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I scream, you scream, we all scream for……….….a research study on scream!

screamHave you ever heard a truly terrifying scream that halted all activity and focus? Well, a group of researchers got to the bottom of this fight or flight response to determine the science of this survival signal. The Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Germany and NYU Dept. of Psychology conducted a research study on examining the neuroscience behind human screams.1 They proposed to answer what makes screams a unique signal and determine how screams are processed. Using a combination of techniques (e.g. acoustic analyses, psychophysical experiments, and neuroimaging), they demonstrated that “screams occupy a privileged acoustic niche, being separated from other communication signals”. The work correlated levels of screams with degrees of “roughness” in the sound, which led to the conclusion that sound roughness is vital for an alerting and attention grabbing scream. Researchers followed up this acoustic study with subjective ratings from 11 participants who listened to sounds and screams and rated the level of perceived fear. The verdict……..rougher screams illicit a faster response and more fearful emotional reaction. To identify brain areas activated by auditory processing of danger, they conducted an fMRI study with 16 participants who listened to either neutral or unpleasant sounds. Unpleasant sounds induce larger hemodynamic responses in bilateral amygdala (an area associated with aversion, fear and danger) and primary auditory cortices. Interestingly, when the roughness of a sound was changed so did the hemodynamic responses in the amygdala, but not in the primary auditory cortices. This demonstrated “that rough sounds specifically target neural circuits involved in fear/danger processing”. So, if you are ever in true danger and need help, make sure to evoke a truly sound blasting “rough” scream, to activate the amygdala of a nearby superhero, sending one flying in for a rescue.

For access to the full article in Current Biology please follow this link: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(15)00737-X.pdf


1) Arnal et al., Human Screams Occupy a Privileged Niche in the Communication Soundscape, Current Biology (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.043

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