- Study shows how filmmakers use music to help viewers remember scenes
- Typically the tunes don’t match and happy songs are used during violent events
- Experts also found that trailers contain sing-along songs to help people remember the films
- READ MORE: THREE primal fears that horror films use to evoke emotional responses
Filmmakers have a secret weapon that allows them to manipulate our memories and emotions while watching their films.
Researchers found that melodies are strategically placed in films to help viewers remember the plots, characters and end results of a scene.
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 for moviegoers who can recall the violent scene years later.
Psychology experts also found that having the right music for trailers is necessary because filmmakers only have a few minutes to captivate audiences and convince them that their film 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 the film unforgettable for moviegoers who can recall the violent scene years later
Libby Damjanovic from Lund University wrote The conversation that music is a central part of films and is “so ingrained in our cinematic experience that we sometimes have false memories of it”.
In 2021, Damjanovic and her team experimented with how filmmakers use music to manipulate memories.
Participants watched a comedic trailer, with one group listening to 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 had an advantage in recognition memory over the other group on visual tests.
Damjanovic called this mood incongruence, suggesting that signals encoded with emotionally incongruent stimuli, such as happy music with images of sad expressions, are triggered more memories than cues encoded with emotionally congruent stimuli, such as lively music with images of positive facial expressions.
One trailer that Damjanovic highlights in the report concerns 2008’s Iron Man, which captivates viewers in seconds because of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. At the beginning, a sing-along melody is played, which is easier for the viewer to remember
‘“These effects appear to be relatively short-lived, and whether they may have longer-term effects beyond the few minutes of a movie trailer or scene remains to be fully understood,” she shared in The Conversation.
“Ultimately, they are based on our previous experiences and are stored in our long-term memory, ready and waiting for the next plot twist.”
Other examples of violent scenes with mismatched music can be found in the 1997 film Face/Off, starring Nicolas Cage and John Travolta.
In a shootout scene, bullets fly, people die, and a little boy listens to Olivia Newton-John’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
“Successful music often includes catchy tunes – songs that stick in our minds,” says Damjanovic.
Researchers found that melodies are strategically placed in films to help viewers remember the plots, characters and end results of a scene
“These are typically songs that have achieved great success and have recently landed on the music charts.”
Combined with a film sequence, fresh interpretations of old hits help to entertain the audience.
Their familiarity as they sing along and tap along reflects the enormous popularity they have enjoyed for decades.
“Therefore, they are often used as an effective marketing eye-catcher, especially in film trailers – where there is little time to make an impression on viewers.”
One trailer that Damjanovic highlights in the report concerns 2008’s Iron Man, which captivates viewers in seconds because of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man.
In the first few seconds of the clip, Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., is cruising through the desert, which may not seem exciting, but the sound of the electric guitar in the background makes it seem exciting.