Human Screams Occupy a Privileged Niche in the Communication Soundscape as originally seen in Current Biology
We all get it when we hear a scream: the immediate cessation of whatever you’re doing, the heightened hearing, the quickening pulse, eyes darting around your environment, muscles on edge ready to run… what was that? Am I in danger? Is someone else?
Today we have an article the explores what makes a scream special and therefore work as a danger signal socially. In this query, the researchers utilize “acoustic analyses, psychophysical experiments and neuroimaging.” They determined that the acoustic range of a scream is 30-150 Hz which “corresponds to a well-known perceptual attribute– roughness,” by which I’m guessing they mean that nails-on-a-chalkboard gut wrenching sensation. The researchers determined that this quality is universal in any sound that human beings perceive as unpleasant, including in man-made alarms. These sounds particularly electrify the amygdala, which is a deep brain structure involved in the fear response by associating the sound with a memory of a scream and is also involved in decision making. Was that scream of someone in danger or was that scream a child screaming for joy as she is pushed high on the swing set?
The important take away here is that the scream has a special place in the human– both in neurophysiology and socially– which is literally deep seated in the brain. That is why a scream is a universal communication.