the saturday morning matinee shows which always ended on a cliffhanger and no-one knew how the hero would escape. The only recent series to have done this well is 24.

    Nowadays I too have to rush for the remote in order to stop the channel from pretty much revealing every thing that is going to happen next week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    I don't mind knowing how a book will end. It's how the journey to that end unravels that interests me.

    In fact reading books can become even more interesting if one doesn't know how they start. I have read all Jeffrey Archer's books backwards, ie I read the last page first and then the penultimate page etc until I get to the first page. All except 'First Impression' which is unbelievably dull.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I disagree, to a certain extent. For example I've had character deaths spoiled for me before. It meant I was able to pick up on all the foreshadowing, but then I knew not to get too invested in those characters, which robbed me of several huge shocks and emotional moments that you can't experience with a second viewing. I'd rather experience those moments, then rewatch to pick out the hints.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    jammedvalve not at all I do exactly the same even with crime books and surprisingly I still enjoy them and at least I know from beginning which characters I should like and which not:)besides i like happy endings so i always read few last pages just to know that like you said i dont need to worry

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    It really comes down to story format for me. I have to say that I don't like spoilers at all when the theme depends on the outcome of a story. I don't like knowing what's going to happen in the next episode of Doctor Who, or how its special effects are made. This said, Columbo's great, why? The story centres on the investigation. If any want to spoil a film for themselves... use fast forward. :¬)

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Why is research like this being funded? Maybe it'd be better off putting these dollars into dysentry prevention in Africa, or something similar. Just a thought

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    "Lost" kept me hooked all the way through, probably because the ending wasn't spoiled - but not in the way you might think. Had I known the ending was going to be as weak as it was, I would never have kept watching...

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    I hate spoilers. When the 6th Harry Potter book was leaked I avoided all media for days only to have someone blurt out the spoiler the day before release. I even hate overly descriptive chapter titles, which authors use too often.

    TV is the same. Sky once advertised the final episode of a show by showing the main character's tombstone! I was more than annoyed when it was actually in the show.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Why stop at books?

    Why not put what's going to be on the TV show next week at the end of this week.
    The BBC did that with the new series of Torchwood.
    It was a brilliant idea.
    I found not only that it meant I didn't need to watch it the following week....
    It was so much more dumbed down than its not very challenging predecessor I discovered I could very happily not watch it at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    This may mean I am not a risk taker - but I always read the last few pages of a book then I can read and enjoy it without worrying about it - am I wierd?

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Spoilers ruin any good story, be it on TV or in print. If the Story line is any good then it would not have to rely on spoilers to get attention. I want to be surprised. TV shows in particular give me grief in that I have to grab the remote to change channel before the ‘in next weeks show....’ spoils it for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    4 Hours ago

    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."


    Absolutely spot on there, at least with Sir Terry's books there is some humour all the way through, he might be writing the same story others have written but he does it in a way that you forget that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    I'm a no spoilers kinda guy... someone spoilt a key twist in Game of Thrones and it was anti-climatic when it happened.

    But I do understand the enjoyment of knowing how a story unfolds... a rewatch of a TV show, and seeing it unfold when you know how it turns out, is great fun.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I know the outcome of JK Rowling having written the 1st Harry Potter book...

    ...Oh if only I could invent a time machine and go back and give people a spoiler...

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Speak for yourself. I like to know a little about a book but not the ending - what a nasty thing to do to tell you! My mother-in-law told me the ending of War and Peace just after I had started it. Grrrr!

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    What annoys me beyond belief are TV links immediately before programs where the link person provides a spoiler synopsis by saying something on the lines of "And now Wallander (or whoever) investigates whether an apparent suicide is linked to Baltic drug-dealers". Why on earth do they do this? Why not simply say "And now this week's Wallander"? Answers please.


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