Is ‘Ominous’ Music Putting Shark Population at Risk?

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Does the theme from "Jaws" play in your mind every time you see video of sharks? If so, you could unwittingly contribute to the species' demise, a new study contends.

If you’ve ever seen a shark documentary — or even simply watched “Jaws” — you know that ominous music often accompanies images of the predator as it swims across the screen.

Now, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego say such music negatively impacts how viewers perceive sharks. And they worry that such negative connotations might hinder efforts to protect the species.

Researchers asked more than 2,000 participants to watch a 60-second video of sharks swimming. As the video rolled, viewers were exposed to one of three types of audio tracks:

  • Ominous music
  • Uplifting music
  • Silence

Viewers who heard the ominous background music rated the sharks particularly negatively, according to the study findings published in the journal Plos One.

While those results seem harmless enough, the researchers stressed that such negative emotions can be transferred to perceptions about sharks themselves, potentially hindering conservation efforts.

They warn that both documentary filmmakers and viewers should be aware of how the choice of a soundtrack impacts perceptions of education content. They also urge producers of news packages and curators of shark exhibits to keep such effects in mind:

Filmmakers, journalists, and exhibit designers set the tone of their works, and, while an ominous soundtrack may enhance their entertainment aspect, it may also undermine their educational value by biasing viewers’ perceptions of sharks.

The world’s shark population has plunged dramatically in recent years. Up to one-quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction.

What is your opinion of sharks? Let us know by commenting below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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