Human Screams Communicate at Least Six Emotions – Surprisingly Acoustically Diverse

Human screams signal more than fear and are more acoustically diverse than previously thought, according to a study published today (April 13th, 2021) in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Sascha Frühholz of the University of Zurich, and colleagues. Remarkably, non-alarming screams are perceived and processed by the brain more efficiently than alarming screams.

In nonhuman primates and other mammalian species, scream-like calls are frequently used as an alarm signal exclusively in negative contexts, such social conflicts or the presence of predators or other environmental threats. Humans are also assumed to use screams to signal danger and to scare predators. But humans scream not only when they are fearful and aggressive, but also when they experience other emotions such as despair and elation. Past studies on this topic largely focused on alarming fear screams, so the broader significance of various scream types has not been clear. In the new study, the researchers addressed this knowledge gap using four different psychoacoustic, perceptual decision-making, and neuroimaging experiments in humans.

Twelve participants were asked to vocalize positive and negative screams that might be elicited by various situations. A different group of individuals rated the emotional nature of the screams, classified the screams into different categories, and underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while listening to the screams.

The results revealed six psycho-acoustically distinct types of scream calls, which indicated pain, anger, fear, pleasure, sadness, and joy. Perhaps surprisingly, listeners responded more quickly and accurately, and with higher neural sensitivity, to non-alarm and positive scream calls than to alarming screams. Specifically, less alarming screams elicited more activity across many auditory and frontal brain regions. According to the authors, these findings show that scream calls are more diverse in their signaling and communicative nature in humans than frequently assumed.

Dr. Frühholz notes “The results of our study are surprising in a sense that researchers usually assume the primate and human cognitive system to be specifically tuned to detect signals of danger and threat in the environment as a mechanism of survival. This has long been supposed to be the primary purpose of communicative signaling in screams. While this seems true for scream communication in primates and other animal species, scream communication seemed to have largely diversified in humans, and this represents is a major evolutionary step. Humans share with other species the potential to signal danger when screaming, but it seems like only humans scream to signal also positive emotions like extreme joy and pleasure. Signaling and perceiving these positive emotions in screams seemed to have gained priority in humans over alarm signaling. This change in priority might be likely due to the requirements of evolved and complex social contexts in humans.”

Reference: “Neurocognitive processing efficiency for discriminating human non-alarm rather than alarm scream calls” by Sascha Frühholz, Joris Dietziker, Matthias Staib and Wiebke Trost, 13 April 2021, PLOS Biology.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000751

Funding: This study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF PP00P1_157409/1 and PP00P1_183711/1 to SF). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

CognitionEvolutionLanguageNeurosciencePLOS
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  • xABBAAA

    … common can’t you find a better group of 4*3 actors, that will pretend to scream…

  • Nadia Noel Contreras

    I noticed that it’s been clearly proven that original ASSUMPTIONS , specifically noticable in article repeats MANY times. And Even though the proof of the initial CHOICE TO ASSUME BEFORE DIGGING DEEPER, aswell as a definate neon sign my personal perception opinion whatever you want to label this.. I can’t help but be red flagged about the box in which once was …. Is not as much a priority to keep intact after discovered outside of the box of whomever that basically sounds to me a PERSONAL choice because of the RESISTANCE to be opening the range of truth and possibility beyond ALLOWED someone that I don’t see how different schooling and a diploma gave dictation of what is ir isn’t true and SPECIFICALLY facts that have been a HALF ASSED Version of the individuals own mind and willingness to be as educated for the sort of studies if it’s living in DENIAL period. How come it’s just a choice to blow over this CLEAR fact that whatever area of which y’all want this PERSONAL observation to be taken and GIVEN anything other than what me and I am not all graduate . And I have plenty of profilers Best to give a tile because of the same way those discovered text book changing NEW UNDENIABLE TRUTHS… what is it about someone like myself being LESS of a discovery science language metaphorically Plus whatever other MULTIFACETED intermingling combination of the obvious .. what I mean is . WHY just do it the same as before just to end up with the same discovery after what period of time it took to get the Open mind of beyond the still closed up box of thing’s.. it’s not me trying to be CRUEL. Or even close to it. I’m just calling it as it JUST stopped me in my tracks and then I wasn’t even CONCERNED if I MAKE anyone ACCEPT my opinion observation etc.. because I already learned long ago how choosing to be basically a brat or bully in some VERSIONS it’s a range of this that is telling me .. Time to BE ABOUT IT and do things that those with your education and mind’s that your choice to RESIST your OWN TRUTH and the unlimited levels of discovery you can be researching LEARNING growing evolving ABSOLUTELY ALL AREA’S OF SUBJECTS BUT THEN ALLOWED TO BE FREE TO BE AS MAGNIFICENT AND MIND BLOWING ALTERING AND HUMANITY AS IT IS KNOWN NOW… to be a collective truth and opportunity to be HISTORICALLY pioneered catalyst and ever to be eternal .. it’s time to be done with the common denial BASED guidelines that keep making it NEVER A POSITIVE SOLUTION UNLESS IT IS FOR A DICTATORSHIP AND BASED ON MANIPIPULATING BECAUSE OF , THE PERSON THAT WE’VE ALL HEARD SAY ONCE BY NOW ” I Don’t BELIEVE in the truth ONLY my bubble is the Way it’s something I won’t have any more to do with a part of the PROBLEM and the need to be speaking of things that KEPT this from becoming MAGIC TRUTH and MAGIC is true. Plus the truth is everything is now being proven to be lacking in the texts books or online hands written bill’s PASSED approved messgs.

  • Nadia Noel Contreras

    No offense. Ok I sincerely am a SERIOUSLY SENSITIVE human being .. and GIFTED Empath … No not a clue what they are all yet if it is limited .. probably by myself and standing in mecause I can’t get passed somethin that effects multiple area’s of my MENTAL distorted mind. From forcing myself to be holding things in that have been blocking the gifts and brilliance of GIFTS we have and SEEING the aliens that were always clearly TRUTH but we just wouldn’t say it exsist even with PROOF and PROOF that isn’t always boxed up in a select PERSON group educated type. BECAUSE I am educated by overall life and don’t need a diploma to know what the hell is going on that One way or another. It’s gonna be same Old but somehow New Discovery. Ok . I’m definitely not the first one to be thinking this. Ok. I know more then admitting have thought brilliance and can be given freedom of each other as we all are part of purpose to getting this far . And that’s a message to approve equally planetary UNIVERSAL intervention .. but hey I am just Nadia.. a girl among other things… And feel emotional energy and finally found out about 4yrs ago I’m not a freakshow or at all having something wrong with me. . Nor do anymore than the other. IT is Time to be giving this what is humanity at it Best Version collectively. With a smile reaching quantum leap of EPIC PROPORTIONS.. .. the truth sets us free . And fly with light of love . IT is what is.. let’s get it lit instead of the Force of DENIAL that creates monsters inside.. and rippling throughout.. . IT is happening as we speak .. how else would I have come to be speaking thing’s I really don’t know outside of that KNOWING .. THAT’S PROOF OF WHICH ALWAYS HAD EVIDENCE. BUT ALWAYS ” I don’t believe in Truth ” fearing other stones being a way to snuff out or witch hunt burning at steak for speaking about truth murdered for it. Ok. That’s what I know truth is too. What is sounding more fun for y’all??? Or am I just some nobody sayin absolutely nonsense . Like it’s not formed sentences . Trust me I know you know. IT is not WRONG to be opening our SELF and encouraging all being a light a helping hand equalibriam and COLLECTIVELY a family like it is how it is.. .. I apologise if I made it seem aggressive . It’s VERY triggered inside me. BECAUSE I feel how y’all feel. . Just like you do. Ok . Ni got ya back .. and fearless to be seeing what you are behind the surface. YOUR DIAMONDS and the ROUGH with ALL the rest and More. Starsparks of light .. lightening MAGNIFICENT MAGIC.. love and light.