Spoiler alert: Story spoilers can hurt entertainment

December 10, 2015

While many rabid fans may have scratched their heads when a 2011 study showed that spoilers could improve story enjoyment, a recent experiment, conducted by researchers Benjamin Johnson (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) and Judith Rosenbaum (Albany State University), shows that narrative spoilers can ruin a story. Their findings show that spoilers reduce people's entertainment experiences.

"Our study is the first to show that people's widespread beliefs about spoilers being harmful are actually well-founded and not a myth," says Johnson. Furthermore, in a follow-up study, Johnson and Rosenbaum found that the effects of spoilers are actually linked to people's personality traits. Johnson: "While the worry and anger expressed by many media users about 'spoilers' in online discussions or reviews is not completely unfounded, fans should examine themselves before they get worked up about an unexpected spoiler."

The first study, published in Communication Research this month, tested how 412 university students responded to spoiled and unspoiled short stories. Spoiled stories were rated as less suspenseful and fun. Spoilers also reduced how 'moving and thought-provoking' a story was and how much the reader felt immersed into the story's world. Johnson says that the results were a bit of a surprise. "We expected spoilers to improve some outcomes, but hurt others. Instead, we saw consistently negative consequences of story spoilers," he says.

Quick, instinctive thinkers prefer spoiled stories

These findings contradict a study carried out by two researchers in California in 2011 that found spoilers could improve story enjoyment. Johnson and Rosenbaum attribute the competing results to differences in how enjoyment is understood and measured. They have also identified that lead people to seek out or dislike spoilers (in a publication due next year in Psychology of Popular Media Culture).

In that latest experiment, people's needs for cognition (enjoying deep thinking) and affect (enjoying emotional experiences) made a difference. "We found that people who have a low need for cognition prefer their stories to be spoiled, because it makes the plot easier to follow. Meanwhile, people who have a high need for affect enjoy unspoiled stories more, because they desire the thrill of a surprise," says Rosenbaum.

Explore further: Spoiler alert: Stories are not spoiled by 'spoilers'

More information: B. K. Johnson et al. Spoiler Alert: Consequences of Narrative Spoilers for Dimensions of Enjoyment, Appreciation, and Transportation, Communication Research (2014). DOI: 10.1177/0093650214564051

Related Stories

Spoiler alert: Stories are not spoiled by 'spoilers'

August 10, 2011

Many of us go to extraordinary lengths to avoid learning the endings of stories we have yet to read or see – plugging our ears, for example, and loudly repeating "la-la-la-la," when discussion threatens to reveal the ...

Interpersonal communication key to daughters' well-being

November 18, 2015

When faced with adversity, humans make meaning of their experiences through storytelling. Scholars also have found that women, in particular, express their emotions through 'narrative sense-making' and relate to and support ...

Fact or fiction: Which do moviegoers prefer?

August 26, 2014

Do you feel sadder watching a documentary about war or a drama about a young person dying of cancer? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers mistakenly believe they will have stronger emotional ...

Recommended for you

Fossils of early tetrapods unearthed in Scotland

December 7, 2016

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers working at a dig site in Scotland has found tetrapod fossils dated to approximately 15 million years after the Devonian mass extinction—a time period experts in the field have referred ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.