- Study shows how filmmakers use music to help viewers recall scenes
- They typically mismatch tunes, using upbeat songs during violent events
- Experts also found trailers will include sing-alongs so people remember films
- READ MORE: THREE primal fears horror movies use to get emotional responses
Filmmakers have a secret weapon to manipulate our memories and emotions when watching their movies.
Researchers found that tunes are strategically placed throughout films to help viewers recall a scene’s actions, characters and finale outcomes.
The torture of a police officer in Reservoir Dogs is accompanied by the upbeat song ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ by Stealers Wheel, making it memorable to movie-goers who can recall the violent scene years after.
Psychology experts also found the right music is necessary for trailers as filmmakers only have a few minutes to captivate the audience and convince them their movie is worth watching.
The torture of a police officer in Reservoir Dogs is accompanied by the upbeat song ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ by Stealers Wheel, making it memorable to movie-goers who can recall the violent scene years after
Libby Damjanovic with Lund University wrote in The Conversation that music is a key part of movies and has become ‘ingrained in our cinematic experience that we sometimes end up having false memory for it.’
Damjanovic and her team experimented in 2021 on how filmmakers use music to manipulate memories.
Participants viewed a comedic trailer, with one group hearing happy music and another watching the same content to sad music.
The results showed that those who viewed the trailer with sad music or incongruent conditions displayed a recognition memory advantage for visual tests over the other group.
Damjanovic referred to this as mood-incongruency, which suggests that cues encoded with emotionally incongruent stimuli, like joyful music with visuals of sad expressions, trigger more memories than cues encoded with emotionally congruent stimuli, such as lively music with images of positive facial expressions.
One trailer Damjanovic highlighted in the report is for the 2008 ‘Iron Man,’ which captures viewers in seconds of it playing due to Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man. It plays a sing-along tune in the beginning that is easier for viewers to remember
‘These effects appear to be relatively short-lived, and whether they can exert any longer-term impact beyond the few minutes of a movie trailer or a film scene is yet to be fully determined,’ she shared in The Conversation.
‘Ultimately, they are informed by our previous experiences and stored in our long-term memory, ready and on standby for the next plot twist.’
Other examples of violent scenes with mismatched music are in the 1997 film Face/Off, starring Nicolas Cage and John Travolta.
In a shoot-out scene, bullets are flying, people are dying, and a young boy listens to Olivia Newton-John’s rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’
‘A successful musical score often involves earworms – songs that stick in our minds,’ shared Damjanovic.
Researchers found that tunes are strategically placed throughout films to help viewers recall a scene’s actions, characters and finale outcomes
‘These tend to be songs that have achieved great success and recent runs in the music charts.
When paired with a movie sequence, fresh takes on old hits help keep audiences entertained.
Their sing-along, foot-tapping familiarity reflects the huge exposure they’ve had for decades.
‘They are, therefore, readily exploited as an effective marketing hook, especially in movie trailers – where there’s little time to make an impact on viewers.’
One trailer Damjanovic highlighted in the report is for the 2008 ‘Iron Man,’ which captures viewers in seconds of it playing due to Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man.’
In the first seconds of the clip, Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., is cruising through the desert, which may not appear exciting, but the sound of the electric guitar in the background makes it seem thrilling.