This episode is a quasi-followup to last week’s, which was called “How to Create Suspense.” It featured a discussion about a research paper called “Suspense and Surprise” by the economists Jeffrey Ely,Alexander Frankel, andEmir Kamenica. “We view the construction and the development of suspense and surprise and other aspects of entertainment as basically optimally and economizing on a scarce resource, which is the ability to change someone’s beliefs,” Ely told us.
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In other words, our ability to be surprised (or to experience suspense) is limited. So if you are making suspenseful movies, or writing mystery novels, you need to dish out these components very strategically. That’s what we mostly talked about in the last episode – movies, novels, also sports. But then the conversation turned to suspense and surprise in the context of the news:
FRANKEL: I think the way that economists have tended to think about the news is that surprise and suspense aren’t a part of it at all — there’s no entertainment value, there’s a value of information because it tells you what to do.
But that’s not the waytheseeconomists see the news. This leads us into a wide-ranging conversation that asks a basic question: why do we really follow the news? Among the voices you’ll hear:
+ A certainAnya Dubner, 13, and her friendsMaiaandLogan, discussing what they learn from their current-events unit at school.
+Steve Levitt, whose personal media diet is, shall we say, utilitarian.
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