Great apes deliberately spin to get dizzy, researchers have found
Academics at the University of Warwick and the University of Birmingham suggest that the findings could provide clues to people who develop a desire to seek out altered mental states and actively manipulate their mood and perception of reality.
The study is based on observations of online videos in which great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans – spin around to deliberately become dizzy.
Dr Adriano Lameira, associate professor of psychology at the University of Warwick, who co-led the study, said: “Every culture has found a way to avoid reality through dedicated and special rituals, practices or ceremonies.
“This human characteristic of seeking altered states is so universal, historically and culturally, that it raises the intriguing possibility that this is something that has potentially been inherited from our evolutionary ancestors.
“If this were indeed the case, it would have enormous implications for how we think about modern human cognitive abilities and emotional needs.”
The research team found a viral video of a male gorilla spinning in a pool and continued their search on YouTube.
They found more videos of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans spinning.
Forty online videos were analyzed and the researchers found that on average the primates rotated 5.5 times per rotation episode, with an average speed of 1.5 rotations per second.
The animals did this an average of three times, the scientists found.
Spinning speeds were compared and the study found that the animals can spin while holding a rope as fast as professional dancers and circus performers, as well as Muslim Dervishes who participate in whirling ceremonies to achieve a spiritual trance.
Dr Lameira added: ‘Spinning alters our state of consciousness, disrupts our body-mind response and coordination, making us feel sick, dizzy and even happy, as in the case of children playing on merry-go-rounds. -Wheels and carousels.”
He continued: “If all great apes seek vertigo, then our ancestors very likely did too.
“We asked ourselves what role these behaviors play when it comes to the origin of the human mind.
“The monkeys did this deliberately, almost as if they were dancing – a known mechanism in humans that universally facilitates mood regulation, social bonding and enhances the senses and is based on rotational movements.
“The parallel between what the apes did and what humans do was more than coincidental.”
In the videos where the animals used ropes or vines to spin, they spun the fastest and for the longest time, the study found.
Some clips were compared to videos of deliberate human pirouettes, for example, ballet dancing, traditional Hopak dancing, whirling dervishes and aerial silk performances.
The researchers also tried spinning at these speeds and times and found it difficult to achieve the third period of rotations at these speeds, as the great apes did.
The monkeys were noticeably dizzy at that point in the videos and were likely to lose their balance and fall down, according to the study.
Dr Marcus Perlman, a lecturer in the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Birmingham, who co-led the research, explained: “This would show that the primates continue to spin deliberately, despite starting to feel the effects of vertigo, until they are unable to keep their balance any longer.”
While previous studies that have attempted to understand human motivations for self-induced dizziness have focused on the use of substances such as alcohol or drugs, it is uncertain whether these or other substances would have been accessible to human ancestors.
Scientists say this new study could be more relevant to explain the role of altered states in the evolution of the human mind.
Dr Lameira said: “The further back in human history you look, the less certain we can be about the role that substance-induced experiences played in our evolution.
“It is not clear whether our ancestors had access to mind-altering substances or whether they had the tools and knowledge to create the substance.
“For example, people may have had access to grapes, but you can’t assume they have the tools or knowledge to create wine.”
The researchers say further research is needed to understand what motivates animals to engage in these behaviors.
The study is published in the journal Primates.