Wednesday, August 17, 2011

People Prefer Spoilers? No Way

Here’s a fascinating tidbit. According to a recent study by psychologists, humans enjoy movies, television, books, and even sporting events more when they are given spoilers exposing twists and giving away the ending before they start to watch/read. I don't buy it. Let’s see what you think.

This particular study involved a small group (30 students) reading some classic short stories. Some were told the ending in advance, other weren’t, and then they were asked how much they enjoyed the stories. The ones who were told the endings rated the stories higher. Hence, the study concluded, spoilers help us enjoy entertainment more. Indeed, the study authors reason that people enjoy entertainment more when they are given spoilers because that frees brainpower that would otherwise be needed to anticipate the ending. In other words, it makes it easier to understand and digest what is happening and gives you a chance to enjoy the show/book on its own merits without having to spend your time trying to solve what is going on, i.e. it lets you “think more deeply about the entertainment as a whole.”

Uh... no.

For starters, a sample of 30 people is way too small to be meaningful. Not to mention that testing only college students is too homogenous a sample to extrapolate to the public at large. Nor is testing short stories in any way equivalent to testing films, television, sports, or even longer stories. And in any event, this just doesn’t make sense given human experience.

Human behavior generally conforms to human psychology. In other words, over thousands of years, we learn what works and what doesn’t and we act accordingly. We may not know why we do it, but we do it. And our behavior is completely opposed to the results of this “study.” For example, 3000 years of recorded storytelling tell us that storytellers around the globe have learned that the best way to grab and hold an audience’s attention is to wait to spring the surprises. Thus, endings to stories are almost always where “the reveal” happens and it’s rare for a storyteller to give away an ending or surprise early on.

For another example, now that we have the internet and we can ruin each other’s lives, people get truly irate if you don’t post a spoiler warning before blurting out some tidbit (no matter how minor) about a film they haven’t seen or a book they haven’t read. Are we to believe everyone is just deluded?

And here’s another: if this is true, then why don't ratings improve for reruns? Shouldn’t we enjoy reruns more than the original since we are no longer perplexed, waiting to see what happens? And why don’t people tape sporting events and watch them once they know the results? To the contrary, sports don’t even go into re-runs because almost no one will watch a sporting event when they already know who won.

The fact is that people get a great deal more enjoyment out of the shocks, the twists and turns, the surprises and the unexpected moments in a story or sporting event than they do from watching “the craft” of the writer or director or actor or athletes.

Moreover, something else about the study should be pointed out. The example they used when releasing this study to back up their conclusion was Columbo. They claimed their study explains why Columbo was so popular, i.e. because it told you right away who committed the crime. Hence, people like the spoilers. But that misses the point. What made Columbo enjoyable was not the mystery of who did the crime, but how Columbo would go about solving the crime. Columbo was not about solving the crime, it was about the cat and mouse game between the seemingly-overmatched bumbling detective and the arrogant killers. And in that cat and mouse game, the twists and turns were not spoiled. So even their example is wrong.

It seems obvious to me this study is just wrong. It logically makes little sense and human experience contradicts it. I’d say this study is bunk.

FYI, My next article posts at BH tomorrow morning. It will post here as well. This one is about Hollywood and actresses.


thundercatkp said...

I like it when they tell just enough to make me want to see it. But giving away the ending? What would be the point of watching it?

It has felt lately that the trailers show all the best parts of a movie.

CrispyRice said...

Perhaps you do not want to know that I often read the last few pages of a book before the rest of it, eh?

Didn't think so...

I will add that I often enjoy movies and books more the second time around. Not because I have limited brain power which is blissfully freed up from having to guess the ending, but because when I have a really good story, I can enjoy it on a different and deeper level than when I'm worried about how it ends. I can analyze things more, and I like that.

It also strikes me that for too many modern movies, the ending (the twist!!!) is all they have. The rest of the story is just a waste. Spoil the twist and you've spoiled all there is.

AndrewPrice said...

thundercat, I think people like to know what they're getting into, but don't want the endings ruined. This study strikes me as just wrong.

I agree about modern trailers, they give too much away.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I don't disagree that a story can be more enjoyable a second time through when you can look for different things, but I don't think that shows that people want the endings spoiled the first time they see the films. I would bet that if you made a policy one summer of telling people how every movie ends, ticket sales would collapse.

Ed said...

Andrew, I definitely don't like having movies or books spoiled for me the first time through, but like Crispy, I do get a different kind of enjoyment out of them the second time. Of course, I only re-read or rewatch the ones that were good.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I can definitely see both. Indeed, I'm in the same boat as you. But I don't like having stories spoiled for me the first time through -- I don't think that enhances the story.

Also, I think the evidence of human nature is consistent with that view, that we don't like spoilers as a species.

thundercatkp said...

After thinking about it, I agree with CrispyRice. I still like re-watching Rope because I like to analyze things...and I've watched that at least 10 times over a month.

I usually catch little things I missed the first or second time around. Especially in cartoon movies...some of the adult humor doesn't sink in until I have seen it a few times.

AndrewPrice said...

thundercat, I think its probably true that there different types of enjoyment and the second time or even third time through is usually when most of depth of the story tends to come across. But that doesn't mean people want their stories spoiled for them.

rlaWTX said...

It sounds to me like they asked a very narrow question. Did they take in to account other variables that may affect whether people want to know the end first? I bet there are personality difference between people who read the end of the book first regularly and those who go out of their way not to come across spoilers. Maybe some Tolerance for Ambiguity differences, or Control, etc. Some people HATE surprise parties. Others revel in not knowing what is going to happen next in life.

OOPS - can you tall classes are about to start again...

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, There was very little detail that I could find on this study. But it struck me that (1) the sample size is too small, (2) the sample group is not representative, (3) the choice of short stories is not representative of anything more than short stories, (4) there was little or not control for other possible factors, and (5) their conclusions far exceeded the results they obtained.

I think they have tapped into two different things without realizing it. For one, you have the entertainment value of the unknown... this is what twists and sports are all about. On the other hand, you have the enjoyment of digging into the material.

But I think you only get that second enjoyment when the story itself deserves it (their use of classics rather than random short stories all but guaranteed an abnormally high level of quality), and it depends on the test subject. I guarantee you that people who love summer blockbusters aren't interested in the quality of the work... they just want the story.

rlaWTX said...

can you give me authors' names and where it was published?

thundercatkp said...

I wasn't disagreeing with you. I don't think people want their stories spoiled either.

The test group were college students. I wonder if they were getting graded for the stories. Because that would change everything also. When I was in college and being graded on a story or doing a character analysis I would work backwards. So the study is flawed.

Joel Farnham said...

The way this study was conducted reminds me about how the studies for various toothpaste ads. How my stats professor put it? To get the three out of four dentists, the ad agency would contact four dentists at a time. When they got the sample they needed, three dentist likes Colgate and one liked Closeup then they would put that in the file and air the ad. It became a standard practice.

I don't like spoilers generally, yet I will continue reading an article that has spoilers in it.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Here's what I have.

Here's the link to the story at Reuters.... LINK.

The author's names are Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt. It will be published (but apparently hasn't been yet) in Psychological Science.

I wasn't able to find much more on it.

T-Rav said...

I never enjoy it when they give all the spoilers up front. It ruins my viewing experience. I'm even reticent about telling too much of something I've seen to my friends and relatives, in case they want to watch it at some point (even though they tell me to go ahead and spoil it for them, but they're weird).

AndrewPrice said...

thundercat, I didn't think you were, I was just clarifying my thoughts.

I think there are several dangers in using just college students. For one thing, they may be more interested in reading in detail than average members of the public. And they be more interested in "the craft" if they are English majors or something similar. Also, they may be in better practice at close reading texts to get details and out of practice of just enjoying what they read. So I think using college students as a base for this test makes it hard to apply its results to the general public. It would be like testing what people think of shovels, but then only polling gardeners.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I think some spoilers are ok, but people do get very upset when you give away key plot details.

I agree with your assessment of the study. The sample size is too small and the test is too narrow to really reach any broad conclusions about humans generally -- especially since it seems to contradict everything we know about how humans behave.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, As with all things human, I'm sure that people view this differently. Some people like spoilers, others don't. Looking at the evidence, I think the vast majority of the public doesn't.

I prefer not to have spoilers, but to me it matters more depending on the story. In something like The Matrix, I like to go in cold without knowing anything because I like being immersed in the unknown aspect of it. But for something more generic, it's not as big of a deal -- though I still prefer not to know the first time through.

thundercatkp said...

College students also just might want to get the assignment done quickly so...I mean there is soooo any important others things to do. In all 3 semesters of English there where only a few students that actually cared about anything more than just getting by.

thundercatkp said...

Discussion me and Joel just had:

What about movies that show the ending first? You know what is going to happen. Yet you watch to see how it happens.

AndrewPrice said...

thundercat, There are many reasons in my book to question the use of college students. But sadly, that's what they generally find at colleges -- unless they get outside volunteers.

On the movies that give you the ending in advance, they are usual doing two different things. First, they give you only a teaser, without enough information to actually spoil it. For example, they often show you someone being killed, but don't show you who did it. Or they show you something that isn't what it appears. So this is often a head fake or a tease at best.

Secondly, when they do give you the actual ending (like with Columbo), the story tends to focus on something other than the ending you see.

thundercatkp said...

I don't like prequels either. I don't care what happened before the current film. At least I didn't like the Star Wars one.

AndrewPrice said...

The Star Wars prequels stunk.

LawHawkRFD said...

The ones who preferred knowing the plot and the ending first are future Democrat/socialists. They need the comfort of knowing what's going to happen. They don't understand "no risk, no reward."

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, LOL! That sounds like something you would read in a political treatise!

Tam said...

I was part of an experiment in a college class where the professor split us into 3 groups to read a short group had full spoilers, one group had hints, one group got nothing. The short story was "The Wife's Story" by Ursula LeGuin. In our experiment, I think that the group with the hints enjoyed it best, but the group with full knowledge of the outcome and twist enjoyed it least. (and I might add, were quite smug and superior in their full knowledge and understanding and seemed to enjoy watching others squirm and struggle to fully comprehed...that fits LawHawk's theory that fans of spoilers are democrats) I was in the group that got no hints, and I loved it, but overall the group didn't get it. I think if we are talking about the general public, hints are good to enhance enjoyment, but actual spoilers *ahem* SPOIL the story/movie.

I've also watched and re-watched and watched again (and read blogs and analysis and had hours long conversations with my 3 sisters) episodes of LOST. The initial experience is important for the surprise and enjoyment and empathizing with the characters...if you know too much, you can't really understand the experience of the characters. All the rewatching, analyzing, and discussing enhances the initial experience rather than spoiling it.

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, That's interesting that you were involved in a similar experiment! And even more interesting that your results came out differently. In fact, your results are exactly what I would expect.

I think giving people hints adds excitement to a story just like giving clues to a mystery makes the mystery more interesting. Our brains are wired to solve mysteries.... it's what we do. So by giving hints, you're essentially teasing that part of the brain and engaging it in what it likes doing best. But giving too many hints (i.e. spoilers) just turn that part of the brain off again and thus can't give the same level of enjoyment.

So I think the answer is that some spoilers are good (which explains movie trailers) and some are bad (which explains why people hate being given "spolers").

And then, the after-the-fact experience, as you point out with Lost, is something different again. That's where the craft and the deep thought enter into it -- because at that point you have all the clues and you have the time to sort it all out/process it more fully, and you can enjoy it at your own speed.

T-Rav said...

OT: Andrew, I just saw a link to your Hollywood and pedophilia article on one of the conservative blogs I visit. Thought you might be pleased by the info.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Cool, thanks! What blog?

Anonymous said...

All things being equal, I'd prefer no spoilers. Of course, even if I read a spoiler about a film I was interested in seeing, my short-term memory is so bad that I'd probably forget about it by the time I saw it.

However, this raises an interesting point that I've been thinking about lately. Do people watch movies differently when they know there's a twist at the end? People saw The 6th Sense and didn't expect a thing. When M. Night Shyamalan's next few films were released and he was known as the king of the twist ending, it was as if people were "programmed" to look for clues and hints along the way, possibly to the detriment of the experience as a whole.

So if I'm aware of Major Spoiler A in Movie B, am I still capable of enjoying the film, or will I be looking for clues as I go? Of course, sometimes when I'm aware of a spoiler, I'll still enjoy the movie and the suspense is created from wondering when X will happen. "Is this the scene? Is this the scene?" Etc.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, My memory doesn't forget spoilers... sadly.

On your question, I think it does contribute. For one thing, Sixth Sense was such a home run that people compared all of his later films to it. That was unfair to the experience because few other films can hold up when compared to one of the best films of all time. So people were complaining about films they otherwise would have considered excellent if they hadn't had Sense to compare it to.

Indeed, it seems to be very human to judge films against their own level of competition rather than on an objective scale. Thus, we can actually rate some total schlock higher than something much better, just because the schlock is better than other schlock in its class and the better film is worse than the other films in its class. . . even though that really makes no sense if you compared them head to head.

Whether the twist in Sense in particular contributed to this, I would say two things. First, I don't think it necessarily had to. In other words, there's no reason for people to be disappointed in later films if there is no twist. Had he made a chick flick or a comedy, no one would have expected a twist and they wouldn't have been upset by its absence.

BUT, (second), M.Night made a huge mistake in trying to make similar films following Sense that also relied on twists. Thus, he guaranteed that people would make the comparison. And in that comparison, the later films just couldn't compete.

So the answer I would give is yes it did matter, but it didn't need to matter. He should have done something completely different first to get some separation and defuse the issue first.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, it was at Ace of Spades HQ ( Didn't get much mention, just a quickie link, but there were a few comments on it.

Joel Farnham said...


I found it. It is in the Evening thread. Yours is the first link.

Ace of Spades link.

It is competition with a French actor urinating on a plane.

T-Rav said...

Joel, I was trying not to mention that. I thought it might detract from the achievement.

AndrewPrice said...

That is quite an achievement! LOL!

I read through the comments. These people aren't using a lot of gray matter. Very limited vision.

Koshcat said...

God, I hope my tax money didn't pay for this "study". Don't you know the polar bears are drowning! (sob, sob)

I like teasers but not overt spoilers. I have to disagree with you though about sporting events. You forgot ESPN Classic which is all they do. Plus the NFL network replays games from the last week and previous superbowels. The NHL network is still broadcasting playoff games. Drives my wife insane, but sometimes I like to watch these old games. Usually I have forgotten many of the plays that led up to the finale. Puts a particular memorable play into prospective. For example, many remember the Cal vs. Stanford football game where Cal ran the kickoff back with five laterals and no time left to win the game. but what is forgotten was a young Stanford quarterback who had strapped the team on his back to come from behind and take the lead. One of Elways greatest college games.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, There is definitely a market for replays of sporting events, but it is very small. Even the Olympics proved that when they found that tape delayed events drew very small ratings compared to live events.

But let me clarify -- while some people do enjoy watching sporting events about which they know the outcome, the majority of the public does not.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew: they ain't called morons for nothin', LOL!
Congratulations though! Your link alongside a french actor peeing on a plane is actually a high compliment coming from the morons. :^)

Good post! I concur wholeheartedly.
There's been a lot of "studies" like this that use bad science, try to fit the results of the study to their preconceived notions, a serious lack of reasoning skills and critical thinking skills, and ignoring other explanations.

I wish I could say I'm surprised but since most college grads and professors are never taught to think freely, critically or creatively free of PC and speech codes, then these are the kind of bogus studies we'll be seeing and have been.

Now when I read about a study the first thing I do is try to find the study and see what these so-called scientists did and how they justify their conclusions and results.

To be fair the the actual scientists conducting studies, many times it's the reporter that gets it wrong, but there's no denying, as in this case, it's the mentally impaired "geniuses" that got it all wrong.

Or not EVEN at the level of wrong.

At any rate, I like teasers but hate spoilers (although I can still enjoy a good flick if I happen to stumble across one, just not quite as much).

My wife drive me nuts sometimes (okay, more than sometimes) when we're watching a film I have seen because she's always asking questions.
But even if I give her the spoilers she don't enjoy it as much as if I only give teasers.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, That's true about studies and I always try to find the underlying study for the same reason. In this case, I couldn't.

I agree that there is too much shoddy science. Unfortunately, there seems to be little in the way of consequences to sharpen their efforts these days. Oh well.

Yeah, they ain't called morons for nothing! What I think is funny is the attitude "I've heard similar things before so who cares?" It never dawns on them that (1) this could be the straw that breaks the camel, (2) it's a worthy issue to discuss even if some retard already heard something similar back when, and (3) this is the sort of thing that can lead to a genuine change by rousting these people from Hollywood. It's amazing to me how often conservatives can't see the forest because they're too ignorant to even look at the tree they are staring at.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Aye! That's true. Most commenters at AOS usually try to be funny, and some are. And there's a few commenters that make some good points sometimes (can be hard to find though).
Unfortunately there are also some real retards there.

Personally, I rarely have time to sift through the retards and wannabe jokers to find the gems.

I like Ace and crew when they're in a groove and bring their A game but there's also some dreck there I will simply ignore.

Here that's not a problem. Even if I disagree with you, LawHawk or Bev or some of my fellow commenters (which is rare) you all still give me something to think about. (:^)

BTW, I read your BH article about possible Hoollywood pedophiles (and pedastry) and I think there should be an investigation.

Based on all the big Hollywood names that support Polanski and care nothing for justice, I wouldn't be shocked to find that Feldman's allegations are true.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I just get sick of seeing it over and over and over in conservative ranks... "I don't know nothing about this and I don't care." And then these same people start criticizing people who actually do know what they're talking about. It's very frustrating the ignorance seems to have become a point of pride with some many "conservatives."

(I'm getting a lot of that with today's article about actresses too.)

I agree about needing the investigation. I think not only is that the right thing to do, but it would clean up Hollywood and stop a lot of what conservatives complain about.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I hear you Andrew.

What those imbeciles are really sayin' is: "I'm a troll! Look at me!"

They're too stupid to realize that no one is impressed that they are obsessed with tellin' everyone how much they don't care and that they have no cogent points to make.

They are the conservative version (not really conservative as far as character, nobility or honor) of the Hufftsers and Kos Kids.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I agree totally. They are basically trolls, even if they don't know it. And no one cares that they are proud of their ignorance. All they are doing is disgracing themselves and making the people around them look bad by trumpeting their ignorance.

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