October 19, 2023
How many times have you felt – frustration, anger, irritation, smugness, pure happiness – and kept it to yourself? How many times have you felt – sadness, disappointment, jealously – and pretended you we’re fine? And how many times have you said out loud, or thought “I could scream”. Screaming to release emotion has its place in pop culture for a reason. It is one of the most relevant, intense and universal, communication signals for survival in humans, and since the 1960’s, Arthur Janov, a psychologist has been advocating the power of the ‘primal scream’ – a healthy way to let off steam.
But before you all start screaming, as always, context is important.
Modern day science says there is little evidence of screaming benefitting longer term mental and psychological disorders, as Janov claimed, and that hearing screams, powered by negative emotions, would activate the body’s fight or flight mechanism, boosting adrenaline and cortisol. That makes sense – it’s the brain trying to process fear, so the flight/fight takes effect, to send a signal to others and to respond to the environment we are in – ultimately to keep us, and our tribe alive.
Not just context, but the type of scream matters too. Anger, fear and (alarming) screams are not the same as the happy and joyous (non-alarming) ones, and neither is the effect it has on our brain. Interestingly the reaction to a scream also changes depending on the age and the gender of the person making the scream too.
Ah, so that’s why the pop culture references show the screaming into a pillow or on a mountain top – it’s not the screaming that is the issue here, it’s somebody else hearing the scream, after all, walking around screaming is not part of our socially acceptable behaviours – no matter how many articles about the future of work it was induced by.
There is always a time and a place for ‘The Primal Scream’ – In a world where we are searching, but struggling to find an anchor, a belonging, and needing to let our emotions out, screaming in a mosh pit, in front of the TV watching Wimbledon, or at football match, it is promised to offer some light relief and many positive benefits.
Professor Sascha Frühloz of the University of Zurich, has conducted extensive research on voice production and emotional processing, and has found that when screaming is induced by positive emotions – joy and pleasure – the screams induce social bonding as a positive effect.
Behaviour and data scientist Professor Pragya Agarwal says that screaming not only helps you release difficult emotions, it can be empowering and bring you a sense of community. “It can help release tension in the muscles and this relief can result in release of endorphins in the central nervous system which can lead to reduction of pain and increase of pleasure.” So basically all the good stuff.
Being a sports fan gives you the utter freedom of screaming into the void amongst thousands of other people. Regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, abilities, sexual orientation or any other defining characteristic, a football match offers 90 minutes of unfiltered emotion. Homophobic/racist slurs can obviously get in the bin, but other than that – let it out. Release a week’s worth of feelings somewhere where no one really bats an eyelid.
Which brings me back to context. Right place, right time. At a football match, no one’s expecting you to be quiet. No one’s expecting you to repress how you feel. For 90 minutes you are given permission to shout in anger or cry with happiness, perhaps a mixture of both. So as the end of the football season nears, my non-medical and totally unofficial advice is to find your outlet. Roar playing rugby, grunt in the gym, or howl whilst hoovering – Let it out.
My final thought… if screaming together, through excitement, pleasure and joy, increases the sense of community and social bonding; as the world of work struggles to maintain team connectedness and a positive culture, how about we bear this science in mind instead of rather lazily revolving all team social events around alcohol? – just a thought.
Simone Fenton-Jarvis is Group Director of Workplace Consultancy and Transformation at Vpod, one of Europe’s leading experts on change and workplace and the author of The Human Centric Workplace
This comment piece appears in the new issue of IN Magazine and is based on an original LinkedIn post which you can check out and engage with here.
Furnham, A. Pereira, E. and Rawles, R. (2001) Lay theories of psychotherapy: Perceptions of the efficacy of different cures for specific disorders. Psychology, Health and Medicine, Vol.6, Issue 1.
Arnal H, L. Flinker, A. Kleinschmidt, A. Giraud, A.L and Poeppel, D. (2015) Human Screams Occupy a Privileged Niche in the Communication Soundscape. Current Biology, Vol.25, issue 15.
Jaggard, V. (2021) The Psychology of Screaming. The National Geographic.
Agarwal, P. (2022) Scream Therapy: 5 reasons why we should (or shouldn’t) start screaming more. Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4
Gilchrist, P. (2022) Please explain why do we scream. Macquarie University, Australia.