An economic model of the mystery novel, and are sports suspense-optimal?

Those questions are considered by Jeffrey Ely, Alexander Frankel, and Emir Kamenica in their new JPE paper “Suspense and Surprise.”  Here is one to the point excerpt:

In the context of a mystery novel, these dynamics imply the following familiar plot structure.  At each point in the book, the readers thinks that the weight of evidence suggests that the protagonist accused of murder is either guilty or innocent.  But in any given chapter, there is a chance of a plot twist that reverses the reader’s beliefs.  As the book continues along, plot twists become less likely but more dramatic.

In the context of sports, our results imply that most existing rules cannot be suspense-optimal.  In soccer, for example, the probability that the leading team will win depends not only on the period of the game but also on whether it is a tight game or a blowout…

Optimal dynamics could be induced by the following set of rules.  We declare the winner to be the last team to score.  Moreover, scoring becomes more difficult as the game progresses (e.g., the goal shrinks over time).  The former ensures that uncertainty declines over time while the latter generates a decreasing arrival rate of plot twists.  (In this context, plot twists are lead changes.)

There are ungated versions of the paper here.  Note that at the very end of the paper…well, I’ll just let you read it for yourselves.


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