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    Bad PR Endangering Sharks, Scary Music Contributing to Extinctions

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    Ever since Spielberg used those two dark stabs of minor-key orchestral music to indicate sudden death by gnashing teeth, sharks can’t catch a break, say scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.

    ​In a study titled ‘The Effect of Background Music in Shark Documentaries on Viewers,' researchers say their experiment proves that the image of sharks as dreadful killers is related to the consistent use of “ominous” music in films.

    To arrive at their conclusion, researchers showed video clips from the documentary Blue Planet: Seas of Life to some 2,000 people in three versions: with uplifting music, with ominous music and in silence. Following the viewings participants were asked to pick words having either a negative or positive connotation to describe the animals. Those watching clips with scary music perceived the sharks as threatening and dangerous.

    “This is the first study to demonstrate empirically that the connotative attributes of background music accompanying shark footage affect viewers’ attitudes toward sharks,” lead author Andrew P. Nosal said.

    ​Researchers noted that the same results did not apply when sounds were played without visuals. Fear was fomented only by the combination of audio and visual elements.

    The experiment may seem a trivial, suggest the scientists, but the results point out how a popular image of a living, swimming, never-sleeping, machine-like predator is a problem for species. The “exaggerated” fear of sharks, not based on real-life experiences, stops people from donating to foundations engaged in conservation of sharks, which are widely poached and, in some cases, in danger of extinction.

    “Despite the ongoing need for shark conservation and management, prevailing negative sentiments marginalize these animals and legitimize permissive exploitation,” Nosal wrote. Statistics show that a person is more likely to die as a result of an attack by a snake, spider, cow or a dog.

    According to National Geographic, about five people die from shark attacks yearly worldwide. A quick check of humanity reveals that millions of people die each year of starvation. Researchers suggest that, when watching a movie, even a documentary, keep in mind that music directs and focuses the power of the visual element.

    “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.”

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    conservation program, species, research, study, shark, California, United States
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