New research by psychologists Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt shows that people enjoy stories more when they already know the ending.
This research actually made headlines a month ago, but it was highlighted in Steven Colbert’s “The Word” on September 6th. While Colbert then proceeded to share the endings of movies like The Sixth Sense or the Star Wars trilogy so that those who hadn’t seen them would enjoy them more, his coverage brought even more attention to research that ABC News covered after speaking with the authors of the study.
“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.
Though their study didn’t point to explanations for the finding, Christenfeld thinks that people enjoy a good story just as much as a surprise ending.
“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.