Indulging In Indirection

Readers actually enjoy stories more when authors are less coy:

Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man’s daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck. Subjects read stories as-is and with introductory paragraphs that gave away the endings, or spoilers. In almost all cases, they preferred the “spoiled” stories. The same held true for mysteries. … Subjects liked the literary, evocative stories least overall, but still preferred the spoiled versions over the unspoiled ones. (more; study; HT Patrick Salsbury)

Students also learn from teachers who are more direct:

When Detterman began teaching…

I thought it was important to make things as hard as possible for students so they would discover the principles for themselves. … Now … I try to make it as easy for students as possible. Where before I was ambiguous about what a good paper was, I now provide examples of the best papers from past classes. Before, I expected students to infer the general conclusion from specific examples. Now I provide the general conclusion and support it with specific examples. (more; HT Bryan Caplan)

If readers enjoy stories without surprises better, and if students learn better from teachers who are similarly direct and unsurprising, why are authors and teachers so often indirect, and why do readers and students support them?

Two obvious complementary explanations stand out:

1) Readers and students prefer to signal their cleverness at figuring out what an author or teacher is saying. Overly direct authors or teachers insult us via visibly presuming our inability to follow subtleties.

2) Homo hypocritus is in the habit of speaking indirectly:

It is easier to use play talk to evade talk rules if groups develop a very local culture and language – particular words and associations that have particular meanings due to the local history. This makes it harder to clearly convince outsiders that something illicit was communicated. (more; see also)

I recently read Pride & Prejudice, and noticed how much the author flatters the reader, and how much the characters flatter each other, by speaking indirectly yet presuming that listeners understand the intended meanings. Only fools speak directly when indirection is possible, it seems.

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