Spoilers: Can they actually be a good thing after all?

A study shows that River Song was wrong to keep secrets.

Common consensus holds that spoilers are bad for you. The very word implies information that will curdle your experience of a movie, TV show or book, but is that really true? A study published last year shook the foundations of Steven Moffat’s campaign to squash spoilers via the bothersome mouthpiece of River Song. The experiment exposed people to books with spoilers inserted in the text and some without, and alarmingly found that no matter what the genre, people enjoyed the stories more when they knew the ending. Researchers Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt reasoned that knowing the surprise helps us relish the journey more, enabling us to anticipate events and still feel the suspense of finding out how the outcome unfolds.

For those who can’t fathom that theory and would still cross over to the other side of the street when they see a spoiler coming, you can be assured that this website is a sturdy shield against them. We always include a warning to give people a choice, as we do with the magazine, but sometimes whilst writing we fall prey to spoilers ourselves. This happened recently where I was indecently exposed to the crucial final moments of one of the most anticipated movies of this year: The Hunger Games. I soldiered on through, determined to read the book in spite of this, and found that it didn’t matter one grot that I knew the resolve. I was actually less anxious, knowing which characters were marked for death in advance. Perhaps knowing the fate of Dumbledore would have lessened the hours of sobbing that followed that harrowing and unexpected passage. I thought knowing the spoiler might make me a lazy reader in no hurry to find out what I already knew, but such was the suspense that the novel became an extra appendage for an entire weekend until the final page.

The researchers proposed that we only think spoilers are the source of all evil because we cannot compare a spoiled and unspoiled experience of a story. It seems that in this age of social media, we’re hyper-aware of stumbling upon someone talking candidly about the plot of a film over a Tweet or a wall post. A degree of self-control has to be exercised though; a while back we posted a link to a story about Game Of Thrones Season Two, and a spoiler-phobic Tweeter replied condemning the mere implication of spoilers. Just don’t click on the link. Sometimes, depending on the genre, the plot isn’t even a surprise that the internet could spoil. If it’s a horror, you can safely assume the promiscuous peeps will die and the brunette will survive. Most follow a prescribed formula and this has continued throughout history. It’s hard to imagine the Ancient Greeks shooting dirty looks at the toga-wearer who revealed the play would end in tragedy.

Most of us will be resolute in whether we avoid or welcome spoilers, but perhaps those who haven’t dared to flick to the final pages or have a sneaky glance at Wikipedia should give it a go in the name of psychological study. You might discover that when the riddles are unravelled you can relax and enjoy the build-up, I was pleasantly surprised and you might be too. Even so, I did look forward to going into book two of The Hunger Games trilogy blind, until I picked up book three by mistake, read the blurb and realised I’d just unwittingly done it again.