Human screams can signal more than just fear — and we're actually more alert to positive screams than alarming ones, researchers have found.
Why it matters: The fact that a simple scream can connote such a variety of emotions shows the complexity of nonverbal human communication and may indicate we're more alert to joy than terror.
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How it works: In a study published this week, researchers asked 12 subjects to vocalize positive and negative screams, while another group rated the emotional nature of the screams.
The second group also had their brains scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging machines (fMRI) while listening.
Details: The researchers identified six "psycho-acoustically" distinct screams: pain, anger, fear, pleasure, sadness and joy.
The listening group responded more quickly to the positive screams, which provoked more activity across frontal and auditory brain regions as indicated in the fMRI scans.
Of note: The emotional diversity of human screams is unusual — other primates and mammalian species scream but almost exclusively as an alarm signal, like when vervet monkeys scream to warn others of a threat.
The bottom line: As someone who was a high school senior in 1997, I recognize one Scream and one Scream only.
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