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Science & Technology

Scream studies could lead to scarier alarms

By T.K. Randall
July 21, 2015 · Comment icon 8 comments

What is it that makes a human scream such a potent sound ? Image Credit:
Researchers have been attempting to better understand the science behind the sound of a human scream.
Nobody likes to hear the blood-curdling shriek of someone else screaming and with good reason - hearing such a sound can instantly activate the fear response within the human brain.

Scientists studying our perceptions of screaming have determined that all screams, whether it be a terrifying shriek or the wailing of a baby, possess a property known as 'roughness' which refers to how the sound changes and is the key to the impact that hearing a scream seems to have on us.

"If you ask a person on the street what's special about screams, they'll say that they're loud or have a higher pitch," said author David Poeppel. "But there's lots of stuff that's loud and there's lots of stuff that's high pitched, so you'd want a scream to be genuinely useful in a communicative context."
To study what exactly it is that makes a scream unique Peoppel and his team analyzed screams from a number of different sources including popular horror movies and videos uploaded on YouTube.

"We found that screams occupy a reserved chunk of the auditory spectrum, but we wanted to go through a whole bunch of sounds to verify that this area is unique to screams," he said.

The scientists ultimately determined that by adding 'roughness' to alarm sounds it is possible to make them a lot more effective at communicating a sense of sudden panic and urgency.

"These findings suggest that the design of alarm signals can be further improved," said Postdoctoral researcher Luc Arnal. "The same way a bad smell is added to natural gas to make it easily detectable; adding roughness to alarm sounds may improve and accelerate their processing."

Source: Discovery News | Comments (8)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by MeOnlyMe 9 years ago
Interesting, I am sure they could even make something scarier than a human scream with the right amount of funding!
Comment icon #2 Posted by MissJatti 9 years ago
It's the kids scream about 6yo to 8yo, they scream at anything, and all during playtime, So that scream in the movie Gladiator (2000) in the scene @ 10:16, where the barbarian chief swings is axe
Comment icon #3 Posted by Lenore Graves 9 years ago
Haha, I cant imagine the stress of waking up every morning to a blood curdling scream!
Comment icon #4 Posted by jarjarbinks 9 years ago
most ads will probably uses the same spectrum too ...
Comment icon #5 Posted by Taun 9 years ago
Nothing is as shrill or fingernail-curling, as a 3,4 or 5 year old girls scream... A boys scream at that age is almost as bad, but a girls scream has that slightly higher pitch... I have numerous great-nieces and nephews and when they run around and play, their screams make me want to climb the walls...
Comment icon #6 Posted by Father Merrin 9 years ago
Ive always found the old air raid siren the worst sound imaginable!
Comment icon #7 Posted by Taun 9 years ago
Ive always found the old air raid siren the worst sound imaginable! We have those for tornado sirens - scattered all about the city... Yeah they are pretty hard to not hear...
Comment icon #8 Posted by pallidin 9 years ago
For panic alarms, and such like smoke/CO2 detectors, I can see that... or not. What's wrong with the standard digital very loud "shrill" already in use? Why change that to a "scream"? For an alarm clock, forget it. After a few nights I would think some mild form of PTSD would develop, making sleeping difficult as one anticipates, subconsciously, a horrific wake-up scream. My favorite alarm clock gently wakes me up. First a series of low volume beeps, then it progressively get's louder. For public PA emergencies, I think a scream voice could illicit undue panic. Keep things as they are! No need... [More]

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