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Why Do We Scream When In Pain

by Lyndon Langley
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Why Do We Scream When In Pain

Why Do We Scream When In Pain

The sounds of babies crying are familiar to all of us. But why do we scream? Why do we cry at all? There’s no evolutionary advantage in doing so; it seems to serve no useful function beyond communicating our need for help. So what exactly is the point of the screaming baby? The answer lies in how human beings handle pain.
Pain can strike any time, but most often occurs during childhood. Although painful experiences are not necessarily harmful, they’re disruptive nonetheless — especially when they happen regularly or become prolonged. What happens if a child screams without warning? Their caregiver might find them writhing on the floor or clinging tightly to his or her leg with both hands. If this is you, then you’ve experienced a burn-pain sensation. It feels like an intense fire has been ignited inside your body. Your skin becomes hot and dry as you struggle against the flames — until finally you succumb to the heat and fall apart.
Children experience pain differently from adults. For infants and small children, the burning sensation is caused by external factors such as sunburns or scalding water. Young kids aren’t able to recognize their own sensations. That changes around age 2, when children begin developing the ability to self-report bodily discomfort. As youngsters grow older, they learn to identify physical symptoms through verbal communication. By middle school, many adolescents have developed their own vocabulary to describe pain; they may feel coldness, tightness, pressure, stabbing pains, etc. And although young people don’t always understand the cause of their pain, they know that something hurts. They just don’t know where it is.
For many, pain persists into adulthood. Chronic pain develops gradually over time, usually beginning with a minor injury or illness. Once established, chronic pain is difficult to treat because its source isn’t clear. People who suffer from constant backaches or headaches report feeling numb, depressed, anxious or fatigued. Without relief, these conditions may become debilitating.
In addition to suffering from pain, some people also enjoy the sound of others expressing distress. While listening to music, watching movies or going to concerts, fans delight in hearing loud noises made by other spectators. These sounds convey feelings of excitement, anxiety and pleasure. Audience members use noise to express emotions and share mood states. Noise serves two purposes: It creates a sense of togetherness among group members and provides entertainment.
So what does all this mean about screaming? Is there really a benefit to letting out a primal yelp when we’re injured? Scientists believe there is. Research indicates that people engage in screaming behavior to elicit certain responses from those around them. Here are three reasons why humans scream:
Screaming conveys need for social support.

It helps calm down distressed individuals.

It helps attract helpers’ attention.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these claims. First, consider the case of a man trapped beneath heavy rubble after a building collapse. He yells for assistance, but rescuers cannot hear him. His cries would go unnoticed unless someone happened to pass close enough to witness the accident scene. However, bystanders may notice his facial expression and body movements. A frightened look of panic and tension could lead rescuers to infer that he was trapped and in danger. Therefore, the man shouts louder. After shouting repeatedly, he falls silent. Now he appears scared, which attracts more attention from passersby. Rescuers see him face downward and assume he is unconscious. With quick action, they free the man from the rubble.
This example illustrates how screaming can alert others to a person’s emotional state. Scared faces indicate fear, while happy faces show contentment. Happy people tend to live healthier lives than those who are sad or angry. On a grander scale, happy people get promoted faster than unhappy ones. Researchers found that managers who smile more, laugh more and greet co-workers more frequently receive higher salaries. This is partly due to the positive effects smiling has on co-workers. Smiling makes people feel good about themselves and others. Studies suggest smiling releases endorphins that promote relaxation and reduce stress levels.
Another reason why people yell when injured involves the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine is released during pleasurable activities, including sex, eating and gambling. Drugs that block dopamine produce euphoric reactions; it’s possible to overdose on cocaine by snorting too much powder. Some scientists theorize that screaming may release dopamine, leading to a pleasurable response from onlookers. Psychologically speaking, yelling can make victims feel heard and cared for.
Finally, researchers speculate that screaming draws attention to a person’s plight. When a victim bellows out a plea for aid, onlookers may respond sooner than if the individual remained quiet. This theory holds true in animal studies. For instance, rats will approach food bowls quicker when hungry mice are making a lot of racket. Humans behave similarly. During a disaster scenario, rescue workers may arrive quicker if they hear a survivor yelling for help.
So should everyone start screaming whenever they stub their toe? Not quite. Human beings scream for different reasons. Next up, let’s explore some potential benefits of silence.
Silence Can Be Deafening
While screaming gets noticed, it doesn’t always draw helpful attention to the situation. Sometimes, ignoring pain works better. For instance, if you stub your toe and walk away, the damage probably won’t worsen significantly. But if you leave a knife sticking out of a cut finger, blood loss could occur quickly.
To illustrate, imagine two groups of 10 people. Half are given a questionnaire that asks how long they’d wait before seeking medical treatment for sharp objects stuck in their fingers. No surprise, the majority choose within 15 minutes. The remaining five people received similar surveys except for one difference: Half got a chance to read a paragraph explaining the dangers of leaving knives embedded in fingers.
Surprisingly, only one participant chose to seek medical care. Less than half opted to call 911. Only 3 percent said they’d consult a doctor or nurse. Despite being aware of the risks associated with neglecting injuries, participants didn’t heed the warnings. Perhaps they thought that since the injury wasn’t life threatening, they could deal with it on their own. Or maybe they felt embarrassed to admit they needed help.
Other studies reveal that people ignore their own wounds for various reasons. For example, a woman named Lisa studied nursing in college. She decided to volunteer with a local hospital as a patient escort. At first, she enjoyed helping patients move between rooms. Eventually, though, she began to notice that many patients kept their bandages covered. Many refused to remove protective layers of gauze. Lisa wondered why. Her curiosity grew as she learned that many patients had undergone amputations and still wore gloves to shield their stumps. Lisa concluded that covering exposed limbs helped protect nurses from contracting diseases.
Lisa conducted another experiment. Over the course of several weeks, she asked volunteers to wear white lab coats and gloves while escorting blindfolded patients between rooms. Beforehand, the subjects knew nothing about the project. Afterwards, they reported wearing the outfit less often. Subjects believed that removing loose clothing and exposing bare skin put them at risk for disease transmission.
These examples demonstrate the importance of paying attention to personal hygiene. Wearing clean clothes and using proper hand sanitizer reduces exposure to germs and bacteria. Keep nails trimmed and toes separated to avoid cross contamination. To keep infections from spreading, wash your hands thoroughly and often. And if you work in a profession that puts you at high risk for infection, practice safe habits like washing your hair daily.
With proper sanitation and protection, people can minimize their chances of getting sick and dying prematurely. Yet despite advances in medicine, accidents and illnesses remain common causes of death worldwide. Doctors and health experts continue to search for ways to improve survival rates. Hopefully, new research will shed light on how to best assist distressed patients.

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