Welcome to Shark Fact Friday, a (mostly) weekly blog post all about unique sharks and what makes them so awesome. This week’s post is about how background music can influence how people feel about sharks.
When a shark approaches something in the water, very little, if any, sound is produced. However, if you asked people to close their eyes and think about a shark swimming through the water, I bet a simple but tension-filled “duunnn dun” sound would start playing in their heads, made infamous by the movie Jaws.
The music from Jaws is a perfect example of leitmotif, which is defined as a short, recurring musical phrase that is associated with a particular person, place or idea. Other characters and situations associated with leitmotif include Darth Vader, the shower scene from Psycho, the Wicked Witch of the West and James Bond. (Could you hear those themes as you read those examples??)
But did you know that these musical cues greatly impact how people feel about a character or situation?
Scientists from the University of California San Diego and Harvard University endeavored to find out how background music can impact people’s perceptions of sharks. For their experiment, they had two groups of people: one group that saw video clips of sharks with either ominous background music, uplifting background music or silence, and another group that saw no video but listened to the same music as the first group.
Their results showed that people who viewed a video clip of swimming sharks with ominous background music held a more negative view of sharks than people who saw the same video clip with uplifting music or silence. The group that saw no video clip but simply listened to background music showed no difference in their attitudes towards sharks, proving that the results are not simply because of the music.
In many cases, the only exposure people have to sharks comes from television shows, documentaries, movies or museum exhibits. The authors of the study argue that the people who make these films or exhibits should be cautious about the music they choose, because while ominous music may be more entertaining, it can ultimately lead people to have negative views about these animals as mindless killing machines instead of complex and important marine animals. This could even influence conservation measures and push people towards dangerous and unnecessary shark culls.
So next time you’re sitting down to watch a cool show about sharks, be sure to pay attention to the music in the background – is it ominous or uplifting, and how does it make you feel?