Spoiler alert: Study finds spoilers may be a <i>good</i> thing

Comics fans, as a whole, despise spoilers, from the death of Captain America and the revelation of Angel as Twilight to the death of the Human Torch and the unmasking of Miles Morales as the new (Ultimate) Spider-Man. As publishers like Marvel and DC Comics turn more frequently to the mainstream press to generate publicity for major plot developments, spoilers naturally become much more common; national newspapers don't usually hide their exclusives from the eyes of sensitive comics fans.

But after the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments subside, it turns out that spoilers may not be a bad thing. Really! A new study by the University of California, San Diego found that, "contrary to popular wisdom," they seem to actually enhance the enjoyment of stories.

The study, which will be published in the journal Psychological Science, focused on three types of short stories -- ironic-twist, mystery and literary -- from such authors as John Updike, Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie. Research subjects were presented with each story in three forms: as it originally appeared, with a spoiler paragraph before the story, and with that same paragraph incorporated into the text.

As you may have guessed, the subjects preferred to spoiled versions to the unspoiled ones (more so in the case of the ironic-twist and mystery stories than in the literary ones): "Knowing ahead of time that Poirot will discover that the apparent target of attempted murder is, in fact, the perpetrator not only didn’t hurt enjoyment of the story but actually improved it."

Why that is, we're told, goes beyond the scope of the study. But one researcher suggests that it's because plot doesn't matter that much.

“Plots are just excuses for great writing," said Nicholas Christenfeld, a professor of social psychology at UC San Diego. "What the plot is is (almost) irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing. Monet’s paintings aren’t really about water lilies."

There's also a chance that knowing the identity of the killer or her victim, or realizing a long-forgotten character will reappear to save the day, may make the story easier to process. “So it could be that 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," said Jonathan Leavitt, a psychology doctoral student.

Keep that in mind -- heck, bookmark the study! -- the next time you're harangued for letting slip a plot detail.

(via The Guardian)

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