Along with a new Star Wars movie comes a tidal wave of spoiler fear. Reddit has even threatened to ban users who post spoilers. And while you might be of the mindset that spoilers don’t really matter, science says you’re wrong.
A joint study by researchers at Vrije University in Amsterdam and Albany State University shows that narrative spoilers have a direct correlation with reduced entertainment experiences.
The study tested how 412 university students reacted to short stories and found that students rated stories that had already been spoiled as less suspenseful, less thought-provoking and less fun. “We expected spoilers to improve some outcomes, but hurt others. Instead, we saw consistently negative consequences of story spoilers,” researcher Benjamin Johnson said.
These findings contradict a 2011 study, based on a University of California San Diego experiment, claiming that spoilers could make surprises more fun for readers. So everyone who felt justified tweeting that Jon Snow died should maybe reconsider come next season of Game of Thrones. (Is he really dead anyway? His face is on the poster for Season 6! And he never cut his hair…)
Two Stories, Different Endings
So which study is right? Possibly both.
The difference in results between the two studies could be chalked up to different personality types. The team behind the new findings plan on releasing a study next year on how personality traits affect our feelings about spoilers. Their research has found that people who prefer deep thinking about stories prefer spoilers because it makes plots easier to follow, but readers who seek an emotional response do not.
While the study only tested short stories, there’s no reason the same psychology doesn’t apply to movies and television. All rely on, typically, linear storytelling in which suspense plays a significant role in the enjoyment.
But that doesn’t mean you should snap at your chatty coworker who went to the midnight showing just yet.
“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,” Johnson said.
And if you’re still not convinced that you shouldn’t plot spoil, maybe you’ll listen to Han Solo.