Thu
Aug 11 2011 2:09pm

What We Talk About When We Talk About Spoilers

Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego spoiler study

An article on the UCSD website was released recently and details the findings of a study performed by Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego’s psychology department. The article, which will be released in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, appears to claim that “spoilers” are no big deal and that people who know the outcome of a given story actually might enjoy it more.

Although this article is only summary of their findings, their claims seem highly dubious. In fact, based on what the article tells us about the research conducted in regard to spoilers, I’ll go ahead and say they are totally wrong, for a lot of reasons.

According to the article on the UCSD website, the experiment was performed with 12 short stories, 4 each in 3 specific categories: ironic-twist, mystery, and literary. The mistake in this experiment is already apparent. In terms of spoilers, literary stories are far less prone to being “ruined” by knowing the ending, thus that category shouldn’t have even been included. A study about spoilers should address stories people actually worry about having ruined for them, and quite frankly, when I talk about Raymond Carver (which is a lot!) nobody runs over asking me to please, please not tell what happens in the “The Bath.“ (Spoiler: A kid dies.)

Literary short stories often contain mysteries and ironic twists, but the stories selected here for this category don’t rely on those twists. In the introduction to the latest posthumous Kurt Vonnegut collection, Dave Eggers referred to these types of stories as “mousetrap stories.” The stories in the literary category like “The Calm” by Raymond Carver or “Up at the Villa” by W. Somerset Maugham are not these kinds of stories. I would argue instead, the revelation of plot is not why people read and enjoy these stories. What we talk about when we talk about spoilers is not Raymond Carver or W. Somerset Maugham. So, let’s not include those in a study. (Also, I’m forced to assume they mean M. Somerset Maugham because they listed a story called “Up at A Villa” which is actually a Robert Browning poem, the full title of which is ”Up at a Villa–Down in the City", whereas “Up at THE Villa” is a story by Maugham. If they did mean the Browning poem, I’d be fascinated to know their opinions on poem spoilers.)

Okay, so one of their “groups” is disqualified. What about mysteries and “ironic twist” stories? I’d agree with their findings on some level that mysteries or ironic twists might not be spoiled by knowing the ending. Half the fun of an Agatha Christie mystery or even a Sherlock Holmes story is seeing how the detectives solve the case rather than being presented with the answers. But that is a pretty blithe assertion. A classic whodunit is called a whodunit for a reason. We want to know, quite simply, whodunit? Also in my view, when people read a traditional mystery they are aware of many possible “solutions” already. Even if a reader sees a solution coming a mile away, they are still satisfied when proven correct. The study doesn’t take this aspect of an enjoyment into account.

The study also present a category of “ironic/twist” stories, with “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” being the most obvious choice. Here, I just flatly disagree with the implication that someone would enjoy this “kind” of story more if they already know the ending. In essence, this story employs the same basic device as a Twilight Zone episode insofar there is a twist. (Spoiler alert: the character is imagining his escape in the split second that his hanging takes place.)

Now, I can’t disagree that some people said they enjoyed the story more by already knowing the ending because people derive enjoyment differently on a person-to-person basis. But this study implies that the difference between being spoiled and not being spoiled is negligible, when that is clearly untrue. For example, the best way to enjoy the “Twilight Zone” episode “Time Enough at Last” is to have no knowledge of the ending. If you know it already, the irony can build in your mind the entire time, and still have a good time, but that enjoyment is simply not the same as the intended enjoyment.

Further, because the study cannot conduct an experiment on the SAME PERSON reading “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” once with advanced knowledge, and once without advanced knowledge we can’t really measure or even prove a relative enjoyment or not. (This even if we leave out different kinds of enjoyment!) If we had a parallel dimension version of the reader, then we might have a real control group. But without that the entire study is relativistic at best.

Finally, I’ll go ahead and say it, the conclusions are shoddy because the media used to conduct the experiment is the wrong kind. Short stories are wonderful and I think they’re the bread and butter of civilization. But they’re often not what we talk about when we talk about spoilers. We talk about TV, movies, comics, book series, and so on. We talk about the sorts of things people chatter about in bars, on internet message boards, on Twitter, on the street, in the subway, and at parties. No one is going around cocktail parties ruining the ending of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” for you, but they might be telling you who the final Cylon is on Battlestar Galactica or more recently, the real identity of River Song on Doctor Who. This kind of media is inherently different than several decades old short stories. Quite simply, you can’t spoil Agatha Christie in the same way that you can spoil the latest episode of Mad Men. Television is an intrisically different media than print because it is fleeting and temporary. The kinds of enjoyment we get from it is not the same as the kind we get from the written word. Yes, the structures are similar in terms of plots, but the way we perceive it and react to it is different. The study doesn’t take this into account at all, and as such brings nothing relevant to the discussion of spoilers. In short, these are the wrong spoilers to be studying.

There are a lot of types of enjoyment, and the one that seems to have been neglected is the thrill of being surprised. The folks at UCSD don’t seem to have even considered that when they conducted this study, which is the final reason why I think their conclusions are highly questionable.

I’m willing to see what the rest of the actual study claims, but for now it seems to be simply addressing the wrong media, missing the relevance of mysteries, assuming there is one kind of enjoyment, and failing to recognize that they can’t have a control group because the same person can’t experience a story two different ways. Is this even science?


Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com. He is spoiled on every single one of his own articles for Tor.com, which really sucks sometimes.

42 comments
BFG
1. BFG
You're spot on about spoilers. If you care they're horrible, if you don't then they don't matter.
As a fairly juvenile example, I was away when the last HP came out and pretty much had to go cold turkey for two weeks until I could get a copy of the book as spoilers were everywhere! At the other end of the spectrum I still haven't seen the last season of Lost and don't object to knowing (thinking I know) the ending, because I don't care as much.
BFG
2. ShellyS
There are movies and TV episodes I've never seen because the endings were spoiled for me. I can't watch them knowing what was going to happen. I also prefer seeing movies after reading the books they're based on, rather than vice versa, but I plan to make an exception for Game of Thrones! At least with visual media, there are other elements to enjoy, but with books, there are just the words. But if anyone had spoiled the River Song reveal for me, I don't think it would have been as much fun to watch it unfold on screen for me.

Anticipation IMO works best if you don't know all the details of what's coming, only that something is coming. To use the River Song reveal, the thrill was in knowing we were going to get an answer, if not the full answer, but we weren't told what the answer was. That made it fun.
BFG
3. corig123
A friend and I are slowly working our way through all of Star Trek (over 300 dvds!), and twice now, in DS9 and Voyager, I have seen things on Wikipedia about couples that don't get together until seasons later, and just spent ages dreading these horrible pairs-to-be. Bleh.
Other spoilers sometimes I forget about, happily.

I guess knowing with quite a bit of detail what was going to happen in the Harry Potter movies didn't deter most of the world from seeing them?
Ryan Britt
4. ryancbritt
@1 BFG
Yes! You are so right. Yet another variable seemingly not taken into account: one's level of investment in a story! Great point.
David Thomson
5. ZetaStriker
In order to accurately gauge a test like this, they have to risk pissing people off. An alternate reality isn't necessary; let's grab three dozen WoT fans, the Theoryland-posting, Ashaman-cosplaying kind, when A Memory of Light is released. We give them all copies of the book, and tell half of them exactly what happens to all the major characters before they even get a chance to open it. Then we'll have a real test on our hands.
BFG
6. dogshouse
Do the authors of the study attempt to extrapolate their findings to genres beyond those they studied? If so, that's bad science indeed. If not, I'm not sure its fair to the authors to debunk their study by extrapolating the findings yourself. Just something to think about. Anecdotally, from personal experience, I can't say knowing the ending or a particular plot twist in advance has ever ruined a book, movie or TV series for me. No doubt the enjoyment is different than if I hadn't known, but as you point out, there's no way to compare the experience I did have with one I did not. I'll leave you with this thought, since "The Lord of the Rings" just topped the NPR poll linked elsewhere on the Tor site: Does the 12 year old of today enjoy the books less than the first 12 year old to get her hands on the books in 1954, even if today's reader has recieved spoilers from the zeitgeist since birth?
BFG
7. ClintACK
@BFG -- I *hugely* envy you, having enjoyed 6 seasons of Lost, and having them unspoiled by the travesty that was Season 7.

Re: Spoilers... hate them, mostly.

I'd love to see more details on this study -- they actually included *classic* examples of stories that shouldn't be spoiled (like Owl Creek Bridge, and whodunits), and found that those who were spoiled enjoyed them *more*?

That really is a surprising result. Among other things, I'd love to know how you quantify something like "hedonic index."
Pamela Adams
8. Pam Adams
I tend to not be sensitive to spoilers- I admit not having read Cryoburn yet when I round out how it ended, but it didn't ruin things for me. I agree, short work can be different- especially if the initial read depends on the twist.
Ryan Britt
9. ryancbritt
@5 Zeta
Snap!

@6 dogshouse
I think the question of receiving spoilers from the zeitgeist is yet another great point and something else this study doesn't take into account. Many people are permanently spoiled on “Owl Creek” so how is it a useful story to use in a study like this? It seems like the more we talk about this the more variables crop up!

Also, to answer your question, the authors seem to imply they mean to extrapolate their findings to other subjects insofar as they make comments about transparent wrapping paper on presents!
Melanie S
10. starryharlequin
failing to recognize that they can’t have a control group because the same person can’t experience a story two different ways. Is this even science?

Well, yes. There are lots of things we can't test in the same person twice--successful drug treatments, for example. The point of a control group is to get two similar groups of people and to have enough of them that the average results should be the same in both groups. It cannot tell you the result in an individual person, and it's not intended to.

Your other criticisms stand, of course, although I'd hope their "hedonic index" was intended to measure many kinds of satisfaction, at least. I'd add that I still enjoy reading stories whose twist I already know if the story works on its own, and that applies to spoiled stories too...but that doesn't mean I didn't miss out on the experience of reading it fresh, and enjoyment isn't a good measure of that kind of thing.

(And of course it's context-dependent: I was spoiled for the endings of season 1 and season 3 of Doctor Who, but the season 1 spoiler was something I deliberately sought out long before I watched it, and season 3 was the slip of a tongue by a friend ten minutes before I was going to watch the episode. Yikes.)
Fake Name
11. ThePendragon
Yep, totally agree. For me even hints at a spoiler can significantly impact the experience. For instance, the fact that I knew there was a twist ending to KOTOR, even though I didn't know WHAT the twist was, significantly reduced my enjoyment of it. I can, from an objective and storytelling standpoint understand why it was such an awesome twist, but it didn't impact me as much as it should have, because I was expecting it.
Ryan Britt
12. ryancbritt
@10 Fair enough. I may have gotten a little riled up there at the end. I feel like this whole thing could have been a really interesting study, but instead seems really narrow.
Joe Vondracek
13. joev
Hmm. There must be some component of an individual's personality in the mix, too. Spoilers don't bother me at all, but I know for some people it's a big deal so I try to be careful. If it's a good book/movie/whatever, I can re-read/re-watch it again years or even months later, and enjoy it just as much as the first time, even though I _know_ what's going to happen. Are people for whom a story is ruined by spoilers able to re-read/re-watch something that wasn't spoiled for them and still enjoy it at all the second time around?
BFG
14. Gerry__Quinn
Only one of your criticisms is vaguely relevant, and that is the observation that there are other forms of media which were not discussed in this study.

The argument that one of the forms they studied is one in which the enjoyment is unlikely to be based on surprise is nonsense, since they reported the results from the different types separately. Almost certainly, in fact, they selected this form quite purposely, in order to see if there was a difference between the effect of spoilers on this form and ones where surprise might be expected to be more of a factor.

The argument that the results are invalid because the same person cannot be tested twice (once on each side of the experiment) is utterly without validity. That's why we have statistics.

Sure, you can argue that they could have studied other things that are more interesting to you, or that useful metrics of enjoyment are hard to come by, or that such an experiment is too artificial for much in the way of interesting conclusions to be drawn. But your specific methodological criticisms are just plain wrong.
Ryan Britt
15. ryancbritt
@13 Joev
I think people enjoy something that wasn't intially spoiled for them a second time around constantly. BUT that's a whole different kind of enjoyment and I think it relates back to the investment someone has in a narrative which may or may not be a priori to the experience of it.

I.E. A Doctor Who fan will be more annoyed about spoilers than a a non-fan. Or to apply it to this study, if you don't like Raymond Carver and have a perception of him before you read the story, then your investment in a "spoiler" will be less. Right?
Ian Tregillis
16. ITregillis
I am completely perplexed by this study. (Ditto @7: I'm wondering how one quantifies the "hedonic index". To the cynic in me, that term suggests a desperate attempt to sound sciency. But not having read the study, I'll admit I could be quite wrong.)

I'm in the camp of people who hate spoilers. I like to absorb a story (novel, movie, etc.) at my own pace. I'm so glad that psychological "hard science" has now lent quantifiable justification to people who can't bother to take 5 extra seconds to type "spoiler warning"...

Good points throughout.
Ryan Britt
17. ryancbritt
@16 Gerry Quinn
I think the totally unique experience of a narrative demands something better than a system like statistics and when we're creating a sort of enjoyment quotient, I feel like would have to apply a standard that would create a blank slate. And there is no way they can do this. I understand there is precedent for this sort of thing, but I don't think relying on that precedent does anybody any kind of favors here.

Also, I think I might not have made my surprise point clear. I was trying to say the element of surprise is a separate "kind" of enjoyment. We have kinds of stories in this piece, but not "kinds" of enjoyment. This seems wrong to me. The way it stands is: did you enjoy it or not? This seems narrow.

Better? :-)
BFG
18. s l aeris
Newsflash: *I* will decide if a spoiler ruins a book for me, not some damned study.
Sol Foster
19. colomon
Huh. It occurs to me that my enjoyment the second time I saw Dead Again was greater than my enjoyment the first time I saw it, because I delighted in seeing how the ending was set up with a lot of little details that made more sense the second time through.

(That said, I do my best to avoid spoilers, and would never never ever read the last pages of a book first.)
BFG
20. Brenda H.
I agree with the point that it depends on how much investment you have in the story. Maybe it's also the level of immersion in the story and the way individuals enjoy reading?

As well I'd also say the particular choice of story could be a factor. You mentioned Agatha Christie - for me, the enjoyment of Curtain (the final Poirot novel) hinges on not knowing while The Big Four (an global consipracy novel with Poirot) I appreciate more with not knowing but it wouldn't have the same impact. How do I know? My older sister spoiled the murderer in Curtain and I only read the book years after when I'd forgotten what she'd said. I still felt a bit deflated to read the answer and then realize 'oh right, my sister did tell me that'.
BFG
21. Azuaron
IAMA Psychologist.

While I don't have access to the actual study (it hasn't been published yet), you always have to take news stories about psychology studies with a basketball-sized grain of salt. Psychology is a very slow moving science with small, incremental advancements every year/couple of years. News articles often take a very small, specific advancement and blow it way out of proportion.

Don't think that this article can be excused because it's on the university's website. Outside of scholarly journals, researchers have to make their research seem much important than it is to get funding for the next study.

If these researchers make claims beyond the genres and form they studied, then this is bad science. If, however, they merely speculate about what this means for other genres/forms, then that is healthy and encouraged, but doesn't yet mean anything (other than more studies need to be ran).

Furthermore, the stories they used aren't exactly obscure, so I'm hoping they accounted for people who'd already been "spoiled" by previously reading it.

Finally, they measure enjoyment with a "hedonic rating," which sounds like a standard scale they slapped onto the study and may not actually be very good for measuring this kind of enjoyment.
BFG
23. Lil_liminal
The major ratings they use are hedonic, pleasure in other words is their aim. Let's take another form of pleasure coca-cola for instance. When you drink coca-cols it burns, your throat is irritated and there for you need another sip. If we took out the burn would people rate coke as more pleasurable? Probably. Similarly spoilers destroy the burn of plot twists and make the metropolis of fiction predictably navigable, do we still enjoy good writing? Sure. But fiction is more than pleasure, it's annoying, it's aggravating, it's fun, it's greedy, it's addictive. Nothing addictive is purely pleasurable, the readers of the studies books probably enjoyed them, put them down, and then proceeded to forget them, while that story with the plot twist or guessing the who done it wrong stays with you forever. Coke isn't the world's most popular drink because it's sweet, it's because it hurts us in a way we want.
Ben H
24. dripgrind
I can't say the study is good, since I haven't read it and I'm not qualified to judge it, but most of the criticisms in this article are total nonsense.

Why is including one category of stories which doesn't seem to be as sensitive to being "spoiled" a problem? If the study had *only* included that sort of story, then yes, it would be pointless, but by including some stories like that, you can compare the effects of spoilers between twist stories and literary stories.

Then you complain when the study *does* include twist stories like Owl Creek. And say "I just flatly disagree with the implication that someone would enjoy this “kind” of story more if they already know the ending". Well, that's what the study is testing, and by the findings of the study, your opinion is wrong. Maybe the methodology is flawed, but what you're saying is that you reject any kind of attempt to address the question empirically.

And as for the stuff about how you can't have a control group because we can't access parallel worlds - that applies to any study on people. It's obviously the case that you can get two similar groups of people and compare them. People aren't that different. Or are you saying that every medical study is invalid because the same person didn't receive both the placebo and the real treatment in different universes?

Also, the singular form of "media" is "medium".

Either you're trolling for hits or you really shouldn't be writing about any kind of study in public.
Birgit
25. birgit
Are people for whom a story is ruined by spoilers able to re-read/re-watch something that wasn't spoiled for them and still enjoy it at all the second time around?

Seeing/reading something for the first and second time can be a very different experience. The movie "The Sixth Sense" is a good example. The first time you can try to figure out what is going on. When you see it the second time, you can look for the clues you missed the first time. If you get spoiled, you miss seeing it the first way.
René Walling
26. cybernetic_nomad
Ryan, you are dead wrong about literary stories being included in the study. I think the study's authors were absolutely right to include literary stories. Even if they are not read for the end reveal.

In fact they should be included precisely for that reason as it would show if there is a difference between those types of stories and genre stories that some people feel are ruined by spoilers.

Using a variety of samples is something done by good scientists all the time to make good science.
Ryan Britt
27. ryancbritt
@26
That may be true, but the actual cultural debate about spoilers is not about literary short stories. At the point at which the study is talking about "spoilers" and the study was performed on a bunch of literary short stories many people have already heard of, I feel like pointing out where I think they were wasting our time.
But yes, you're right, they need more samples! Though I suppose I'm not convinced this could be measured scientifically.

@24 actually, I sort of do reject their attempt to tackle the problem empirically, because they leave out too many variables and only focus on one kind of enjoyment. Also, if the people doing a study about spoilers don't talk about real spoilers in a way that is relevant to the cultural, then the "pure research" is a waste of everyone's time. In short, I don't like the use of the word "spoiler" because the connotation is about something these guys aren't addressing.

Of course medical studies aren't invalid. :-) I just don't think the act of experiencing a fictional narrative can be studied like a heartbeat. I actually reject that notion outright. If my criticisms don't wash with an ontological science foundation, that's okay. Because the ontology from which these people proceeded doesn't wash with the way I think about art.
BFG
28. LAJG
There are studies in just about every field that make people ask "why the $%^& did they spend money studying that?", especially if there's public money involved, and whether or not the study was well designed and executed. It's just that some get more publicity than others. (My own personal reaction to this one is to shake my head and say "Oh you psychologists.")

@18 is totally right: I have a friend who will read the first couple of chapters of a novel, then skip to the end to read the last couple of chapters, then happily go back to read the middle of the book. She does this with DVDs as well!
Ryan Britt
29. ryancbritt
@21
All fair, even-handed points. I suppose we'll wait and see! :-)
Kevin Maroney
30. womzilla
I haven't read the study and now I'm not going to enjoy reading it!

As I mentioned on my Livejournal last month, I recently read, for the first time, the novel A Game of Thrones, after having watched the TV show. It was very much like the experience of re-reading, even though I hadn't read the novel before, because I could watch the
gathering of all the little events that lead to the major events. Rereading has a definite pleasure.

That pleasure is different from the pleasure of reading something for the first time. If I had sat down to read Game cold and someone had walked up and said, "Hey, don't you love that part where Bran tortures Ned to death at the end?", I would not have thanked them.

NOTE: THIS IS A JOKE. NOTHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS IN A GAME OF THRONES. IT'S ACTUALLY IN A DANCE WITH DRAGONS.
BFG
31. Scotoma
People who don't want to deal with spoilers and go to websites talking primarily about books, movies or other plot-heavy stuff, are morons. And while there's undeniable a thrill to well done twists in stories of any kind, stories that primarily depend on these twists and have nothing else to offer aren't worth it anyway. And the other kind, well, they are good beyond the cheap thrill of spoilers.
Ian Tregillis
32. ITregillis
People who don't want to deal with spoilers and go to websites talking
primarily about books, movies or other plot-heavy stuff, are morons.

Riiiight. That's why Tor.com bothers to set up separate spoiler and non-spoiler comment threads for certain popular discussions-- because so many of the visitors to this website are morons. Must be a real bummer for them.

Because obviously it's impossible to discuss a novel in depth without spoiling it. Oh, wait-- Jo Walton does it all the time. But if she doesn't want to deal with spoilers... I guess that makes her a moron, too, eh?
Juliet Kestrel
33. Juliet_Kestrel
Many people have already said a lot of what I was thinking. I haven’t read the study yet, but I look for how good of control groups the authors had, as well as the sample size (Which has been addressed already, of course no one needs alternate universes to compare the same stimuli in two different people, that is just how science works). I believe the inclusion of stories that rely as little as possible on surprise/twist/ironic endings to be a very important control aspect of an experiment like this.

I was particularly interested in your comments about the different kinds of enjoyment that the study may not have taken into account. Many people have brought up that a good story is still a good story even if you know the end, while a story that relies solely on that twist is simply not as good. It brought to my mind though the relative lack of studies that use enjoyment or happiness as a metric instead of negative feelings. There are like 10 times more studies done on depression than on happiness. Everyone here can figure out why this is the case if it isn’t broken don’t fix it sort of mentality. I however think there is a lot to be said for understanding the non-broken to obtain clearer goals when trying to fix it. That being said degrees of enjoyment and levels of happiness are very hard metrics to nail down, there is simply just less data out there about it. I wonder what a study would look like to measure subjects negative reactions to being spoiled vs not being spoiled instead of the amount of enjoyment after being spoiled.

Let’s keep the spoiler threads free from spoilers still mmkay?
BFG
34. BFG
@5 ZetaStriker - not so much a real test, more a slaughter/massacre/ general carnage (pick one)

@13 joev - currently rereading ice and fire for about the fourth time and I'm still enjoying them all, but I can't help but envy the people who haven't read it yet.

@31 Scotoma - or alternatively there are people reading for the first time who want to talk with people who are at a similar point so they can create their own theories. They don't want people joining in with evidence from three books in the future, but it's a good story and they want to talk to people equally interested/absorbed. Not moranic :) (possibly naive)
Ian Tregillis
35. ITregillis
And another thing...

Looking closely at the bar chart, it's pretty clear that the "spoiled" and "unspoiled" errorbars overlap for a minimum of 8 of the 12 cases: Owl Creek Bridge, Lamb to the Slaughter, The Bet, McHenry's Gift, Rhyme Never Pays, The Calm, Good Dog, and Plumbing all overlap within the stated range of "one standard error". (It's difficult to read the lower ranges on errorbars in the spoiled data, but the explanation of the errorbars implies symmetry because there's no accounting for systematic error. I'm taking this from the plot legend, though; the paper itself might be more rigorous in its description of the error calculation.)

That's 75% of the "Ironic Twist" stories, 50% of the "Mysteries", and 75% of the "Literary" stories. So in each category, at least half the data show no statistically significant trend. Meaning that by the authors' own methodology at least 2/3 of the data show no statistically significant difference whatsoever. That suggests there is no difference. And yet they draw the opposite conclusion.

Medical tests like clinical trials often rely on double-blind tests. That's far, far more statistically rigorous than something like this.
BFG
36. aleistra
Birgit @25 alludes to a good point that I think is very relevant here; if your first time encountering a story (whether it's written or TV/movies) is unspoiled, you can always read or watch it again, a second time, and have the "spoiled" experience. But if you've already been spoiled when encountering it for the first time, there's no way to go back on a re-read or re-watch and have the "unspoiled" experience. Regardless of which experience is more pleasurable, there's only one way to have them both, and that puts the "unspoiled" one first.
Darren James
37. b8amack
Of course, the elephant in the room is that spoilers happen because people demand them. People want them. Maybe they feel cheated when they find out, but they still deeply want to know. How many times on this site alone have you seen someone getting irate about spoilers in a WoT thread or SoIaF thread, without asking yourself "Then WHY were you scrupulously reading the comments in this thread anyhow?"

I don't enjoy spoilers, personally, but come on. Spoiler pages get hits for a reason.
BFG
38. DBones
A recent culinary study gave dishes to two different test groups, with the only difference being garlic. The group without the garlic enjoyed the dish much more, thus proving that people don't like garlic.

:P
Ben H
39. dripgrind
@ryancbritt


@24 actually, I sort of do reject their attempt to tackle the problem
empirically, because they leave out too many variables and only focus on one kind of enjoyment.


You're not rejecting the study because of their methodology, though - you're just coming up with reasons to reject the study because you don't like the conclusions. If people enjoy the thrill of surprise then why wouldn't it increase their perceived "hedonic rating" of the story?


Also, if the people doing a study about spoilers
don't talk about real spoilers in a way that is relevant to the
cultural...



Here you're claiming that short stories are somehow not "cultural". That's nonsense. When *you* talk about spoilers, you might think about spoilers in Doctor Who, but that doesn't mean "Incident at Owl Creek" doesn't count as culture. It's possible that spoilers might have different effects on the enjoyment of an ongoing TV series and a short story - if you were saying that it would be a valid criticism - but that doesn't mean that giving away the twist in a short story is somehow "not spoilers".




Of course medical studies aren't invalid. :-) I just don't think the
act of experiencing a fictional narrative can be studied like a
heartbeat. I actually reject that notion outright. If my criticisms
don't wash with an ontological science foundation, that's okay. Because
the ontology from which these people proceeded doesn't wash with the
way I think about art.



Your argument about parallel universes implies that medical studies, or any study using an intervention and a control group, are invalid. People's appreciation for fictional narratives can't be measured as directly as a heartbeat, but you can certainly ask them to rate how much they enjoyed a story and see if different interventions change that score.

Also, if you do abhor spoilers, why do you publically write articles speculating on possible twists in Doctor Who? By guessing a twist ahead of time and publicising it to people who might not have guessed it, you're going to reduce their level of surprise and (according to you) their enjoyment.

Subjective anecdote: I'd read accurate speculation about the identity of River Song (probably on this site), so I wasn't so surprised when it was revealed - but in the minutes leading up to the revelation, I could see what was coming and I enjoyed anticipating it. I think that's probably why spoilers don't reduce enjoyment. A well-written story will always build in foreshadowing and clues to the twist, so I imagine a lot of viewers/readers subconsciously know what's coming anyway. The fact that people do go back to high-quality stories with surprising plots suggests that the construction of the story is more important than being surprised.

None of this is to say that people should be forced to hear spoilers or anything - it's just that people should stop being so prissy about them. If I do really care about being spoiled on something, I've never found it hard to avoid, anyway.
BFG
40. bojo
My biggest gripe about this study is that they say some of the "spoiled" stories had the ending written in a "paragraph incorporated into the story as though it were a part of it."

I don't think that counts as a spoiler. As someone I chatted with once noted, in a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories, they tell you who the culprit is at the very beginning, the whole point of the story is learning HOW Holmes knew.

But when you learn something out of context, and then read the story, I lose the enjoyment of not reading the story as the author intended.

Using the Doctor Who reference, I found out the truth about River Song about a week before the episode that revealed it. It didn't bother me in the slightest, especially after I saw the episode, because
(SPOILERS)
I knew I would have figured it out after the first shot of the episode, where you see the name of Amy's baby.
(END SPOILERS) (see, that wasn't so hard)

But what if I hadn't watched along with the show being aired? What if I was just now watching the episode of DW where River was being introduced? I don't think the knowledge would destroy my enjoyment of the episode, but I do think I would be disappointed that I didn't get to participate in the speculation that all the first-time viewers got to experience. Thus, I will never spoil a newbie.
Hugh Arai
41. HArai
How many times on this site alone have you seen someone getting irate about spoilers in a WoT thread or SoIaF thread, without asking yourself "Then WHY were you scrupulously reading the comments in this thread anyhow?"

I never ask myself that. Because the people who "get irate" are reading the non-spoiler threads and therefore are quite justified in being angry at people too dim to understand no spoilers means them too. You really can comment on a thread without spoilers. You simply allow courtesy to others to outweigh the desire to demonstrate how knowledgeable you are.

I don't enjoy spoilers, personally, but come on. Spoiler pages get hits for a reason.

Non-spoiler threads exist for a reason too.
Anthony Pero
42. anthonypero
Ryan Britt said:


If my criticisms don't wash with an ontological science foundation, that's okay. Because the ontology from which these people proceeded doesn't wash with the way I think about art.

But the study isn't about art, or even the way people think about art... it's about how people respond to art chemically, and how that translates into emotion... which is certainly measurable and quantifiable. That said, the study misses the point. Even if most people are able to enjoy a story more because they already know the ending... all people are not wired that way. So for the sake of those who aren't...

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