Spoiler alert: Consequences of narrative spoilers on media choice and dimensions of enjoyment

TitleSpoiler alert: Consequences of narrative spoilers on media choice and dimensions of enjoyment
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Johnson, B. K., and J. E. Rosenbaum
Affiliation (1st Author)The Ohio State University, USA
Section or WGAudience Section
DateThurs 27 June
Slot CodeAUDT1b
Slot Code (Keyword)AUDT1b
Time of Session9:00-10:30
Session TitleCommercial Communication and the Audience
Submission ID5509

As indicated by the abundant use of the phrase “spoiler alert!”, many people actively avoid spoilers for books, films, television programs, and other narrative entertainment. This in response to the conventionally held belief that knowing how a narrative will end ruins the enjoyment of the story. A recent investigation, however, demonstrated the reverse, namely that prior exposure to spoilers for short stories actually enhanced self-reported enjoyment (Leavitt & Christenfeld, 2011). In other words, knowing how a story turns out positively impacted how much a person enjoyed it. The present study sought to replicate and extend these findings in two ways. First of all, we examined whether the conventional expectation that spoilers reduce enjoyment would lead individuals, when asked to choose, to prefer unspoiled over spoiled stories. Second, we elaborated on the previous examination of the effect of spoilers on enjoyment by extending the single item for measuring enjoyment used by Leavitt and Christenfeld to the four dimensions conceptualized by Oliver and Bartsch (2010), namely fun, moving/thought provoking, lasting impression, and suspense. In keeping with Leavitt and Christenfeld, we predicted that exposure to spoilers would increase how moving a story was and how much of a lasting impression it left. In contrast, given that narrative uncertainty heightens the emotional experience (Zillmann, 2006), we expected unspoiled stories to score higher on fun and suspense. An experiment using a within-subjects design was conducted (N = 412), and a series of repeated-measures ANOVAs was carried out to test the hypotheses. With regard to media choice, we found no difference between spoiled and unspoiled stories, F(1, 411) = 0.01, p = .91. As expected, unspoiled stories were rated as more fun, F(1, 411) = 3.38, p = .067, and more suspenseful, F(1, 411) = 5.56, p = .019. Interestingly, our research showed that, contrary to our expectations, respondents rated unspoiled stories as more moving than spoiled stories, F(1, 411) = 6.71, p = .010. Moreover, we did not observe any effect for a story’s lasting impression. Finally, a general measure of enjoyment suggested, contrary to Leavitt and Christenfeld’s findings, that unspoiled stories were more enjoyable, F(1, 411) = 3.67, p = .056. In short, although our study’s results are not unequivocal, they do point to some interesting findings. Not only did our investigation show that respondents experienced unspoiled stories as more fun and more suspenseful, it also found that unspoiled stories were rated higher in terms of moving the respondents and enjoyment in general. These results are in contrast to the only prior experimental study of this topic, and point to the possibility of moderating variables. Some possible moderating variables to consider are audience involvement and appreciation of different genres, or audience traits such as sensation seeking and need for closure. Thus, although it seems evident that spoilers do affect enjoyment, follow-up studies are needed to more fully and clearly account for their impact on audience responses to entertainment.

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