Indirect Business Effect of Ominous Music on Sharks

One of the first research projects to look at the possible indirect business effect of ominous music on sharks finds that there may be a there there.

ayelet-gneezyThe study is “The Effect of Background Music in Shark Documentaries on Viewers’ Perceptions of Sharks,” Andrew P. Nosal, Elizabeth A. Keenan, Philip A. Hastings, and Ayelet Gneezy [pictured here], newly published in PLoS ONE (11(8), 2016, e0159279).  The authors, two biologists and two business professors, are at the University of California San Diego, and Harvard Business School. They write:

“In this study, we investigate… the ominous background music that often accompanies shark footage in documentaries. Using three experiments, we show that participants rated sharks more negatively and less positively after viewing a 60-second video clip of swimming sharks set to ominous background music, compared to participants who watched the same video clip set to uplifting background music, or silence. This finding was not an artifact of soundtrack alone because attitudes toward sharks did not differ among participants assigned to audio-only control treatments. This is the first study to demonstrate empirically that the connotative attributes of background music accompanying shark footage affect viewers’ attitudes toward sharks.”

Carmen Nobel discusses the business aspects of this, writing for Harvard Business Review: “Ominous Background Music is Bad for Sharks“.

This video shows a somewhat contrasting situation, non-ominous music accompanying animation of sharks:

Here’s an ominous-music-laden shark video:

And here’s a video of sharks and jets, with music that both is and is not ominous: