We might have to change the name of “spoilers” to “giveaways.” They may not be that bad after all.
A recent study shows that people enjoy movies, books and other stories when they know the ending ahead of time.
Nicholas Christenfeld, a University of California, San Diego professor of social psychology, along with Jonathan Leavitt, a PhD candidate at UC San Diego studying psychology, organized an experiment where volunteers were given three stories of different genres, written by well-known authors such as John Updike and Anton Chekhov. One of those stories had a spoiler in a separate paragraph, another had the spoiler worked into the opening paragraph and a last one did not have any hint of the ending. Participants typically enjoyed the stories with the spoiler at the very beginning the most, even when the story had an unexpected twist ending or was a murder mystery.
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Oops, did we just give away the ending of the study? You’re welcome. You’ll be able to read the full study in September’s issue of Psychological Science.
There are a few plausible explanations for this outcome. Christenfeld and Leavitt conclude that viewers are more likely to enjoy the actual story when they know the ending rather than waiting impatiently to find out that so-and-so killed so-and-so with the this-that-and-the-other-thing.
“Plots are just excuses for great writing. What the plot is is (almost) irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing,” Christenfeld said.
Viewers and readers also have the opportunity to see the plot develop into the finale, and it “may allow readers to organize developments in the story, anticipate the implications of events, and resolve ambiguities that occur in the course of reading,” Leavitt said.
Nevertheless, NewsFeed hasn’t seen the end of Lost yet, so we’ll be covering our ears and yelling “la-la-la” until then.
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Zachary Cohen is a contributor for TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Zachary_Cohen. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.