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Neurocognitive processing efficiency for discriminating human non-alarm rather than alarm scream calls

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Frühholz Sascha, Dietziker Joris, Staib Matthias, Trost Wiebke,
Project Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Auditory Perception - Challenging The Human Auditory System at The Limits of Hearing
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal PLOS Biology
Volume (Issue) 19(4)
Page(s) e3000751 - e3000751
Title of proceedings PLOS Biology
DOI 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000751

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Across many species, scream calls signal the affective significance of events to other agents. Scream calls were often thought to be of generic alarming and fearful nature, to signal potential threats, with instantaneous, involuntary, and accurate recognition by perceivers. However, scream calls are more diverse in their affective signaling nature than being limited to fearfully alarming a threat, and thus the broader sociobiological relevance of various scream types is unclear. Here we used 4 different psychoacoustic, perceptual decision-making, and neuroimaging experiments in humans to demonstrate the existence of at least 6 psychoacoustically distinctive types of scream calls of both alarming and non-alarming nature, rather than there being only screams caused by fear or aggression. Second, based on perceptual and processing sensitivity measures for decision-making during scream recognition, we found that alarm screams (with some exceptions) were overall discriminated the worst, were responded to the slowest, and were associated with a lower perceptual sensitivity for their recognition compared with non-alarm screams. Third, the neural processing of alarm compared with non-alarm screams during an implicit processing task elicited only minimal neural signal and connectivity in perceivers, contrary to the frequent assumption of a threat processing bias of the primate neural system. These findings show that scream calls are more diverse in their signaling and communicative nature in humans than previously assumed, and, in contrast to a commonly observed threat processing bias in perceptual discriminations and neural processes, we found that especially non-alarm screams, and positive screams in particular, seem to have higher efficiency in speeded discriminations and the implicit neural processing of various scream types in humans.