Human screams not only communicate fear, but at least six different emotions

According to a new study published in the journal PLOS Biology, human screams can convey much more than fear, and are more acoustically diverse than previously thought.

In the study, twelve participants were asked to vocalize positive and negative screams that could be triggered 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 psychoacoustically distinct types of screams, indicating pain, anger, fear, pleasure, sadness, and joy.

Perhaps most surprisingly, listeners responded more quickly and accurately, and with greater neural sensitivity, to positive, non-alarm yells than to alarming yells. Specifically, less alarming screams elicited more activity in many auditory and frontal brain regions.

According to the authors, these findings show that screams are more diverse in their signaling and communicative nature in humans than is often assumed.

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