The Wilhelm-Schrei It is the most famous cry of pain in pop culture, and has been used in the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” movies as well as in the computer game “Red Dead Redemption”. But pain is just one of at least six different reasons people cry, according to reports from a working group led by Sasha Froehols at the University of Zurich – and shouting is much more than just warning signals. This is the conclusion reached by the team in a new study in “PLOS Biology”.The subjects who evaluated screaming and measured brain activity were tested with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Twelve shriekers released screams that they associated with pain, fear, anger, sadness, joy and pleasure. Then experts from the working group assessed whether they really were screaming – because there is no clear definition of screaming, but you can recognize it when you hear it. However, according to the study, the different types of shriek can be distinguished from each other and emotionally neutral screams based on their vocal spectrum. In addition, 23 independent people rated screams as alarming: In other mammals, screaming is almost always alarm or alarm calls.
However, in the case of human screaming, the test subjects were able to reliably distinguish between warning and unwarranted screaming. Especially noteworthy: it was not the cries associated with negative emotions in any way that the test subjects reacted the strongest. As the working group reported, they identified positive screams faster and more accurately, and their brains were more active. This contrasts with the supposed biological alarm function of screaming.
Frühholz and his team see this as an indication that the shout-alert function is no longer the only priority for humans. “Expressing positive emotions through shouting and being aware of them seems to have gained priority for people over warning signals.” Press release quotes the researcher. The complex requirements of human social behavior may have led to a shift in priorities.
But the question that remains open is whether the “voluntary” screams differ from the real ones and what the consequences are in the case. Humans may be able to distinguish real alarm calls from movie screams just as they could distinguish positive screams from negative in this study. But that should remain unresolved for the time being. A study in which real cries of fear or pain are elicited with test subjects using appropriate stimuli is unlikely to garner much approval from funders or ethics committees.