Spoiler Alert - Is surprise overrated?
This story -- spoiler alert! -- has a happy ending. If it were a suspense novel, would knowing that make you enjoy it less? To their surprise, psychology researchers found that people actually rated stories higher if they knew how they came out.
Whoa -- can ruining the surprise make a story more enjoyable? That's what Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt found, and Christenfeld says he was at first stumped. Leavitt is getting his doctorate in psychology at the University of California at San Diego, and Christenfeld is a professor there.
"I was surprised by the finding," Christenfeld said. "I've spent my life not looking at the end of a book." He and Leavitt had 300 volunteers read 12 short stories, including mysteries or tales with surprise endings by the likes of Agatha Christie, John Updike and Anton Chekov, and rated them on a scale of 1 to 10. Almost without fail, and by sizeable margins, the readers rated them more highly if the researchers inserted copy near the beginning, giving away how the tales would come out.
"You get this significant reverse-spoiler effect," Christenfeld said in an interview with ABC News. "It's sort of as if knowing things puts you in a position that gives you certain advantages to understand the plot."
The researchers say their study did not give direct evidence to explain why people didn't mind having a surprise spoiled, but Christenfeld said he's thought about it and has some ideas. Perhaps, he said, people enjoy a good story as much as a good twist at the end. Even if they know how it comes out, they'll enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
"Writers use their artistry to make stories interesting, to engage readers, and to surprise them," Leavitt and Christenfeld said in their paper, to be published in the journal Psychological Science. "But giving away these surprises makes readers like stories better. This was true whether the spoiler revealed a twist at the end -- that the condemned man's daring escape was just a fantasy before the rope snapped taut around his neck -- or solved the crime -- that Poirot will discover that the apparent target of attempted murder is in fact the perpetrator."
So -- spoiler alert! -- stand forewarned that at the end of "Hamlet," the young prince says, "I am dead, Horatio." Or, if you prefer a slightly different genre -- skip this paragraph if you don't know! -- Harry Potter is still alive at the end of the series.
People have heard by now. Nevertheless, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" has been the biggest movie of the summer so far. And "Hamlet" (the play, if not the prince) is, well, immortal.
"In Shakespeare's plays there's no hiding the ending," said Christenfeld. "When you start 'Hamlet,' you know it's a tragedy."
The researchers say they're thinking about follow-up studies, though a controlled test of responses to films is more difficult than one involving short stories. But they've come away believing that surprise may be overrated.
I agree with those in the study who prefer to know how a story will end beforehand. I find it more pleasurable when I know and can focus on the journey seeing how clever the author was to get us there. There are rare times I am glad I didn't know such as the Sixth Sense. The ending was just too significant to the story line. And you know I really don't have a desire to see it again. But there are a number of movies I watch over and over even though I know what is going to happen. It just gives me pleasure. So for me I don't have a problem knowing the end 99.99% of the time. My wife disagrees and says it ruins it for her.
However, I am guessing most people are like me, which the study backs up. I think this is why so many people are drawn to religion. "Knowing" how it will turn out in the end reduces stress. Becoming an atheist and also accepting religion I found hard, because they don't have a tidy little ending to rap things up. So, if my premise here is right then it shows that religion ain't going away anytime soon because our species loves to know the end of the story and for the religious even if it is wrong. They think they know were its going which provides a sense of security and arrogance.
So, do you mind knowing how a story will turn out beforehand?
Religion Kills !!!
Numbers 31:17-18 - Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.