Spoilers as Self-Protection: Investigating the Influence of Empathic Distress and Concern for the Self on Spoiler Selection

Sarah E. Brookes, Judith E. Rosenbaum, Morgan E. Ellithorpe


Despite the commonly held belief that spoilers detract from the narrative experience, research results have been equivocal. In fact, some research has indicated that spoilers can reduce para-social breakup distress, pointing to the potential of spoilers to serve a protective function and help people manage their moods. A naturalistic experiment examined how concern for the characters and the self might impact the likelihood of selecting spoilers. Graphic warnings were provided before participants viewed a suspenseful television episode, and they were also given the opportunity to read either a review with spoilers or a review without spoilers before the narrative climax. Results indicate that those who experienced greater concern for the characters and subsequently greater self-concern were more likely to choose the spoiled review. Interestingly, their exposure to spoilers did not affect their enjoyment or suspense at the conclusion of the episode. This suggests that the desire to avoid emotional distress plays a role in spoiler selection: People may seek out spoilers to protect themselves from negative feelings.


spoiler selection, empathic distress, enjoyment, graphic warning, naturalistic experiment

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