Why Do We Scream? It's Basically A Survival Mechanism, Says Science, So Don't Let Anyone Tell You To Stop
What is the one reaction we all have to scary movies, sudden drops, unexpected occurrences in the dark, deep anger, or even just deep irritation? That reaction is screaming, and researchers have now the science behind why we scream. According to new research, this loud, oftentimes unpleasant trait is actually rooted in biology. Feel like giving yell? There's probably a reason for it, so don't let anyone tell you to stop. Scream long, and scream loud.
David Poeppel and his team at New York University are particularly interested in researching "scream science," an emerging field of study. For a paper just published in the journal Current Biology, Poeppel's team spent time collecting screams from 19 volunteers, YouTube channels, and movies in order to find out why we tend to let loose with a dramatic yell whenever we're placed in threatening situations. After all, screaming and shrieking are things the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, Jamie Lee Curtis from Halloween, and Susan Backlinie of Jaws all had in common. Why is that?
Gregory Whitehouse, founder of the Institute for Screamscape Studies, had previously made the interesting proposal that screaming can be used as a weapon: When used against an opponent, it can raise confidence in the person doing the scremaing. By yelling in a violent way, theorized Whitehouse, you're gaining power over someone without laying a finger on them.
Was Poeppel's study consistent with this hypothesis? After collecting screams and looking at brain scans, here's what he found:
1. Your brain doesn't interpret screams the same way as it does other sounds.
Screams, unlike other sounds, are not attached to gender, race, or tone, because you don't need to make too much sense of a scream (whereas with a regular old comment, you might have to take context and delivery into account).
2. Screams are sent to your brain's pain-processing sector.
Screams seem to activate the fear and pain processing sectors of your brain, meaning it's not just a sound we make — it's actually a trigger for something bigger.
3. Screams are much louder than most other sounds.
This one's kind of obvious, but the researchers found that the higher the volume of the scream, the higher the threat associated with it. While regular speech is generally around four or five hertz, screams can be between 30 and 150 hertz. The research team compared this to alarm sounds and found that when alarm sounds matched the higher ranges, they were perceived to be more... well, alarming.
4. Screams may be biological life-savers.
The team found that screaming doesn't just convey danger to other people, but can also help protect the screamer from a potentially dangerous listener — ultimately shedding light on a dangerous situation. Without screaming, it's hard to let your group of humans know that danger is approaching, which makes danger more likely to wipe your clan out.
So, you know, go scream at the top of your lungs — because while it may be evolutionary beneficial, it's also really, really fun.