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I Scream, You Scream, We all Scream – for HALLOWE’EN!

Hallowe’en is soon upon us once more…

It’s the season for horror-flick lovers to sit on the edge of their seats and scream during their favourite spine-chilling and hair-raising movies (any horror fans out there?).

Just imagine

a women runs madly through a dark and misty forest…being chased by a killer

…breathlessly, she manages to get back to her car and shoves her key into the ignition

…and then, her car won’t start…and she keeps trying and trying

…when SUDDENLY a knock on the window reveals the killer’s sweaty and dirt-streaked face!


I apologize for my clichéd prose above, but it made me wonder about screams: why we scream and if there are any health benefits to all that shrieking, yelling, and cursing…

WHY do we scream?

Screams are essentially a last-ditch effort to escape from perceived danger (1) and are usually instinctual, occurring involuntarily. From an evolutionary standpoint, screams exist to do 3 things:

  1. Scare off the predator (hopefully!) (1)

  2. Attract attention and/or warn others of danger (1)

  3. Activate the amygdala and “fear circuitry” of the brain as part of the sympathetic nervous system (2). This automatic defense program prepares the body to fight, flight, or freeze by releasing a flood of adrenaline and endorphins – which increases your heart rate, diverts blood flow away from the internal organs and towards your running and fighting muscles, and increases your situational awareness to help you battle the stressor (whether it be a saber-toothed tiger or a murderous serial killer on screen) (3,4).

For wimps (like myself) I commonly wonder why some people love being scared…but Allegra Ringo’s interview of Dr. Margee Kerr, a sociologist and professor at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in fear, said it best, “To really enjoy a scary situation, we have to know we’re in a safe environment” (5). i.e. The underlying knowledge that you are actually safe at home or in a movie theatre provides a reassuring flood of feel-good hormones (e.g. dopamine) and a sense of relief (6). And if you’re a fan of Freud’s psychological theories, screaming and scary movies can be cathartic – by allowing oneself to release any pent-up emotions in a safe environment (7).

DID YOU KNOW about the other POSITIVE side effects of SCREAMING?

  • Screaming in a safe way (such as into a pillow or towel OR during a scary movie) can help ease stress(1, 8). This allows us to more easily identify our thoughts and emotions, so we can better address it from a calmer state of mind (8).

  • Yelling during high-intensity exercise can also increase our power output AND endurance during maximal exertion (9).

And if your screaming includes curse words…

  • Swearing can increase your physical strength and self-confidence (10)

  • Cussing has also been shown in multiple studies to improve pain tolerance (11, 12,13). [But note: if you swear more frequently in your daily life, you’ll be more habituated to the curse words, and swear words will lose their ‘power’ and you won’t experience as much pain relief (12).]

Screaming with other people has also been demonstrated to enhance a sense of community and improve overall performance – such as seen in The Haka (1, 14).

This passionate Māori war dance was originally used to prepare warriors for the battlefield and now has become a pre-game tradition for New Zealand’s All Blacks professional rugby team (15).

So, this Hallowe’en let your inner werewolf out and HOOOOWLL to your heart’s content!

By: Susan Herdman, Registered Physiotherapist

Book a telephysio / online physio / virtual physio / video physiotherapy appointment with a registered physiotherapist in British Columbia. InReach Online Physio services communities in northern and rural BC, such as Masset, Queen Charlotte, Fraser Lake, Fort Nelson, Fort St James, Dease Lake, Fort St John, Dawson Creek, the Gulf Islands, and more!


  1. Kita, J (2022 Jun 16). WebMD Health News: The Science of Screaming: What happens when we turn up the volume. Accessed Sept 16/22:

  2. Arnal LH, Flinker A, Kleiinschmidt A, Giraud A-L, & Poeppel D (2015, Aug). Human screams occupy a privileged niche in the communication soundscape. Current Biology 25, p.2051–2056. Accessed Sep 20/22:

  3. Chu B, Marwaha K, Sanvictores T, & Ayers D (2021 Sep 18). Physiology, Stress Reaction. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:

  4. Samra J (2021). My Workplace Health: How the fight, flight, & freeze response works. Accessed Sep 16/22:

  5. Ringo, A (2013, Oct 31). The Atlantic – Health: Why do some brains enjoy fear?. Accessed Sep 16/22:

  6. Park, M (2018). "The Aesthetics and Psychology Behind Horror Films". Undergraduate Honors College Theses 2016-. 31. Accessed Sep 16/22:

  7. Coolidge FL & Srivastava A (Oct 23, 2021). Why We Enjoy Horror Films: Decoding the fascination behind scary movies. Accessed Sep 16/22:

  8. Gribbin, T (2017, Oct 17) TEDxReykjavik – Meditation rivals medication. Accessed Sep 16/22: ;

  9. Chen CL, Yu NY, Tang JS, Chang SH, Yang YR, & Wang L (2016). Effect of yelling on maximal aerobic power during an incremental test of cycling performance. J Sport & Health Sci 5 (4), p456-461. Accessed Sep 16/22:

  10. Stephens R, Dowber H, Barrie A, Almeida S, Atkins K (2022). Effect of swearing on strength: Disinhibition as a potential mediator. Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2022 Mar 23:17470218221082657. doi: 10.1177/17470218221082657. Accessed Sep 16:

  11. Stephens R and Robertson O (2020) Swearing as a Response to Pain: Assessing Hypoalgesic Effects of Novel “Swear” Words. Front. Psychol. 11:723. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00723 . Accessed Sep 16:

  12. Stephens R & Umland C (2011). Swearing as a response to pain – Effect of daily swearing frequency. J of Pain, Vol 12, No 12 (Dec), 2011. p.1274-1281. Accessed Sept 16/222:

  13. Swee G & Schirmer A (2015). On the importance of being vocal: saying "ow" improves pain tolerance. J Pain. 2015 Apr;16(4):326-34. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2015.01.002. Epub 2015 Jan 24. PMID: 25622894. Accessed Sep 16/22:

  14. Barnett, E (2022 Feb 8). BBC Woman’s Hour – Scream therapy: Five reasons we should (or shouldn’t) start screaming more – an interview with Professor Pragya Agarwal and Dr Rebecca Semmens-Wheeler. Accessed Sep 16/22:

  15. New (2022). Home > Things to do > Art, culture, and heritage > Māori culture > Haka: War Dance. Accessed Sep 16/22:

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