(Scientific American Mind) Spoilers Can Make a Joke Funnier
May 1, 2014 |By Matthew Hutson
Hearing a punch line before the setup will predictably spoil a joke. But what of running gags and callbacks? Often a joke is funnier when it is familiar. An article published online in December 2013 in Cognition and Emotion resolves this paradox by applying research on insight.
Sascha Topolinski, a psychologist at the University of Cologne in Germany, studies processing fluency: when information is absorbed easily, it feels more true and beautiful. Repetition can increase fluency, which is why we prefer familiar music and art. Research also shows that “spoilers” do not always spoil. A 2011 paper in Psychological Science found that subjects who first read summaries of stories later enjoyed those tales more—even mysteries and stories with an ironic twist.