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Most nonhuman primates like monkeys and apes make screaming noises as signs of negative emotion such as pain, danger, or invasion. Other mammals have also been observed to scream when in distress. But does it mean when a human scream?

Why humans scream

The easiest answer to this question is that it means that the human is frightened. However, human screaming is more complex than that. Scientists have attached an array of emotions to the human scream.

Types of human screams

In a recent study by Dr. Sascha Frühholz and his team from the University of Zurich, there’s a number of non-alarming screams, and they’re surprisingly processed faster in the human brain. Dr. Frühholz notes that humans also often scream when excited or they are in despair.

In the study, twelve participants vocalized screams that represented positive and negative emotions. A new group was then brought in to listen to and try and categorize the screams while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The study results found six different types of screaming, which represented anger, joy, fear, pleasure, pain, and sadness. Surprisingly, the listeners’ brains were more responsive to the non-alarming screams, such as the one representing sadness or joy. The alarming screams like fear caused a bunch of brain activity for the listeners.

What this means for humans

The authors of the study say that these findings only show that screaming is not as simple as humans often see it. Apart from sending an alarm, it can also have very many communication roles.

The researchers see this as a breakthrough since, for ages, most researchers have just assumed that screaming communications in all primates, humans included, only signal an alarm.

While this might be true for other primates, humans have much more psycho-acoustically different screaming sounds. Like the rest of the primates, humans can also scream to signify danger, but there seems to be an evolution of sorts, and these screams can be diversified even to represent positive emotions.