If You Hate Spoilers, It May Be Because You’re Soooo Smart

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A confession: I am one of the maybe six people left who have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones. This is not as lonely as one might think; just existing in the world and on the internet means I have, over the years, indirectly absorbed a rough working knowledge of the show, enough that I can sort of follow along with friends’ conversations about it (and oh, man, there are so many conversations about it).

On the other hand, though, the sheer volume of Game of Thrones info out there means the window to actually buckle down and watch it for real seems to have closed — if you already know all the big stuff that happens, there just doesn’t seem to be much of a point.

Or maybe, as I have been told before, that’s just a convenient excuse. As Christian Jarrett noted in BPS Research Digest this week, research on spoilers has been a mixed bag: “One study suggested that spoiled stories were actually more enjoyable (possibly because they’re easier to process),” he wrote, “while a later investigation found the precise opposite.”

But the answer may be slightly more nuanced than “spoilers good” or “spoilers bad” — maybe, as a new study in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture suggests, it depends on your personality.

The study authors, professors of communication at Albany State University, in Georgia, and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, focused on two personality elements: “need for cognition,” or how much a person likes to use their brain for challenging mental activities, and “need for affect,” or the tendency to seek out emotional situations.

In the first part of the study, a group of 358 college students read “previews” of short stories, including some that contained spoilers, and then reported which previews made them most interested in reading the full stories. When the volunteers then took personality tests, the researchers found, the same people who had scored low on need for cognition were also the ones who said they’d rather read the stories that’d already been spoiled.

The study authors then gave their subjects copies of a handful of stories that had been included in the previews — some that they’d read spoilers for, and some where they still didn’t know what would happen. When the volunteers rate how much they’d liked the stories, another pattern emerged: The people who had scored higher on the need for affect enjoyed the unspoiled stories more.