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Spoilers good for the soul, says science

Spoilers good for the soul, says science (photo)

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Disgruntled bloggers are a little less gruntled this week, since learning the news that a University of California, San Diego study finds what many of them have argued for years: that ruining the ends of film or TV plots don’t actually spoil anything. In fact, they may enhance the enjoyment. Here’s an excerpt from the U of C’s findings, as quoted on

In an experiment, researchers gave away the endings for three different kinds of short stories — those with an ironic twist ending, mysteries and tales Leavitt calls “more evocative literary stories.” These were real short stories by authors such as John Updike, Roald Dahl, Anton Chekhov, Agatha Christie and Raymond Carver; none of the 30 undergrad study participants had read these stories before… people “significantly preferred” the spoiled versions of the ironic twist stories and the mysteries. (The so-called evocative stories were less appreciated in general, “likely due to their more expressly literary aims,” [study author Jonathan] Leavitt writes. No spoiler alert needed there.) But in all three kinds of short stories, people like the texts with the spoilers worked into the opening graphs about as much as they liked the unspoiled texts.

According to Leavitt, spoilers “may allow readers to organize developments in the story, anticipate the implications of events, and resolve ambiguities that occur in the course of reading.” In other words, if, like most human beings of adult age, you know that “Planet of the Apes” is set (UNSCIENTIFIC SPOILER ALERT) on Earth before you watch the movie, you’ll spend the film looking for clues to that fact throughout the narrative. This provides an interesting argument for why spoiler warnings are unnecessary: spoiled endings essentially make us more active readers (or viewers) and a more active reader is generally a more satisfied reader.

It’s all interesting stuff, and as someone who’s always argued that writers should be allowed to spoil stuff in their writing (with appropriate warning), it’s nice food for thought. But here’s where the study loses me a little (sorry, science). It concludes that “perhaps birthday presents are better when wrapped in cellophane, and engagement rings are better when not concealed in chocolate mousse.” It’s a conclusion delivered with tongue firmly in cheek, but it made me think of my wife, who demanded that my engagement proposal be a total surprise, and who adores surprise parties and surprises in general. If I’d giving her a engagement ring that hadn’t been concealed in (my case proverbial) chocolate mousse, I’d say there’s a decent chance she would have turned me down, at least until I came up with a more clever way to propose. I, on the other hand, hate surprises. If you’re throwing me a party, I better know about it in advance.

Which got me to wondering: what if different people are wired differently in regards to spoilers? The U of C’s study’s sample size was just 30 undergraduate students, not very large at all. If they’d performed the same test on 300 students, would the results be the same? I have a feeling if I’d been a subject of the experiment, I would have voted in line with its findings. But if my wife had been a subject, she probably wouldn’t have. She likes surprises too much to enjoy them being spoiled.

What if there is something in our DNA that makes us more curious about — or wary of — spoilers? Could it be hereditary? I seem to get my own aversion to surprises from my mother, who has always claimed if we ever threw her a surprise party she would turn around and walk out. U of C needs to dig even deeper into this, and search for a genetic link regarding spoilers. Maybe there’s a spoiler gene inside us. And maybe it’s shaped like the Statue of Liberty. Science, it’s up to you to find out.

Do you buy the university’s study? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.


Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…