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Music, Media Make Sharks More Terrifying Than They Actually Are

Aug 05, 2016 04:10 AM EDT
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Has it ever occurred to you that maybe sharks don't mean to "terrify" us? A new study shows how people overestimate their fear of sharks affected by mass media.

According to a study published in the journal PLOS One entitled "The Effect of Background Music in Shark Documentaries on Viewers' Perception of Sharks", human being's fear of sharks is a pervasive overestimation of the likelihood of being "attacked."

People's negative attitudes about sharks continue "to pervade mass media, perpetuating stereotypes, often conveying inaccurate information," the study reports.

In the same study, lead researcher Andrew P. Nosal, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Saint Katherine College and a visiting assistant researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and his team conducted an experiment where participants viewed a 60-second video clip of sharks that were either silent or set to ominous or uplifting music.

Participants who watched the "frightening" music clips tended to rate sharks more negatively compared with people who watched the video with uplifting music or silence, Live Science reports.

Aside from the 60-second video clip viewing, the researchers also let the participants listen to a 60-second uplifting or ominous audio clip (or waited in silence for 60 seconds). As a result, these participants generally regarded sharks more negatively.

"It's no surprise that background music can influence people's feelings. Music can set the mood, engage the viewer emotionally and convey unspoken commentary and judgment," Nosal said.

Nosal also said that the finding is concerning, as most people view documentaries as educational and may not be aware that these so-called objective shows are actually eroding their feelings toward sharks.

 "While it may be tempting to feature sharks with ominous background music to maximize the entertainment aspect of documentaries, news packages or even live exhibits, this may also undermine their educational value by biasing viewers' perceptions of sharks," Nosal told Live Science.

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