Through music, film composers attempt to affect the audience’s emotions and visual attention; however, little empirical evidence exists characterizing the mechanisms whereby music affects viewers. We conducted a mixed-design experiment with 60 participants to explore the effect of music on viewers’ visual attention and affective responses to a film. Music led to quicker first fixations on film objects and supplied emotional content, increasing positive sentiment for the film’s story. However, music did not influence viewers’ attitudes to filmed events. Within this context, music has limited impact on attitudes toward filmed events but can accentuate the saliency of film objects and supply emotional information altering viewers’ sentiment towards the film. Understanding the mechanisms of music’s physiological and behavioral effects can inform content delivery strategies. This study offers insights for composition and production of musical soundtracks for feature-length films, advertising videos, educational videos, and video games.
•Eye tracking results indicate music accentuates perceptual salience of film objects and guides viewers’ visual attention.
• Music introduces emotional content that alters the viewers’ sentiment towards the film.
• Music does not alter the meaning of the film and the viewers’ attitudes toward film characters.
• Psychophysiological measures allow for exploration of the underlying mechanisms related to the effects of music in film.
• Future studies should include music designed to be (structurally and affectively) congruent or incongruent to the film.