Dizzy monkeys provide clues to the human need for mind-altering experiences

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Great apes spin on purpose to become dizzy, academics at the University of Warwick and the University of Birmingham have found.

The findings could provide clues about the role of altered mental states in the origin of the human mind.

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 potentially 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 as they continued to search YouTube, they came across more videos of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans all engaging in spinning behaviors.

Analyzing over 40 online videos, 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, and the primates rotated an average of three times.

Gorilla rotating in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Credit: University of Warwick/Kusini Safaris

The researchers compared the monkeys’ high rotation speeds and found that they 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 explained: “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. spinning wheels and carousels’.

“What we wanted to try to understand through this study is whether spinning can be studied as a primitive behavior that human ancestors could engage in autonomously and use other states of consciousness. If all great apes seek vertigo, then the our ancestors are also very likely to have done so.”

“We asked ourselves what role these behaviors play when it comes to the origin of the human mind.”

“The monkeys did this purposefully, almost as if they were dancing—a mechanism known in humans that universally facilitates mood regulation, social bonding, and enhances the senses and is based on rotational movements. The parallel between what the monkeys did and what they did people were beyond chance.”

In many of the videos, the primates used ropes or vines to spin, and in these videos they spun the fastest and longest time.

The research team analyzed the videos and compared them to videos of deliberate human pirouettes, for example, ballet dance, traditional Hopak dance, whirling dervishes and aerial silk performances.

The team then experimented with spinning at these speeds and times on their own, and found it difficult to achieve the third period of spins at these speeds, as the great apes did. The monkeys became noticeably dizzy at that point in the videos and were likely to lose their balance and fall down.

“This would indicate that primates continue to spin deliberately, despite starting to feel the effects of vertigo, until they can no longer maintain their balance,” explained Dr Marcus Perlman, Lecturer in the Department of English Language and Linguistics. University’s. of Birmingham who co-led the investigation.

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, but it is uncertain whether these or other substances would have been accessible to human ancestors, or because these substances were not available in their environment. . or because individuals and communities lacked the technical and cultural knowledge to produce or process psychoactive substances.

Scientists say this new study could be more relevant to explain the role of altered states in the evolution of the human mind.

“The further back in human history you look, the less certain we can be about the role substance-induced experiences played in our evolution. It’s unclear whether our ancestors had access to mind-altering substances or had the tools to and knowledge to create substance”.

“For example, people may have had access to grapes, but you can’t assume they have the tools or knowledge to create wine,” Dr Lameira explained.

The scientists say further research is needed to understand the primates’ motivations for engaging in these behaviors, to understand why our ancestors may also have been driven to seek out these mind-altering, whirling experiences.

Dr Lameira adds, “There could be a mental health connection here, as the primates we observed engaging in this behavior were mostly captive individuals, who may be bored and trying to stimulate their senses in some way. ”

“But it could also be a play behavior. If you think about the playground, almost all playground equipment—swings, slides, seesaws, and roundabouts or merry-go-rounds—are all designed to challenge your balance or disrupt the body— reflections of the mind.”

“There are some interesting parallels that should be explored further in order to understand why people are motivated to engage in these behaviors. We may well have been seeking out and engaging in mind-altering experiences before we were even modern humans.”

The work is published in Primates.

More information:
Adriano Lameira et al, great apes achieve a momentary altered mental state by spinning, Primates (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s10329-023-01056-x

Provided by the University of Birmingham

Reference: Dizzy monkeys provide clues to human need for mind-altering experiences (2023, March 13) retrieved March 13, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-dizzy-apes-clues-human -mind.html

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