Could music, integral to influencing the mood of a film, be subtly but significantly reinforcing our negative attitude towards sharks? A study published this year by Andrew Nosal from the Scripps Institute for Oceanography indicates that it might. Nosal and his colleagues found that people perceive sharks negatively when footage is paired with ominous music. The concern, he says, is that when this music is used in a documentary, which audiences tend to view as an objective illustration of the natural world, associating sharks with threatening music may undermine education goals.
Nosal and his colleagues looked at our perceptions of sharks relative to the mood of background music and whether this influences our willingness to conserve them. In three experiments, people watched shark footage set to uplifting music, ominous music or silence. Overall, people viewed sharks more negatively when they were associated with ominous music. The results relating to their willingness to conserve sharks were slightly more complex. When asked in the first two experiments if they were willing to support shark conservation, people generally answered yes, regardless of music type. However, in the third experiment, the researchers gave people specific options: would you rather donate to shark conservation, dolphin conservation or a discretionary fund? In this instance, people were more likely to want to donate to shark conservation if they’d watched sharks with uplifting music.