How Screams Trigger Our Brains 

Why is it that a high-pitched scream causes us to drop everything and give 100% of our attention to the source of the noise?

It’s not just because screams are loud. Lots of other things in our daily lives are loud. But high decibel screams in particular are impossible to ignore. 

Here’s why: Human screams contain fast, barely perceptible fluctuations in loudness, usually at frequencies of between 40 and 80 Hz. This frequency makes them acoustically shocking to our ears. And now, thanks to new studies, we understand why human screams hijack our brains into paying attention. 

A research team at the University of Geneva has found that the 40 to 80 Hz frequency range triggers reaction in brain areas related to more than hearing – this frequency also triggers the brain’s aversion to pain. 

The new study, published in Nature Communications, invited16 participants to listen to streams of repetitive clicks played at various frequencies, between 50 to 250 Hz. At frequencies below about 130 Hz, participants could hear distinct clicks. Above this frequency, the clicks were usually perceived as being one continuous sound. 

The participants reacted particularly vehemently to very loud, unpleasant sounds, with fluctuations in the range of 40-to-80 Hz. This is the same range of frequencies heard in home alarm systems, sirens, and human screams, including a baby’s scream of intense distress.

Researchers attached a type of EEG directly to study participants’ brains so they could see what areas of the brain were aroused when these particular screams were heard. They found that when an intense 40-to-80 Hz scream was experienced, it was perceived as excruciating and affected highly specialized areas of the brain. 

In fact, the EEG showed synchronized patterns of activity in a number of brain areas, including the amygdala, hippocampus and insula. These areas are all related to the experience of pain, which explains why participants perceived these intense sounds as being unbearable. The amygdala, hippocampus and insula areas if the brain experiences these intense sounds as high danger, activating cortisol release – the “fight or flee” hormone — so that the sounds are impossible to ignore. 

Listening to our environment, we hear how we have learned to exploit the brain’s recognition of danger calls by engineering car alarms, home alarms, tornado sirens, and fire engines with the same danger frequency range to get their urgent messages across. 

At INDY Neurofeedback, we find our complex brains endlessly fascinating. If you have a question regarding the way your brain works, let’s talk. Our goal is for your brain to work optimally.

How Your Brain Reacts to Fright

Why do some of us like getting a good scare now and then?

When something startles you, your body’s response is pretty interesting. And like so many things, it all starts with our amazing brains.

Here’s why we jump and how getting scared works:

  • When we experience something scary, your brain sends out an immediate alert to your amygdala, the brain’s control center for emotions and reactions. 
  • When the amygdala receives the alert, it activates your fight or flight response, sending a rush of adrenaline coursing through your bloodstream. This adrenaline sets you into a hyper alertness; your pupils dilate and your eye muscles tense to open your eyes wide, expanding your field of vision.
  • The adrenaline also causes your heart to immediately pump faster, increasing your blood pressure and breathing rate. 
  • Your arms and legs raise with goose bumps, the mammalian response (seen frequently in cats) to make us appear larger to predators. 

A few seconds later, another region of your brain kicks in, your prefrontal cortex — the region that rules your thinking. Only then does the assessment part of your scare begin.

Your brain begins to decide whether or not there’s a rational reason to be scared. If your fear is well founded, your prefrontal cortex finds ways to keep you safe. If not, it begins to shut down all that adrenaline, and your body begins to go back to normal.

Does anything good come out of all this?

Assuming we were watching a scary movie and not running from a bear, it might not seem as if anything good could come from being frightened. But — your body’s response to fear can give you some small health boosts. 

Being scared can heighten concentration. You are more likely remember details about the situation (again, your amazing brain to the rescue helping you recognize patterns in case the scare reoccurs). That heightened concentration will also help you to remember your lines in a play, or nail a job interview.

If you are sharing your scare — such as watching a scary movie with friends or family, as you calm down, the act of sharing that extreme emotion will encourage the secretion of the hormone oxytocin, encouraging bonding. 

How to calm yourself down when you are overly panicked:

Most of us cannot control the first part of panic, when your amygdala takes over. But we can train ourselves to react to fear less violently by learning to control our secondary stress reactions.

  • First, breathe deeply and steadily. That will help slow down the production of stress hormones, steadying your heart rate and helping your muscles relax.
  • Second, remind yourself that your body is responding in the way it is designed to, working to self protect. Embracing and understanding the process will help you calm down faster.
  • You can add to that calm by focusing on your vegus nerve  — gently massaging from the top of your ear to the lobe. This has been proven help reverse your body’s fight of flight response and calm you down.

Now that you know what’s going on in your body, feel free to enjoy a little scare now and then!

How is Neurofeedback Different From Biofeedback?

At INDY Neurofeedback, a frequently asked question is, What is neurofeedback?” And secondly, “Is this the same as biofeedback?”

“As the owner of INDY Neurofeedback, my answer is that biofeedback is the general category — a method of gaining information by monitoring skin temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, brainwaves and other body conditions. Biofeedback has been used for years to help promote control over involuntary bodily processes like breathing and stress levels. The idea is to employ some type of sensors to give information about what is going on in the body. Neurofeedback, aka EEG biofeedback, is essentially, a specific form of biofeedback and there are differences.”

With neurofeedback, we provide information about specific brainwave activity.

What We Are Looking For

Ideally, our brain waves work together to provide a smooth or regulated (harmonious) brain function. Or, there can be dysregulation, when one or several parts of our brains are not operating at peak performance.

Like a car can be hooked up to computer to determine why the check engine light is on, brain mapping provides the same type of information about our brains. And, since we can map  the brain through a Quantitative EEG (QEEG), INDY Neurofeedback can provide specifics on how your brain is not working optimally and, most importantly, what can be done to improve it.

Using the results from the QEEG, INDY Neurofeedback staff can work with clients to help fine tune a specific brain area (and corresponding waves), just as  with a car’s engine.

How do you know if neurofeedback can help with your issue?

Neurofeedback is used to improve brainwave activity.  It is particularly useful when dealing with a variety of neurological conditions.  Neurofeedback is commonly used in cases of epilepsy, sleep disorders, anxiety, stress, ADHD and traumatic brain injuries. You can think of neurofeedback as a type of exercise program for the brain used to teach the brain how to function optimally. The goal is to bring the client’s brainwaves into balance alleviating problematic symptoms and giving clients long-term benefits.

Once the cause of the symptom is determined, there is a wide variety of methods that can be selected based on what is the best for our client’s age, special needs and/or neurological issues.  At INDY Neurofeedback, we recognize our body’s systems work together as a whole.   We incorporate both biofeedback and neurofeedback to provide our client’s with comprehensive care.

If you want to talk over something that has you concerned, we are happy to help. Your first consultation is free and completely confidential.

Is Your Child’s Behavior Typical for his/her Age?

With school back in session, parent-teacher conferences are right around the corner. For parents of a very active elementary school child, the issue of ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) may come up. If so, what questions should you be asking?

  • The first thing to appreciate is that every child is unique, so no single listing of ADHD symptoms fits every child.
  • It’s also important to know that elementary age boys get tagged with “suspected ADHD” more than twice as many times as girls do.
  • Not every child that seems to fit into the ADHD category will be clinically diagnosed by a physician as having the condition.
  • Most importantly, according to Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, is that close to 90% of suspected ADHD labels seen in her clinic are given to children who actually have sustained an undiagnosed closed head injury (life’s head bumps) that resulted in brainwave dysregulation.

It is vital that parents work to ascertain what actually is going on with their child. That takes time and that also takes good diagnostic testing of the brain.

ADHD has four primary symptoms: 

  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Inattention
  • Distractibility

Long term symptoms of a closed head injury can look eerily similar to ADHD, including:

  • Hyperactivity and impulsivity
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Inattention or inability to concentrate
  • Distractibility

A ‘closed head’ injury, such as a concussion or jarring blow to the head may not have been understood at the time of the injury as being enough of a blow to sustain minor brain trauma/brainwave dysregulation. That can be particularly true in young children who don’t have the ability to articulate how they feel after trauma such as a fall from a tree or jungle gym, trampoline, soccer or football head injury, or even a head injury from rough play or a “fender bender” car accident.

Whether or not your child will be clinically diagnosed with ADHD by a medical professional, the behavior your child’s teacher has noticed is going to be counter-productive to the class as a whole, and absolutely should be addressed at school as well as at home. So where do you begin?

“A great place to begin is right there with the teacher,” says Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback. “Learn as much as possible about the behaviors and circumstances your child’s teacher is noticing. Ask questions and take notes. See if what your child’s teacher has observed is consistent with your own observations about your child.”

“In the meantime, no labels. Kids can get a lot of negative feedback from teachers, siblings, coaches, and other kids as a result of being labeled with ADHD. That can be really stressful and take a toll on their self-esteem. That in turn can provide the foundation for acting out more, which can lead to disciplinary problems.”

INDY Neurofeedback offers a brainwave test as well as neurofeedback to help overcome many of the symptoms associated with brainwave dysregulation.

According to Leanne O’Neil, “The brainwave test identifies unbalanced brainwave patterns that may be related to focus and attention issues while the neurofeedback is designed to teach individuals how to better regulate their brainwave patterns.  We find that when a person learns how to do this, many of the issues improve – they become calmer, more focused and better able to concentrate.”

We will work with you and your child’s physician to lead to dramatic improvement in your child’s schoolwork and behavior in and out of school. Even better, your child may not need  ADHD medications.

Let’s work together to help your child begin to turn things around early in the school year — positively and proactively.