I Didn’t See That Coming: Spoilers, Fan Theories, and Their Influence on Enjoyment and Parasocial Breakup Distress During a Series Finale

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Spoilers are stigmatized as the potential ruin of narrative experience, and many people avoid them for the fear that exposure will, well, spoil the narrative. However, previous research indicates that spoilers can actually increase enjoyment. The present study tests mental model resonance as a mechanism for how spoilers influence enjoyment of media content in a real-world context, using a 2-part survey administered before and after the finale of a long-running TV series. Fan theories about content are also offered as a related, but separate issue from spoiler exposure. Parasocial breakup distress is tested as a previously unexamined outcome of spoiler and fan theory exposure. Results suggest that exposure to spoilers and belief in fan theories increase enjoyment and decrease parasocial breakup distress after a TV series finale, and this is mediated by mental model resonance.

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