Sharks aren’t exactly cuddly, but they’re not the villains that movies and nature documentaries make them out to be. And while portraying sharks as frightening predators might imbue otherwise dry nature documentaries with a bit more drama, scientists are worried that these kinds of negative portrayals might hurt conservation efforts. In a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers found that even the ominous music used to underscore shark scenes in nature documentaries may subtly affect viewers’s perceptions of sharks.
Popular Science explains that researchers played a clip from an episode of the nature series Blue Planet: Seas of Life for groups of volunteers. The clip features upbeat music as the camera lingers on a group of fish, which turns ominous and threatening when a shark appears. Researchers divided volunteers into three groups and played them three versions of the same clip: One was overlaid with ominous music, another with upbeat music, and the third with no music at all. Researchers found that volunteers who viewed the clip with ominous music felt more negatively about sharks after watching.
While that finding might not be too surprising—after all, the theme music from Jaws (1975) haunted an entire generation of movie goers—scientists hope their findings might encourage documentarians to be more careful about their musical choices.
“Given that nature documentaries are often regarded as objective and authoritative sources of information, it is critical that documentary filmmakers and viewers are aware of how the soundtrack can affect the interpretation of the educational content,” they write. “We propose that the background music in shark documentaries can negatively influence viewers’ perceptions of sharks, attitudes towards them, and likelihood of supporting related conservation efforts.”
[h/t Popular Science]
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