Monday 24 August 2015

Research Bulletin: Do spoilers spoil stories for everyone?

Many of us go out of our way to avoid information about a new movie or book because we believe that it will spoil our enjoyment of the story. But does knowing plot events and outcomes actually make a narrative less enjoyable? Evidence from research is mixed, with some studies showing that people enjoy stories more when the outcome is known and other research suggesting that the opposite is true.

One possible reason for these contradictory findings is that knowing the outcome of a story may only spoil it for certain people but not others. A recent study by Judith Rosenbaum (Albany State University) and Benjamin Johnson (VU University Amsterdam) tested this possibility by looking at two personality traits: (1) Need for Affect (the tendency to seek out and enjoy emotional situations) and (2) Need for Cognition (the tendency to engage in and enjoy thinking).

The researchers first asked undergraduate students to read a story preview for one of three different short stories. For half of the participants, the preview contained spoilers and for the rest it did not. The participants then read the full story and answered questionnaires measuring how much they enjoyed the story, as well as personality traits including Need for Cognition and Need for Affect. Interestingly, participants who had a high Need for Affect enjoyed unspoiled stories more than spoiled stories. On the other hand, participants who had a high Need for Cognition were no more or less likely to enjoy a spoiled story over an unspoiled story. 
The researchers hypothesize that not knowing how a story turns out can increase suspense and arousal, leading to greater enjoyment. Unspoiled stories may therefore be especially enjoyable for people with a high Need for Affect, who have a greater desire for emotional stimulation. This emotional suspense and arousal, however, is unrelated to one’s tendency to seek out and enjoy complex thought, which may explain why story enjoyment among those high in Need for Cognition was not affected by spoilers.

This study offers an interesting insight into how personality traits play a role in the relationship between spoilers and enjoyment. It also highlights the importance of measuring personality traits in psychological research. It appears that whether or not spoilers spoil a story depends on who you are!

Rosenbaum, J. E., & Johnson, B. K. (2015, March 9). Who’s Afraid of Spoilers? Need for Cognition, Need for Affect, and Narrative Selection and Enjoyment. Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

Post by Marina Rain.

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