Spoiler Alert! The Psychology Of Surprise Endings
Writers and filmmakers hoping to hoodwink their fans with plot twists have long known what cognitive scientists know: All of us have blind spots in the way we assess the world. We get distracted. We forget how we know things. We see patterns that aren't there. Because these blind spots are wired into the brain, they act in ways that are predictable — so predictable that storytellers from Sophocles to M. Night Shyamalan have used them to lead us astray.
In recent years, some scientists have begun to ask, can stories serve as a kind of brain scan? If a plot twist works by exploiting our biases and mental shortcuts, can observing the mechanics of a good story reveal something important about the contours of the mind?"
"Stories are a kind of magic trick," says cognitive scientist Vera Tobin. "When we dissect them, we can discover very, very reliable aspects of those tricks that turn out to be important clues about the way that people think."
A few of the storyteller's favorite biases:
"Cognitive bias and the poetics of surprise," by Vera Tobin in Language and Literature
"The Curse of Knowledge in Reasoning About False Beliefs," by Susan A.J. Birch and Paul Bloom in Psychological Science
"Attention and awareness in stage magic: turning tricks into research," by Stephen L. Macknik, Mac King, James Randi, Apollo Robbins, Teller, John Thompson, and Susana Martinez-Conde in Nature Reviews Neuroscience
Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, Thomas Lu, Laura Kwerel, and Camila Vargas Restrepo. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain.
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