Movies with surprise endings, like The Sixth Sense (starring Bruce Willis and Hayley Joel Osment) are not, it turns out, ruined by spoilers.

We’ve all dodged conversations about who shot JR to covering our eyes when the football results flash up and we go to enormous lengths to not have surprise endings spoiled.


But it seems they may all be in vain.

For, far from ruining a book, TV program or football match, we may actually enjoy it more if we know the result in advance.

Psychologists say that freeing up the brainpower we would have used in anticipating the ending allows us to think more deeply about the entertainment as a whole.

In other words, making it easier to understand, is a plus.

The theory, from a study of people’s enjoyment of short stories, helps explain why a favorite book can be read time and time again or why we will watch a beloved film over and over.

It could also shed light on why the detective series Columbo was so popular.

Unlike a conventional ‘whodunit’ in which the identity of the murderer is only revealed at the very end, the killer was unmasked in the opening minutes.

Viewers then watched Columbo, played by Peter Falk, solve the crime and catch the criminal.

Californian psychologists noticed the phenomenon after asking 30 volunteers to read a selection of classic short stories from authors including John Updike, Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie.

Some were detective stories, others ended with an ironic twist, or were literary yarns.

Some were read in their original form but in other cases, the ending was included either as a preface or incorporated into the story as though it had always been part of it.

In all cases, the volunteers enjoyed the stories more when they’d known the ending in advance, the journal Psychological Science reports.

While the researchers, from the University of California, San Diego, are not sure why, they say that the simplest answer is that plot is overrated.

Professor Nicholas Christenfeld said: ‘Plots are just excuses for great writing. What the plot is is almost irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing.’

Ease of reading may also figure.

Researcher Jonathan Leavitt said: ‘It could be that once you know how it turns out, it is cognitively easier – you’re more comfortable processing the information – and can focus on a deeper understanding of the story.’

The phenomenon may extend far beyond the reading of books. From knowing the ending of a reality TV show to who wins the match, there may be no point in being kept in suspense.

The researchers said: ‘Perhaps, birthday presents are better wrapped in cellophane and engagement rings are better when not concealed in chocolate mousse.’

Even surprise birthday parties may not be as enjoyable as those we help arrange ourselves.

Photo credit: The Gazette

 Via Daily Mail