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Spoilers Don't Ruin Stories, Study Says

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You don't hate spoilers. You like them. You really, really like them. Are you getting sleepy?

This is what a University of California, San Diego, study would have you believe. The study, by Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UCSD's psychology department, ran experiments on 12 short stories of different types -- ironic-twist, mystery and literary. The stories included ones by John Updike, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Raymond Carver.

The results showed that the participants in the study much preferred the spoiled version of ironic-twist and mystery stories. They also opted for the spoiled version of literary stories, but not by as much.

This raises an interesting question -- is plot irrelevant, and is a story really about about the process as opposed to the result? Or are there just two types of people in this world -- ones that enjoy spoilers and ones who don't?

According to Christenfeld, “plots are just excuses for great writing. What the plot is is (almost) irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing."

He added that "Monet's paintings aren't really about water lilies."

Yes, it's often how something is done that increases its value. But water lilies are water lilies. Dumbledore dying is a major plot point that brings on severe emotional stress, stress that causes its readers to feel the plot more acutely than they would if it were relieved by knowing what was coming.

This, however, is possibly another reason why readers enjoy spoiled stories more -- it's just easier.

"Once you know how it turns out, it’s cognitively easier – you’re more comfortable processing the information – and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story," Leavitt, a psychology doctoral student at UCSD, said.

Fair enough -- not knowing what will happen can cloud the experience of understanding the novel because you're so busy trying to figure out what is going on, as opposed to how it happens. But isn't deeper understanding what the second read is for?

Another interesting tidbit to come out of the study was that participants did not respond as well to spoilers that were introduced in the middle of the story, interrupting the experience, as opposed to ones that were presented in advance of the story. You can read the full study in the upcoming issue of Psychological Science.

We just have one more question -- were the participants the type of people who told us Dumbledore dies?

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