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Episode 221, The Psychology of Surprise Endings

July 30, 20235 min read

Psychology of Surprise Endings, Show Notes

In this episode of the Motor City Hypnotist Podcast, we are discussing the psychological impact of surprise endings in movies.

And I’m also going to be giving listeners a FREE HYPNOSIS GUIDE!  Stay tuned!


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Surprise Endings


Plot twists are a key element of movies that captivate audiences. They add excitement and unpredictability to the storyline, keeping viewers engaged and on their toes. But have you ever wondered why plot twists have such a psychological impact? It's because they tap into our innate desire for suspense and surprise. Our brains are wired to seek novelty and unexpected outcomes, which is exactly what plot twists deliver. These unexpected turns in the narrative create a sense of anticipation, curiosity, and emotional arousal, making them one of the most thrilling aspects of movie-watching for many people.


Reflect on your memories of the first movie that left a lasting impression on you. It's likely that this film had an intriguing plot twist at its core. Personally, I recall the excitement when everyone gathered to discuss "The Sixth Sense," a movie known for its unexpected narrative turn.
Cognitive scientist Vera Tobin aptly describes stories as a form of magic trick in a recent NPR article about the psychology of plot twists. This statement resonates with the idea that storytelling has a mysterious and captivating effect on our minds. "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."



The Psychology of Surprise Endings 

In a recent episode of Hidden Brain on NPR, an intriguing exploration was conducted into the impact of plot twists on our brains. The half-hour story delves into various instances, such as parents capturing their children's reactions to movies like Star Wars and our collective obsession with M. Night Shyamalan's mind-bending narratives. Surprisingly, these twists and turns in storytelling have tangible physiological effects on us, indicating the powerful influence of plot development on our minds.

The phenomenon of being easily deceived or tricked while watching movies provides valuable insights into the workings of our brains beyond the cinema.


Vera Tobin, the author of "Elements of Surprise: Our Mental Limits and the Satisfactions of Plot," provided a thorough examination of the study.
To explore the neuroscience behind plot twists, she delved into movies like "The Sixth Sense" and "The Usual Suspects". It is interesting to note that humans tend to perceive patterns in stories, but often have blind spots when it comes to unexpected plot twists.


Through scientific analysis, researchers have discovered that individuals tend to have preconceived ideas about the direction of stories. This tendency is influenced by their existing knowledge and previous exposure to similar narratives in movies and television.


Storytellers employ various techniques that can be compared to magic tricks. Their ability to captivate an audience lies in their skillful use of distraction and surprise. By engaging the audience with familiar elements, they cleverly introduce unexpected twists or perspectives that leave a lasting impression.

Don't be scared! Sometimes things that initially seem one way can turn out to be completely different. NPR has an interesting segment on the biases we have when it comes to stories. It's worth checking out to gain a deeper understanding of this topic.

A few of the storyteller's favorite biases:

  • The Curse of Knowledge: One common blind spot that many people have is the assumption that others possess the same knowledge as they do. This tendency can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication, as it overlooks the fact that everyone has different backgrounds and experiences.

  • Confirmation Bias: Confirmation bias is a common human tendency to seek out information that aligns with our existing beliefs. This can happen consciously or unconsciously, as we have a natural inclination to gravitate towards ideas and evidence that support what we already think.

  • Availability Bias: It is common for people to have a tendency to trust ideas or information that readily come to mind more than those that do not. This cognitive bias can lead us to believe that easily accessible thoughts or memories are more accurate or likely to be true.

  • Hindsight Bias: Hindsight bias refers to our inclination to perceive an event as predictable after it has already happened. It is a common phenomenon where we tend to believe that we knew the outcome all along, even though that may not have been the case.


Viewers will always present a hypothesis, even if unconsciously. 

Plot twists prove them wrong. And they love it. When it comes to seeking entertainment, turning on the television or going to the movies is a common choice. And what makes these experiences truly captivating is the element of surprise through plot twists. Plot twists effectively keep the audience engaged and eagerly anticipating what will happen next in the story. Movies have a remarkable ability to capture our attention and evoke strong emotions within us. They do this by paying meticulous attention to every detail, creating a captivating story that lingers in our minds even after the credits roll. It's no wonder that they become the focal point of discussions among moviegoers and enthusiasts.



NEXT EPISODE: Top 10 Movie Plot Twists of All Time


Change your thinking, change your life!

Laugh hard, run fast, be kind. 

David R. Wright MA, LPC, CHT

The Motor City Hypnotist

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