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New study spoils spoilers

Aug 19, 2011

SPOILER ALERT! Norman Bates is the murderous mother. Darth Vader is Luke’s father. The limping thief is Keyser Soze. And don’t cry, but that dude is no lady. Chances are, you already knew these famous film reveals. But if you didn’t, we might have just done you a favor. This, according to a new study that shows people actually enjoy stories more when they know the ending ahead of time. Researchers from U.C. San Diego asked 30 college students to read three different stories by writers such as Raymond Carver, John Updike, and Agatha Christie then rate their enjoyment of each one. The twist: one story had a plot spoiler at the top. Another had it worked into the text, early on. The last story was read as intended, sans spoiler. Want to know the outcome? It turns out readers consistently preferred the stories where the plot was revealed in advance. How could this be? Well, one theory is that plot just isn’t that important. Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, might agree. To Hitchcock, suspense wasn’t about surprising twists. He actually liked when the audience knew what was going to happen (think: ticking time bomb placed visibly under a table). And Wired Magazine’s Jonah Lehrer says, “While authors and screenwriters might enjoy composing those clever twists, they should know that the audience will enjoy it far less.” Crazy as it may sound, Lehrer purposely reads the last five pages of a book first – so he can keep the grand finale in mind. This, however, is heresy to many pop-culture fans. What about you? Do spoilers ruin the fun? Or is plot overrated? Should film critics be hung for accidentally revealing critical plot points? Or should we skip to the end and celebrate our loose-lipped friends?

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