People enjoy it when short-stories are spoiled. The finding, published by U.C. San Diego researchers, concluded that readers preferred a spoiler paragraph before diving into short fiction, as opposed to just enjoying it as is. We can't identify with this, but understand the finding. The academics theorized the preference as due these possibilities: 1) Readers understand the story more when its spoiled. 2) A spoiled story means readers can enjoy the quality of the writing.
The U.C. San Diego researchers, who compiled this chart showcasing the spoiler ratings of three genres (ironic twist stories, mysteries or literary stories), posited this about their findings: "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."
Even though we are no fans of spoilers, Wired's Jonah Lehrer makes a good case for why humans derive pleasure in understanding. "The human mind is a prediction machine, which means that it registers most surprises as a cognitive failure, a mental mistake," he writes. "Our first reaction is almost never 'How cool! I never saw that coming!' Instead, we feel embarrassed by our gullibility, the dismay of a prediction error." Personally we've never felt duped by a twist-ending of a good story, but do understand his sentiment that readers won't enjoy a surprise twist--when its executed poorly that is.
As far as the second reason (a good surprise lets you focus on the quality of telling), Jezebel's Margaret Hartmann debunked it quite well with a movie-related anecdote. "According to the researchers, I actually enjoyed Fight Club more because my best friend handed me the DVD and said, 'I think you're going to like this. It's awesome because Brad Pitt isn't real.'" The A.V. Club's Sean O'Neal suggested another theory, boiled down to readers just liked how the spoiled stories "cut to the chase." Which is to say, readers liked the cliff-notes version.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.