Of all the sounds humans produce, nothing captures our attention quite like a good scream.
They’re a regular feature of horror films, whether it’s Marion Crane’s infamous shower scream in “Psycho” or Chrissie Watkins’ blood-curdling scream at the beginning of “Jaws.”
Screams might seem simple, but they can actually convey a complex set of emotions. The arsenal of human screams has been honed over millions of years of evolution, with subtle nuances in volume, timing and inflection that can signal different things.
Screaming can be traced to the prehistoric ancestors we share with other primates, who use screams as a key component of their social repertoire. Screams are especially important in monkey societies. Emory University psychologist Harold Gouzoules is one of the world’s leading screaming experts. He’s been able to show how monkey screams convey a wealth of information. Different screams at different pitches and volumes can communicate different levels of urgency, such as whether a fight is simply about to take place or whether a predator is in the area.